Katie Byrne: Does complete disclosure help or hurt your relationship
How many lovers are too many? That was the question posed on parenting forum Mumsnet recently by a woman who doesn't know "what a normal number is" but feels that the number of lovers she has had is "pretty high".
"So basically I've just started seeing someone new and, as part of the getting to know each other conversation, he asked how many other people I've slept with," she explained.
When the woman told her partner that she wasn't comfortable discussing her sexual history with him, he continued to press her for an answer. "I said, 'I thought we had already had that conversation' and he said, 'It's that many, is it?'," she added.
For the most part, the other women on Mumsnet didn't tell her what a 'normal number' is. Instead, they told her that this isn't normal behaviour.
Many of them described his line of questioning as a 'red flag' and the question itself as 'irrelevant'.
Others pointed out that the type of person who asks for a number almost always wants to judge according to a subjective definition of propriety (based on their limited life experience).
This is before we even consider the type of person who has taken the time to keep his own tally, which, if we're honest, is tantamount to counting the amount of times you've had champagne or eaten lobster or flown first-class. Maybe it's for their Twitter bio... Considerably younger couples tend to ask one another the sexual history question. Thankfully maturity soon teaches them that it's inconsequential, intrusive and borderline lascivious.
Yet some people don't mature. They confuse forensic self-disclosure with emotional intimacy because they've seen one too many rom-coms in which the gooey-eyed protagonist says, "There's something you need to know about me!"
Radical honesty is, of course, the groundstone of many a strong relationship, but most people with their heads screwed on know that there are some subjects that are best not broached in a relationship. Here are a few other hot buttons that it's always wise not to push…
COMMUNICATION WITH YOUR EX
A friendly text message exchange with your ex is one thing, a clandestine meeting behind your partner's back is quite another. If you've been innocently chatting to your ex on WhatsApp, don't be the Stockholm Syndrome simpleton who tells his new partner about it. It'll arouse unnecessary suspicion, dissolve your personal boundaries and set a nasty precedent.
ISSUES WITH YOUR MOTHER-IN-LAW
Okay, so she's a double-crossing, gaslighting emotional manipulator with psychopathic tendencies and a PhD in subliminal sideswipes. That doesn't mean you should mention it to her son or daughter. If you want an easy life, hold your tongue, resist the urge to send your partner links to articles on narcissistic personality disorder with the subject line, 'Remind you of anyone?' and pray that your company offers you a relocation package.
YOUR SECRET STASH
When you share a bathroom, a bank account and a surname, it's important to find outlets that allow you to assert your independence. Of course, weekly yoga in the local community centre and weekends away with your gal pals will only go so far. If you really want to exercise radical self-reliance, you need a secret stash of bank notes. Known variously as the 'escape fund' and the 'f***-off fund', it's a contingency plan should the relationship come to an end. Should you ever discuss it with your partner? Absolutely not.
NIPS & TUCKS
It's probably best to keep your visits to the cosmetic clinic to yourself. Botox is not something you want thrown back at you in a row, especially when you can't even lift your brow to express incredulity. If he says you look different, just smile coyly by using the part of your zygomaticus minor muscle that hasn't been paralysed, and swiftly change the subject.
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING... RIGHT NOW?
Some people love to be asked about their innermost thoughts. Others feel like their last refuge of peace and quiet has been hijacked by a rogue mind control unit. We may be living through the death of privacy, but that doesn't mean you can access the inner workings of your partner's mind whenever you get bored in a coffee shop.