Advice: Dating a woman with a past

Dear Love, InshAllah:

I’ve met a girl I really like. We have been good friends for a while. She and I are both Muslims, both born in a Muslim country, but raised in America. I really like her however, she had (relatively) many sexual relations prior to meeting me. She has never been married. In fact, she never even dated the guys she had sex with – they were just flings and so forth. I know that this is common in many cultures, but when you are from a background that doesn’t approve of this it doesn’t make much sense to me as to why she would have done this.

Obviously, she says she regrets it all. But I don’t know what to do. I really like her and would like a future with her, but her decisions make me conflicted. Most the time I feel at peace with her, but there are times I feel angry, upset, and hateful. The root of the feelings are obvious. I just don’t know what to do.

Dating a woman with a past

Miss Sunshine replies:

You’re right that the root of your feelings are obvious. You feel “angry, upset, and hateful” because someone touched something that you want to one day be yours’. Many men grow up in an environment where this kind of jealousy is praised as a natural and correct expression of healthy masculinity. Masculine men, we are taught, protect what is theirs. But wives aren’t possessions: they are partners. Women are individuals whom Allah has invested with a free will equal to men, and an accountability equal to men. Your anger over not being able to control her sexuality stems from the idea that you have a right to do so. You do not. God gave that right to each of us, and your desire for control is oppression. Jealousy is a sign of insecurity, not healthy masculinity, and certainly not love.

The words you’ve used to describe your emotions are powerful, and they are alarming. The fact that you feel this strongly over how she chose to use her body in the past should be a warning sign that you’re not ready for a serious relationship with any woman. A man who feels anger and hate toward a woman is dangerous. You’re dangerous to her. If you love her, then you should let her go.

Your anger may never result in physical harm, but hanging this woman’s sexual history over her head hurts both of you. It hurts you because it is abusive and manipulative behavior which can only retard your spiritual growth. It hurts her because your refusal to move on, your idea that she is somehow untrustworthy and/or tainted despite her repentance, shames her and keeps her tied to the past even though she’s ready to move on. It’s cruel. Everyone who makes it through the birth canal alive acquires a past. A person’s “past” is everything that happens before their present. Someone’s “past” is not polite euphemism for out-of-wedlock sex. It’s a sexist euphemism used to degrade women for doing the same things men are praised for doing.

Additionally, this woman was raised in the U.S., so she is not from a culture that disapproves premarital sex. She is a product of many cultures, and those cultures have different messages about premarital sex. She didn’t betray her culture by having sex with men she had no commitment to. She chose to embrace some messages from one of her cultures over other messages.

You say that she regrets her previous sexual encounters. That’s between her and God. She doesn’t need your anger providing an obstacle in her path to make peace with her actions and change her life according to what she thinks is best. No one’s body belongs to you. You have absolutely no right to feel anger– much less hatred– toward her because of her past decisions. The fact that you do, demonstrates that you have very little respect for a woman’s autonomy over her own body. You have very little respect for her at all. If you can’t respect her, then you’re only harming each of you by trying to marry her.

Shy Desi Boy replies:

I understand your concern. As Muslims we are told to avoid sexual relations outside of marriage and when someone does not adhere to this, it can cause us to raise questions about ourselves and our relationship with our faith.

But I think we need to parse this out a bit more. One way to look at this — and this is how I would approach the situation — is to appreciate your partner for who she is, including her past.

This does not mean endorsing her past actions but realizing that we are who we are because of the choices we made yesterday, even choices that others might find disagreeable. Your partner might have a stronger sense of who she is, what she wants in life, and what she wants in a partner because of these experiences. I am a firm believer that the pressing matter is who this person is today: is she kind, is she conscious of her relationship with God, is she honest, and does she make you make happy?

Another way to look at this is to be cautious about her past. For one, there is the question of STDs and I recommend both of you get tested before getting married. There is also a question of what this says about her relationship with God and that is something you need to explore. And there is the issue of why she had these flings and what that reveals about her. Will she be able to commit to just one person? What are her expectations of sex? Have you discussed this? I recommend doing so and doing so before marriage. The more honest the conversation about sex before marriage, the better the sex will be in marriage. At least that is my theory.

