Dear Thelma: Did saying no to pre-marital sex cost me this relationship?

  • Family
  • Sunday, 16 Feb 2020

I am 33. Four years have passed since my last relationship. We dated for six years. He was a decent and hardworking man. We knew each other from university but only started dating after we began working.I made the first move. It was my first time being in a relationship, but not for him.

Things were fine at the beginning. We mostly went dutch at meals as we had only just started working. Being the older child in his single-parent family, he needed to support his mum. I really thought this guy was a good catch, because he was family-oriented and treated his mum well.

Then the stress started to build up. He’s more open-minded while I am more conservative. I believe in having sex only after marriage. He said it was ok with him. But from time to time, he’d still try to persuade me to have sex; every time I rejected him, he’d be in a bad mood and we would have arguments, or he’d give me the silent treatment. I’d end up apologising to him. Sometimes I wonder if I had given in, would our relationship be better and would we be happily married now?

We broke up once during our six-year relationship as I caught him flirting with my friend who worked with him. We broke up for about a month, he apologised and I accepted it. After we got back together, things went back to normal. We stuck to our “routine outings”, meeting on weekends. Usually we’d have a meal together, and then he’d hang out with his friends. If he had stuff to do, we would not meet that week.

At that time, he earned more than me but we still went dutch. Sometimes I paid more for our meals and outings. I also paid for movie tickets weekly. Sometimes I paid for our meals as he carried very little cash. A lot of places do not accept credit cards for bills less than RM50. We sometimes ordered just one main course and shared it, so the bill would not hit the amount. I paid but he would not repay me. I know I am being petty and calculative, but sometimes I purposely ordered more or went to more expensive restaurants so that he could use his credit card instead, and I’d pay him my half. Sometimes I asked myself if I saw a future with him. I was not happy and cried to myself every day.

Then came the breaking point. Usually every Chinese New Year, he would just bring over some oranges. But one year, he brought over a box of green teas. We didn’t discuss what to buy or bring, as my parents also didn’t expect anything. I would bring him my mum’s homemade cookies.

It so happened that the year we broke up, he suddenly bought expensive mushrooms and food that cost about RM100. His mum happened to see it. I had given his family my mum’s homemade cookies again, as usual.

A week later, we were out together but his phone kept ringing. He answered the call in front of me and I heard their conversation. His mum complained about me, and asked why he was still going out with me, spending money on me, etc. I was shocked and hurt.

He later told me that his mum was upset that he bought those expensive things for me whereas I just brought over cookies during that CNY. I told my mum about it later on, and we bought some bird’s nest for his family.

Another week passed, nothing happened, and things seemed to be as usual again. Then suddenly, he texted me, saying he was confused about us. When I called him up, he confessed that he just wanted to be in a relationship with me but would not marry me as he saw no future with me. That is to say he will break up with me when he found “the one”. I was so sad that I called it off between us.

After a few days, he called and texted me to find out how I was but I just cut him off, so he stopped doing that as well.

A month later, my dad passed away. As I was grieving for my dad, I had no time to think of him.

Now, after four years, I thought I had moved on. But recently when some of my friends asked me about it, I could not help getting very emotional and cried in front of them. I felt embarrassed and weak.

I want to go out and get to know more people and be in a relationship again, but I do not know how.I’ve thought of trying Tinder. But when I think of having to explain to dates that I am not that open-minded, and being judged all over again, I get upset and feel maybe staying alone is better. But then I feel lonely sometimes. Is there any way out?

Confused Soul

Dear Confused Soul,

Deciding when you have sex is a deeply personal matter but as sex before marriage is fairly common now, those who want to wait have to deal with comparisons and expectations.

We all start from the same point, in that we date for a while and are OK with not being intimate. However, when the relationship matures, it is natural to consider the next step.

Modern couples have sex and if it doesn’t work out, they split. It’s always heartbreaking but it doesn’t involve lawyers and divorce courts. I’m not saying it’s ideal but they have more choice about how far they commit, in terms of sharing their property, home, responsibilities and so on.

For traditional couples, the next step has legal consequences and some of the commitment (property, wealth etc) is mandated by law. As there is also a bigger price to pay if the relationship doesn’t work out, they have to be more focused about the progression of their relationships.

In a way, traditional relationships are like cross-country runs: you have to touch base at various checkpoints to see how you are progressing but, once you visit the last one, you have to aim to cross the finish line.

From your description, you and your boyfriend started the run, touched a few bases but neither of you were looking for the finish line. Instead, you wandered aimlessly.

Neither of you made the final commitment, proposing a marriage date, and I suspect that led to some subconscious resentment. You became caught up in a tit-for-tat frame of mind where money became a symbol for investment in your relationship.

When you talk about how you ended up calculating to the sen how much you spent on treating him and how he pushed back by never having RM50 on him, I see power play. Same with the home-made cookies versus the mushrooms.

I’m saying this without judging you, just as an observation of life in general. When you find people putting a monetary value on a relationship, you’re seeing a real problem.

That attitude is petty and it degrades your soul because it destroys the happy generosity that should be the foundation of friendship and love.

So, what should you do? First, forgive yourself for the past, and focus on moving on to a happier place. To do that, you need to learn from your experience.

I advise you to date happily but keep in mind that you are on a cross-country run. Be practical and remember that it’s not good enough for you just to be comfortable. You want someone you can cross the finish line with.

So, date and if it’s not perfect, quit the investment and walk away. When you do find a person you want to be with for life, have a conversation about marriage.

Now, in your last relationship, neither of you appear to have practised open, honest communication. Also, when you talked to friends, it didn’t go well and you shut down. That’s very common so don’t beat yourself up about it. However, I think you should work on improving your communication skills straight away.

Read books, listen to podcasts, and practise opening up about your feelings and dealing effectively and healthily with conflict, bargaining and resolution. Practise with and on your friends! If you want, hire a therapist for a few sessions to help you work on this aspect of yourself.

As for opening up your friendship circle, I’d avoid Tinder because it’s driven mostly by people looking for casual sex. For you, that would be a bad match – and rather depressing!

Start by asking your friends to introduce you socially to new people. Aim to make 10 new friends in the next two months. Also join clubs or activities where you find single men of your own age and background. That may be dining clubs, sports organisations, boardgame groups, whatever.

The point is to get back into socialising happily. Do that for six months so you are comfortable talking to strangers and then start looking for dates that have romantic potential.

If you don’t like where you are at that point, look for online matchmaking groups where the focus is on marriage, not sex. There are lots of them, so check the reviews and read the contracts carefully before you sign up for any service that charges money.

Again, if you want to, consider that a few sessions with a therapist who can talk you through your needs, wants and fears about dating may help you.

Look, I’m confident that you can find happiness, it just takes a bit of rethinking your approach. Please do share this letter with friends you trust and get them to be your support group.

Is something bothering you? Do you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on? Thelma is here to help. Email or write to Dear Thelma, c/o StarLifestyle, Menara Star, 15, Jalan 16/11,46350 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FULL NAME, ADDRESS AND A PSEUDONYM. No private correspondence will be entertained. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, usefulness, fitness for any particular purpose or other assurances as to the opinions and views expressed in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses suffered directly or indirectly arising from reliance on such opinions and views.

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