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Dating and air travel have at least one thing in common: it’s rare to see anyone arrive baggage-free. In fact, nearly seven out of 10 people think their partner brings issues into a relationship, a study in Human Communication reports. Use these tips to handle her baggage with care – and keep it from crushing you.
1. Her Ex is a Borderline Stalker
ASK YOURSELF Is this idiot really such a big deal? Exes usually lurk on social media because they can’t do it in person, says Professor Brandy Engler, a sex therapist and the author of The Men on My Couch. So don’t go postal over a post. “It may have to do with simply fostering a friendship – which is often all that’s left,” she says.
CONSIDER THIS If she’s truly moved on, she’ll be allergic to nostalgia, Engler says. Look for signs she’s dwelling on the past – SMSing him, meeting him for coffee, accepting his phone calls. If they turn up, break away.
HANDLE IT Just bite your tongue – for now. You may feel tempted to call her out, but opt for a quieter power move: fill her calendar with adventures. Relationships thrive on novelty, Engler says, and planning activities provides you with a strategic advantage. “The more things you give her to look forward to,” Engler says, “the less likely she’ll be to romanticise the past.”
WRONG MOVE Going all Alec Baldwin on her. There’s a fine line between direct and accusatory. Cross it, and you’ll only appear insecure. That’s how exes win.
2. She’s a Beauty But Thinks She’s a Beast
ASK YOURSELF How serious is it? Sadly, this is common: up to 90% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance, says Professor Paulette Kouffman-Sherman, a psychologist who specialises in relationships. Long term, that could threaten everything from your sex life to your emotional health, she says.
CONSIDER THIS Are her girlfriends also this hard on themselves? The journal Sex Roles found that the way a woman thinks about her body is strongly influenced by her friends’ feelings about their bodies.
HANDLE IT Go ahead: lay it on thick. Tell her how much you love the dimple on her butt and the freckle on her back, says Professor Robyn Silverman, author of Good Girls Don’t Get Fat. Avoid staring at potential danger zones, like her stomach. Your thoughtful praise can help her beat back her insecurity and shout down that relentless inner critic.
WRONG MOVE Comparing her to other people – even if it’s meant to be positive, Silverman says. It just shows you’re monitoring her, which can stoke those insecurities.
3. Her STD Rhymes with “Burpees”
ASK YOURSELF Did you sleep with her during the six-month window after she was infected? With genital herpes, that’s when the risk of transmission is greatest, says Dr Peter Leone, a professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina. The good news: that risk diminishes over time.
CONSIDER THIS Genital herpes is more common than you think: prevalence rates among women range from 46% (Western Cape) to 60% (hello, KZN). But she got tested and was honest with you, Engler says. “It’s a great indicator of her maturity.”
HANDLE IT Use condoms, which cut your risk of contracting herpes by about 30%. Also, if she pops a suppressant pill, that risk could drop by another 50%. Take all these precautions, and “you could be looking at a 97% or better chance of never contracting it,” says Leone.
WRONG MOVE Making hasty assumptions about her past. “People have this mistaken idea that if you get an STD, you must have been promiscuous,” Engler says. “In reality, most people have the same level of risk.”
4. Your (Idiot) Friend Dated Her First
ASK YOURSELF What’s the real reason you’re twisted up? Usually, it’s jealousy – or worse, you’re judging her, says family therapist Professor Paul Hokemeyer. “Don’t expect her to be as virtuous as your mom. Dwelling on exes will only make you angry and insecure – and that kills relationships.”
CONSIDER THIS Believe it or not, this could actually bode well for you: 19% of married couples met through friends, according to a 2013 study in Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.
HANDLE IT Give your mate a courtesy heads-up, says psychotherapist Professor Vinita Mehta. Then be clear about what you want from her. “She might think you’re just after another hookup,” says Mehta. “So if you’re serious about dating her, say so up front and then follow through.” Your other issues – those nagging feelings of jealousy – are all ego.
WRONG MOVE Using it as ammo in the heat of a fight. Making her feel guilty about a sexual choice is called slut-shaming, and it guarantees a lonely night.
5. It Gets Ugly After the Third Glass
ASK YOURSELF How often does Mrs Hyde emerge? Frequent heavy drinking could reflect deeper issues, ones that may require professional help, says Professor Marc F. Kern, co-author of Responsible Drinking. Otherwise it’s mostly a question of self-awareness and her willingness to adjust her ways, says Mehta.
CONSIDER THIS A bad drunk is more unpredictable than a post-match press conference. And if relationships are fundamentally built on trust, Kern says, then you’re building yours on an insecure foundation.
HANDLE IT Schedule a (sober) sit-down and ask her to reset her limits, Kern suggests. Gently give examples of how she crossed the line (“You said his shirt looked like a parachute.”) Then set a new threshold (“Let’s stick to one glass tonight.”). If she can’t resist the bottle, it’s time to put a cork in your relationship.
WRONG MOVE Expecting she’ll change on her own. “Early in relationships, people tend to see positives and dismiss red flags,” Mehta says. “That’s a mistake you can’t afford to make. Speak up.”
By Hannah McWilliams