And there is yet another way to examine this and that is to ask questions of yourself. Why are you angry and resentful? Why do you care who she has slept with? I know many Muslim guys who have slept around but get upset when they hear that a woman has done this same. This is unfair and in many ways we men expect women to behave in ways that we do not ask of ourselves. Often we men do not like when our partner has had more sex than us have because that makes us feel inadequate.

I will say I prefer being with a woman who has had sexual relations. Part of the reason is because I have had multiple partners and I am most content being with someone who understands that this journey of life is messy, unpredictable and that sometimes we make choices that in hindsight make no sense and are un-Islamic. But they made us the people we are today.

Wishing you my best.

13 Comments on “Advice: Dating a woman with a past”

  1. A. says:

    I agree with Miss. Sunshine.
    If you are unable to help her move forward, which ideally you should since you claim to love her, please dont hold her back by becoming a constant reminder of something she regrets.
    And really, her past is none of your business, but now that she has shared it with you, please be compassionate enough to understand the very human need of putting our trust in someone, and be thankful that she gave you the opportunity to make an informed decision.
    If her past bothers you now, chances are it will continue to do so in future, and thats not fair to her. And I fear the day when her regrets transpose into your regrets…
    She will feel hurt and Judged, but in the grand scheme of things, it is better that she knows now than later that you are not accpeting of her.
    You are probably afraid of feeling guilty should you leave, hence all this confusion… but I hope you know that sooner or later, we learn to live with such feelings.
    Good luck.

  2. Aisha H says:

    I think this girl should simply dump this guy who is using her past against her. He seems like a total jerk who is also un-islamic. In Islam, if someone repents sincerely for a past sin, it is like they never committed that sin. So who is this chauvinist to judge this woman when Allah accepts the repentance of those who are sincere? I’m sure this guy never hates his male friends for having pre-marital sex. Does he hate the zina that his guy friends did? If he truly hated the actual act of zina for the sake of Allah, he would be chastising his male buddies who have done the same thing because Allah doesn’t differentiate between the zina od a woman and a man.

    • LOL, look at all the extremely negative and biased *assumptions* YOU are making about the questioner. Are you so “Islamic” and “forgiving”? Who do you think you are? What is this “Islamic” you are talking about anyway? How do you know whether or not he would feel the same about his male friends? All you have done is taken Ms Sunshine’s response (which is vehemently disdainful, presumptuous, and completely lacking in empathy for the questioner) at face value and wholly accepted it in blindness. Why is everyone reacting so emotionally? Use your rationality, people.

      Heck, if I found out a guy I was considering for marriage had a past with several women in flank relationships, then I’d become very uncomfortable. I’m a WOMAN, and that sort of feeling is entirely natural for HUMANS to have. Nobody said it’s okay to treat the woman like garbage or hate her, the questioner is simply seeking help for his difficult feelings of mistrust, worry, and bewilderment – entirely natural feelings to have. He never said that he shouldn’t forgive the girl and he never excused his feelings either. Of course anyone who has a past can redeem themselves and move on. It’s all about what the person in the present is like, what his/her values are right now and for the future. But no cultural circumstances make it acceptable to commit zina, and this excessive, radical feminism (where basically since it’s “my body” I can do freakin’ anything and nobody ever has a right to judge those actions) we’re seeing from people like Sunshine and others is destroying the little moral fabric left in society. My goodness, just look at all the male-hate and assumptions Sunshine (and YOU) makes about the questioner and the relationship without even knowing barely anything about either him or the girl. And interestingly, nobody replied asking what their “dating” even constitutes. Is this dating in accordance with Islamic values in and of itself? Let’s ask that before we even start to think about how to respond to his feelings. My goodness!

      If you’re truly worried about the physical and emotional safety of the girl, then please make that known in an assertive yet respectful manner. If the relationship can’t exist in peace and tranquility and trust between the two people, it won’t work out and the two need to move on in their separate ways. They should seek counseling from either professionals or imams if possible. The point that should be highlighted in the various responses he’s received is simply to look at the present: will it work out in the today and tomorrow, are they comparable in their values and personality, will they share the same interests and promises, will they be committed companions to each other and be good parents, are their families going to be involved and do they match, etc.?

      I wish I could say I was shocked at the ridiculousness of responses given to this guy. Telling him to be this and that while we set this crappy of an example ourselves? LOL. Goodness gracious.

