History and Character

A reasonably common reaction to my book which has come mainly from women in their early thirties is:

“None of Katya’s past should matter; it’s in the past!”

At least two women have said they believe the past has no bearing on the present, and a line should be drawn whereby a person’s entire history is consigned to a vault and not considered in the relationship going forward. In this post I’m going to unpack that idea.

Let’s start with the premise that somebody’s character – an aggregate of a person’s behaviours, values, opinions, and attitudes – is important to a functional relationship (of any kind). I’m not at this stage going to comment on whether someone’s character is good or bad, but let’s assume that character is important in determining whether two people are compatible. If you happen to believe character and compatibility have no role to play in a relationship, then you’re probably going to disagree with the rest of this post.

So having established that character is important, how do we go about determining a person’s character having just met them? The best way is to look at their history, specifically how they have behaved, what decisions they’ve made, and – crucially – what they think of those decisions now. A review of someone’s history will carry far more weight than someone telling you who they are. This is why, at the start of any relationship, each party is expected to give a summary of their life to date (the term curriculum vitae loosely translates to “the course of my life”). Now it is up to the individual to decide which parts of his or her life are necessary to include, but there are some things which are not optional. A common follow-up to the remark to the one at the top of the post is:

“But it’s none of his business, it’s the woman’s private life; she’s not obliged to tell him anything.”

So let’s suppose a man beats the shit out of his ex-wife so badly she’s left in a coma. Is this private too? What about jail sentences, or other criminal convictions? Does a man have the right to withhold such information from any future partner on the grounds that it’s in the past and his private business? Okay, that’s a bit extreme, so let’s suppose a man has been married before, or fathered illegitimate children with whom he has no relationship. Is this private information he’s not obliged to disclose to a new partner? No, and the reason is because history is a reliable guide to character, and character is important.

When you’re young, your history doesn’t matter much because you don’t have one. Nobody will judge a 20-year old on their past decisions because they usually amount to dumb teenage stuff which everyone does. But when you pass 30 you have a decade of adult life behind you, and the decisions you made in that period are what define you as a person. I once met a guy who, at age 27, had been married for 6 months and it looked as though he was heading for divorce. He was working like hell to keep it together (he succeeded) and he confessed his biggest fear was having to explain why his first marriage failed for the rest of his life. This is not something you can just brush off; people will ask questions and – in many cases – you’ll be obliged to answer them. Now being over forty and divorced isn’t such a big deal, because any new partner will likely be quite understanding. But divorced at 27? You’re going to be carrying that history around solo for several years at least.

Marriage and divorce are not things you can leave out of your life history, nor are kids and jail sentences. Part of being a mature, functioning adult is knowing what to include and what to leave out. Only a fool would blurt out everything because, as my lady friends said, some things are private and nobody else’s business. The example I like to use is that if a woman goes on holiday to Mexico and fucks a waiter, she’s best off not blurting that out to any future partner. It might reveal something about her character and it might not, but it’s unlikely to be defining if it was a one-off. It’s up to the individual to decide, but some things you are obliged to disclose in a relationship, earlier rather than later. Anyone who waits until a relationship is firmly established before revealing they have children from a former marriage can be reasonably accused of lying by omission.

The other remark people then make is:

“Okay, so they did some stuff, but they don’t have to justify it to anyone!”

Which is true, they don’t. But if they want to portray their character in the best possible light, they’ve got some explaining to do. Anyone who has been married and divorced is obliged to explain to any future partner what went wrong. They don’t have a right to an explanation per se, but if they are weighing you up as a future partner they do. One of the biggest challenges fathers of young men have is to get them to think long-term at an age when they have poor impulse control. If you get a criminal record aged 18 you will have to explain and justify that for your entire life. The same applies if your 16 year old son gets a classmate pregnant and she keeps the baby. If a woman who at age 21 marries a foreign guy twice her age and divorces him the minute her new passport comes through, she’s obliged to explain her decisions to any potential partner if she wants a future relationship.

Now I made an important comment earlier in this post:

The best way is to look at their history, specifically how they have behaved, what decisions they’ve made, and – crucially – what they think of those decisions now.