  3. JC says:

    Dear brother,
    First, let me agree with Miss Sunshine in saying that your feelings toward this girl are dangerous, to both of you. You do not have the right to judge her or her actions – that is only for Allah (swt) to do, and whether she has repented to Him is between her and her Lord, and you have no place in between.

    [Although there is an inherent contradiction in Ms. Sunshine’s comments – that her “culture” is two fold – one an American culture, and a second “Muslim” culture, but whether she regrets/repents her behavior is between her and God. It’s either culture or God, not both. Violating culture doesn’t mean her regret is between her and God. Violating tenants of her faith DO make her regret between her and God… pick one]

    Secondly, most of the comments (including Ms. Sunshine and ShyDesiBoy – who I am once again disagreeing with, despite my rare recent agreement with him on something), seem to put your perspective as one that is unfair to the girl. While they may all be right to some extent, let’s look at it another way: from your angle.

    A person who engages in this type of behavior, which is clearly a violation of Islamic rules, for men AND women, only once or twice – i.e., rarely, probably won’t do it again. But if a person (man or woman) has had many sexual partners, then the question you must consider is, if you marry her, what is the chance that she may engage in extra-marital sex, and cheat on you? People (men and women) who value the moral concept of monogamy and abstinence before marriage value the relationship that comes from marriage, including the sexual bond that forms between the married couple. But those who really don’t value these moral concepts and engage in sexual activity outside of the limits of their faith may not necessarily value the limits of the marital relationship, and may be more easily drawn into an extra-marital situation.

    In other words, where a person knows of, regrets, but continues to engage in sinful behavior [here Zina], when they enter into a circumstance that provides another framework for limiting that sinful behavior [marriage], it is questionable whether that person will be able to prevent themselves from committing the sinful act again – this time in that new circumstance. So if she knows and realizes that her sexual encounters were morally wrong, but she did them anyway, would she really respect the marital relationship and not engage in extra-marital sex? That’s a question only she can answer, but you have to consider – for your OWN sake.

    If YOU hold true to the moral and faith based limits on sexual behavior, and you value them, and she does not, if she violates them, you will feel more hurt by her behavior than if you did not value these concepts. You will see it from the perspective that she knows that you trust her, and your trust is based on your mutual faith, and if she violates it, your trust will be more deeply wounded than otherwise.

    So, for BOTH of your sake, don’t pursue her any longer. Let her find someone who does not have a problem with her “past” or may even have his own “past.”

    Oh – and as Aisha H said, you SHOULD just as even handedly be critical of any Muslim male friends who engage in premarital sex, as it is just as dangerous, damaging and unlawful as it is for women. Islamic rules apply to both sexes, not just to one.

  4. The Mortal with the Invisible Clock! says:

    There are so many ways to address this question but Allah will say it the best. Read your Qur’an if you seriously want advice.

    Allah is the most merciful and forgiving. If you can’t forgive her why should you be forgiven for any of your crimes?

    You say she’s a woman with a past, but she is a women with a future and present. There are two phases of her existence that you haven’t addressed.

    Does she treat people right, is she currently righteous, is she merciful, is she loving, is she forgiving, is she a good child, is she a good friend, is she a good citizen, is currently chaste, is she smart, will she be a good parent?

    More importantly…are you? If you haven’t guarded your own modesty, then you should be the one repenting.

    Leave her alone as your anger and hatred (no matter how small) will hurt her and wrong your own soul. Leave her alone if you cannot accept all of her mistakes and forgive her. This is a test that you posses and you could be the one who assists her in becoming a stronger Muslim(if that’s what she wants), or you can be the one who throws back her past in her face (an act you have no authority to do as not even the Prophet’s would do so). You will hurt her severely and Allah may hold you accountable for those actions and Intentions and you will be the one in need for forgiveness.

    I’ve rewrote this multiple times, but you need more than just a few answers. You need to get read your Qur’an and learn to truly forgive, and get a Wali. I cannot stress enough, get a Wali!!!!