A person’s past decisions and behaviours are not the only indicators of their character; equally important is how they reflect on their past. Someone released from a 2-year prison sentence for burglary aged 20 who never got arrested again, settled down, raised a family, and is deeply repentant and ashamed of his criminal conviction is of a very different character from someone who spent the next decade in and out of jail for similar crimes. Someone who got divorced, admits they made mistakes, maintained polite relations throughout the process and bears no ill-will to their former spouse is of a different character from someone who flies into an apoplectic rage at the mere mention of their name ten years later. Someone who brags about whoring in Thailand or slutting it up in New York is revealing something about their character; another who looks back on the same episode with deep embarrassment is revealing something else.

How people have changed is crucial to understanding somebody’s character, which is why alcoholics stress the number of days they’ve been dry. It’s a demonstration of their reformed character, usually for the benefit of those who learned the words from the person’s mouth were nothing but lies. If an alcoholic has been dry for 10 years, it’s a fair assumption that he’s a changed man; if he was on the piss last night, he probably isn’t. Words are important, but sometimes they’re not enough.

The idea that life is a slate which you can keep wiping clean is nonsense, as is the idea that one’s character is separate from the life you’ve led to date. Now it is understandable that some people want to leave everything in the past, but what they’re really trying to do is present themselves as a different character than the one they are. Now why would they want to do that? If they don’t like who they are, then they should change, not try to hide who they are. Similarly, while they are under no obligation to justify themselves to anybody, nobody with whom they want a relationship is obliged to judge their character favourably either. When people wail Don’t judge me!” what they mean is “Don’t base my character on what you see!” Again, a judgement need not be good or bad, simply that it is incompatible with what the other person believes is necessary for a lasting, functional relationship. Perhaps some women don’t mind if their new boyfriend is a career criminal who spends half his time in jail. Perhaps some men don’t mind their latest love stars in porn films.

Everyone is different, and each must make their own character assessment of any potential partner. But to do that, they must be provided a history in one form or another, along with an accompanying narrative. Like it or not, our past is who we are; you can no more pretend it doesn’t matter than what you say and do in the present.

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22 thoughts on “History and Character

  1. A lot of women are under the impression, rightly or wrongly, that a man’s past doesn’t matter, because (a) any red-blooded man will have done some wild things in his twenties (and who wants a wuss?); and (b) they can change him.

    Some women then make a really big mistake: they think that most men think the same way about women.

    But most men don’t.

  2. Nail on head again, Tim.

    Sometimes it is easy to spot when the claims of what one is, or is like, clash violently with observable reality. But some of us ‘umans ain’t half cunning and new friends and partners don’t see it until later. And that is honesty, or are they advocating building a relationship on a lies (or lies) from the start?

    Your comment on my feelings about my naughty past; am I proud? or ashamed and repentant? Could I tell my children? (that’s a good one ain’t it?) are so true.

    This is totally in-line with Jordan Peterson’s schtick and the assumption of personal responsibility and growing up.

    We have a generation of women who have been told they can have it all, behave like a small proportion of shitty men and it doesn’t matter…

    Well, just maybe it does.

    Psychiatrists and psychologists are gonna have their work cut out!

  3. There was an interesting editorial decision in “Britain’s Biggest Warship”, to put the Able Seaman running the pyrolysis plant for waste disposal in front of the cameras and let him tell some of his story: after a misspent youth (forty-seven criminal convictions) and several spells of imprisonment, he settled down, straightened up, and – after, from memory, about a decade – of avoiding trouble, joined the RN. He had to declare his past and his convictions, a waiver was required, but he got in, and appeared to be doing a decent job of it.

    This sparked some interesting debate, where some were furious that the Navy were allowing criminal scum to join up; while others (including myself) felt that someone who’d cleaned up their act, accepted that they’d screwed up badly, and showed significant and sustained evidence of change and improvement, might be worth interviewing, considering, and if appropriate accepting.

    Although a cheerful atheist, I recognise that religion tends to draw on and entrench strong instincts; and I think the Catholic doctrine that ‘absolution requires contrition’ taps into that. To err is human – it’s what you do about it that’s interesting.

  4. When talking about past histories, especially when selecting new potential partners there is a lot of bullshit bandied about and ultimately it is about “The Number”.

    The reason why “The Number” is important is that consciously or subconsciously, guys understand that the larger “The Number”, the harder it will be for her to pair bond and therefore the greater the probability that the relationship will not last.

    For females, “The Number” is all downside for them (unless it genuinely is 0 or 1), which is why they will attempt to play it down as far as possible and when it the question does inevitably come out “Who’s Tom?” or “Who’s the guy in the photos of you in Paris last year?” the inevitable line about “It was in the past. These things happened before I met you”.

    There’s a direct correlation between the number of previous partners and the increased likelihood of relationship failure and its pretty much all about pair bonding and the only way that a man can truly gauge that with a woman is a truthful exchange of histories at the beginning of the relationship.

    This is not exclusively a female problem, but in these modern times a young female is far more likely to have had a higher number of sexual partners than a male with equivalent looks, social / financial status.

  5. When talking about past histories, especially when selecting new potential partners there is a lot of bullshit bandied about and ultimately it is about “The Number”.

    Indeed, and I covered this in my book thusly:

    “Remember when you were younger,” I said. “You’d always ask a girlfriend how many guys she’d been with? The answer would always bother you; if she said two or three you’d be disappointed. But that changes with age; when you’re with a woman over thirty you don’t care how many, but you want to see that they were decent, normal guys, and she was with them for the right reasons. You don’t want to hear she’s had one-night stands or been with a string of losers or men twice her age. It’s not the number of guys a woman has slept with that matters, it’s the standards she’s kept.”

  6. When the women say ‘it shouldn’t matter, it’s in the past’, what they mean is ‘I know perfectly well I will be rightly judged for what I’ve done, and I don’t want to be.’

    The ostensible ‘rational’ reasons are ad hoc afterthoughts to cover this emotional understanding. They know what it means, and why they want it not to matter. Because they know that it does.

  7. It’s not the number of guys a woman has slept with that matters, it’s the standards she’s kept.

    And that applies to men too. Women don’t mind if their intended was “a bit of a lad” at uni but they don’t look on “he worked in Asia for three years and reckons he fucked 500 hookers” quite so favourably.

    Another opposing argument (made on one of your earlier threads) is that insisting on sexual standards in your best-beloved is a primitive instinct afflicting insecure types who really want to marry a virgin because they can’t cope with a real, empowered woman.

    However, that does sound a bit like the argument of a man who knows his wife spent her 20s sucking off truck drivers and is trying to make it feel OK.

  8. And that applies to men too. Women don’t mind if their intended was “a bit of a lad” at uni but they don’t look on “he worked in Asia for three years and reckons he fucked 500 hookers” quite so favourably.

    Another point I make in the book. If a guy’s lurching from one low-grade woman to another, fucking anything that moves and failing to hold down a proper relationship, you think women won’t judge him? No self-respecting woman would go near him, and rightly so. This whole double standards thing might apply to young people, but there comes a time when men need to show maturity and restraint, just the same as women.

  9. I am amazed this is even an issue at all.
    Any business relationship starts with an interview of some form, a typical question being “Can you decribe to me an incident when you had to…”
    i.e. the suitability for that business relationship is based on the past behaviour.
    Nature & nurture. Apart from specific genetic traits we gain from birth, we are all the sum of our past – strictly, and picking up the previous engineering degree background from earlier this week, we are all the convolutions of our past. i.e it isnt linear, everything we have done has influenced everyhing we did thereafter and onwards in the future.
    It strikes me that anyone saying “Don’t judge me!” is ashamed of their past because they know full well your judgment will be (correctly) to their detriment.Instead of denial, they need contrition. Mistakes are OK if understood and learned from. “Don’t judge me!” says “Expect more of the same, if you are fool enough to ignore the alarms”.
    But no worries, nice to have such an easy ‘avoid ‘ flag signalled.

  10. It strikes me that anyone saying “Don’t judge me!” is ashamed of their past because they know full well your judgment will be (correctly) to their detriment.

    That’s exactly what it is, but because they cannot admit to being ashamed they flip the script to make you the problem for judging them in such a way.

  11. A relationship is a commitment of, among other things, time. The opportunity cost of that time is lower in our twenties than our thirties and forties.

    If you enter a relationship in those decades, you have expectations, some expressed and some inferred.

    Wasting the other person’s time by starting or continuing a relationship based on deception by omission is neither moral nor intelligent. It’s not enough to dismiss reasonable concerns or expectations of the other as “judgemental” just because it doesn’t serve your agenda.

    Caveat emptor.