  5. 1) I’m surprised at the aggression in Ms. Sunshine’s response. Yes, I agree that it’s wrong to hold her sexual past against her – but all the guy did was be honest about his emotions and ask about how to overcome them. Chewing him out for being manipulative and abusive when we have no evidence to the contrary is, I feel, rather counter-productive to the idea of seeking productive, positive support in facing challenging situations.
    I would also hesitate to make accusations such as “I bet you have lots of male friends who commit zina, why aren’t you angry at them?”
    The tone of many of these responses are quite hostile when I think it’s a pretty good thing that the guy even came forward to openly and honestly ask his question.

    2) There are a lot of assumptions here being made about the woman, when all we have is the guy’s perspective. The most obvious answer – talk to her about her past, her feelings on the subject, what her values are now, what she would like from a future relationship – hasn’t even been mentioned.

    3) To the questioner: TALK TO HER. Don’t make assumptions about her. Watch how you approach her when you discuss the subject – are you acting in an aggressive or intimidating manner? Or are you just honest but in control of your tone of voice and body language? Ask her about how she feels, what she wants from life, what she wants from marriage, and so on.

    Also, please get over her baggage. Many of the sahabah engaged in zina before their Islam and their repentance, and as for ‘multiple sexual partners,’ many sahabiyaat were married to several men in their lifetimes… this did not stop the male sahabah from marrying divorcees and widows just because “they had sex with all these guys before me!”
    What matters is that between her and Allah, she has made tawbah and sought maghfirah – if she makes it clear that she no longer engages nor wishes to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, then trust her, believe in her, and remember that sincere repentance wipes away ALL sin. None of us has the right to judge others based on their pasts, nor to hold it against them.

    True love is accepting the person for who they are, including their pasts, and believing the best of them, trusting in the best of them, and getting over your own issues. Ms. Sunshine made some really good points about how many Muslim men are praised for their jealousy and unhealthy possessiveness, when in fact Islam makes it very clear that a woman’s actions are her own business, and no man has the right to use it as leverage or a means of controlling her.

    There is a saying – every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future. We are ALL sinners and none of us saints, so why not afford this woman, whom you claim to care for deeply, the same right to husn adh-dhann as you would like for yourself?

  6. Professor X says:

    Asalaam alaikum,

    I’m not sure why the author of this letter was attacked so vehemently in the way he was, as. It shows that some of the responders have male-hate issues and confused sexual ideals just as much as they accuse the author of such. I see very little understanding of Qur’an or hadith in any of these replies. In fact, if one relied on several Qur’anic verses, the person would see the criteria by which this fellow should judge his choice as to what to do.

    The problem is more evident stemming from the situation that both these people are involved in: dating. Astagfirullah, that is the root of the problem that everyone so far has seemed to miss. The author’s feelings of hate, anger and resentment are a reflection of the fact that he is engaged in a haram relationship with said woman and while he has projected these feelings to her revealed past sins, it really stems from the fact that they (man and woman) are on the cusp of doing the same and/or on a parallel path. In fact, dating is a sin in Islam and this situation is causing him to hate himself and her, though he does not understand the causation of it.

    When previous responders were picking apart personality traits, they forgot that the harbinger of these emotions is the actions and environment by which they are being developed. In this case, an act of revelation by the woman further made apparent the “dating” hypocrisy that they are both involved in. Even if she did not have a past, this haram and unhealthy union, would manifest these feelings in other ways. These feelings can he suffers from can be projected in other relationships with people around him such as strained ties with non-approving family members, community dissatisfaction and God forbid, being antagonistic with the tents of Islam.

    Thus, Allah (swt) has placed in human beings, the ability to develop consciousness of right from wrong. How this consciousness develops, innately by emotions in this case, is evidence that both these people are in an unhealthy relationship. To reiterate, whether she has a past or not is but a red herring, the root of the problem is that they are engaged in a haram relationship and have disregarded the emphasis of men and women unions that Allah (swt) only placed in marriage. That is where his feeling of projected anger comes from: his own self-loathing of a dating relationship (sin) that he has chosen to freely engage himself in and the thought process which made him feel comfortable to do so. So these two people are setting themselves up for failure at this point.

    The best suggestion is for him to leave this girl and reassess why he is having out of wedlock relationships with women in whatever capacity they may exist in his life. He needs to re-evaluate what it is he is doing to harm his faith and practices, and why he chooses to do them. The first of the responders should evaluate why they missed this point, as well.

  7. Nomad says:

    Thank you, prof X for laying down the hammer.