  12. Some sexual pasts are more acceptable than others, of course. Unless men have unrealistic expectations of marrying a virgin, they have to settle for some sort of past. The best one, it seems to me, is when she has had fewer relationships than you, but all of them with men who are a bit like you. Except, of course, that their penis wasn’t as big, and their sexual technique wasn’t as good as yours. In general, they weren’t quite as intelligent as you. With them, she “sort of” had orgasms, but nothing like the ones you give her.

  13. “they flip the script to make you the problem for judging them in such a way.”

    But it never quite does that though, does it…

  14. The best one, it seems to me, is when she has had fewer relationships than you, but all of them with men who are a bit like you.

    Quoteth the book:

    A man wants to see that the woman he’s with has been dating her peers, people like her or better, in terms of class, education, and age. If he looks at her ex and sees a guy like himself, one of his peers, he’s happy enough, pleased that her standards are comparable to his. But if he finds she’s been dating lower-grade men, guys he’d not respect or associate with, he’ll want to know why. If she doesn’t explain…he’ll think they’re the best she could get or begin to question her standards.

  15. if a woman goes on holiday to Mexico and fucks a waiter, she’s best off not blurting that out to any future partner. It might reveal something about her character and it might not, but it’s unlikely to be defining if it was a one-off.

    Oh, yes it is.

    Any woman picking up a random stranger in a foreign land where STDs of various kinds and murders/kidnapping are absolutely rife is demonstrating staggeringly poor judgement, impulse control, and risk assessment. It’s on a par with “I only tried heroin from a dirty needle that one time”.

  16. If the woman is serious about wanting a real and honest relationship, then she should be telling the man the unvarnished truth about herself. If he’s going to judge her harshly for it, he will do so immediately and she will know that she should end the relationship early, rather than investing time and effort into it.

    But remember, the most important detail:

    I said “if.”

  17. >If the woman is serious about wanting a real and honest relationship, then she should be telling the man the unvarnished truth about herself.

    Any woman who told a man on her first date that she once went to Greece on a holiday and fucked a waiter wouldn’t see that man again. (Well, except maybe for sex.)

    Being honest is one thing, but that’s just being a fool.

  18. Your “At least two women have said they believe the past has no bearing on the present,” certainly struck a chord. I’ve lost count of the women who’ve come out with a variation on “But that was in the past…” as if that closes the discussion. Women, apparently, are born afresh every day. Unless they choose to recount their entire life history over dinner, sofa time & half way through the night. And of course the past, when it applies to you, is forever in the present. To be taken out & rehearsed at every opportunity. Even if its a past that you haven’t had the slightest recollection of taking place.

    Personally, women’s pasts have rarely bothered me. Whatever its been, it’s been the process has formed the person in front of me. If I like the person, why should I condemn their past? With a different past, they’d be a different person & likely not one I’d like or would like me. I know from my own past, it’s the bad bits & the mistakes has formed the person I am today. If it’d all been plain sailing I’d have learnt very little. Been an even shallower person than I am 🙂
    And people’s pasts are mostly fiction, anyway. They say it’s always the victors who write the history books & what are we but victors in the campaigns of our own lives? The central character in the play, rewritten continually for each new audience..

  19. And of course the past, when it applies to you, is forever in the present. To be taken out & rehearsed at every opportunity. Even if its a past that you haven’t had the slightest recollection of taking place.

    Heh!

  20. “None of Katya’s past should matter; it’s in the past!”

    The very last thing that women want is to be held accountable and responsible for their actions. The entire feminist model is predicated on this.

  21. Good to see another book-related thread. I came along too late on all the others since finishing reading it.

    On a bit of a tangent…

    I thought your characterisation of her lefty mates was spot on from plenty of direct experience. Really rang true for me. Gave me a “been there” feeling.

    One thing I’d suggest is that – for me – a couple times your PoV character talks too much without a break, as though it is a written statement or blog post rather than speech. The one that stood out was near the end from around, “Two things. Firstly…” That monologue could have done with more to break it up I thought, maybe the character fidgeting, twirling a pen, noticing how the listener reacted, them interjecting, something like that.

    Would like to hear if your other readers agree with me on that, as my opinion is only backed by the one e-purchase!

    I enjoyed the book. Looking forward to the next, that sounds very interesting too.

  22. Late onto this thread, but it occured to me: How many of these women would ignore their own uni credentials, because, of course, ‘it’s in the past’?

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