    Moreover, I’d like to mention that it is natural for men to find the idea of marrying someone with a slutty past repugnant. It is what it is.
    I’m not condoning the idea that it’s only women who should be guarding their chastity; both men and women need to.

    This society and its cultural values are different, yeah, but it doesn’t change the laws of Allah. My honest advice to the questioner: repent. And if you want to marry this woman and you see her fit to be the mother of your children, then be honest with her and overcome your fears and feelings before moving forward.

  8. Mrs Honey says:

    Spot on Professor X! thank you for your response.

  9. Soul Sistah says:

    Okay can we be completely honest here and just look at the sunnah and the Qur’an. You know what it says? When you’re about to meet each other to carry forth a relational commitment, you need not dwell on the past.

    In fact, she didn’t even have to tell you about her past, nor did you (the fact that both of you did is incredibly telling of a trust expectency and that in of itself is not something which you should manipulate to mean that she is somehow “open” to the concept of doing it again. If your partner trusts you with revealing their most inner turmoiling secrets, chances are that they are investing in the relationship by allowing vulnerability, not risking the relationship itself!) Not disclosing harmful past behavior (after you have asked for repentance and abstained from that behavior permanently) is an option accorded to future spouses:

    Please remember this after you’ve decided to judge your future partners for their past indiscretions. If you know that their self-destructive behaviors are no longer a part of their lives, then the rest, as they say, is between her/him and Allah (subhanu wa’tala) and you know what? Don’t we all have secrets that only Allah knows?

  10. […] first counter-discourse I came across recently was another column at Love, Inshallah. Ms Sunshine’s advice in particular, to a man who wrote in asking how to […]

  11. idesireranks says:

    The response by Ms. Sunshine was absolutely vile.

  12. triodia says:

    I see how readers might find the answer by Ms. Sunshine harsh. They are somehow. But there are several things that I want to point out:
    1. The man sking considered it absolutely obvious where his feelings stem from. This could mean ‘Because I was raised in a culture where woman do not have the right to decide over their bodies and ere judged severely. While I recognize that I am influenced by this, I am also aware that Islam forbids premarital sex without distinction of gender and it is thus not right to hold this more against her than against men and it is a sin she committed and thus between God and her and not really my business.” However, when I first read it, I interpeted it more as “Of course I am angry that I finally love a woman and she is a slut. What else could you possibly think of a woman like that.” Maybe this interpretation is wrong, but in the question the author described his conflict between his love for her and the negative feelings towards her because of her former actions and he did not address any refelctions about whether it is really his business and whether he might be angry because she does not adhere to cultural norms. I thus think the guy really thought that he had a right to demand ‘purity’ and as Ms. Sunshine pointed out he hasn’t.
    2. I think it is alarming if a man describes that he feels hatred and anger towards a woman he will possibly marry because of her past. She cannot change her past, but only who she is and if the guy cannot change his feelings about her based on her past it is indeed likely that he will be abusive in one way or another and this is harmful and unfortunately there already is a lot of abuse in relationships. Men that feel entitled to decide upon a woman’s body are according to studies more likely to be violent and abuse – towards any woman they decide to marry even if she does not have a past like that but maybe even more if she does have.
    3. I think Ms. Sunshine also expresses her frfustration about the double standard of sexual morals that is so common in many cultures, but not based in Islam. I think that this just anger over an unjust issue is right even if the man is just one of the many men (and women) that has not yet reflected on that matter. Maybe he will after this response.

    Of course, we don’t know him nor his girlfriend and many assumptions are made. Expressing feelings and concerns is important, but only if this leads to a reflection of one’s own attitudes and to a change in behavior. I also apprecciate the perspective given by Shy Desi Boy which adresses other issues but still does not condemn the girlfriend of the author of the question.

    As to the question of the author: As far as I know, Islam condemns zina, but it also says that it is more important to re-integrate the sinner into the ummah and to give her the possibility to lead a life according to the principles of Islam as to punish her. But maybe this was just one interpretation I came along. I think I heared it from an Egyptian scholar. However, the question was not really whether or not it was okay to marry her on Islamic grounds but rather how he should act as he faces conflicting feelings of love and hatred. And I think these questions were answered very well by Ms. SUnshine and Shy Desi Boy.