From a recent “Ask Carolyn” column by Carolyn Hax:
The other day, the guy I’ve been out with exactly four times asked me for my “number.” (Not my phone number, the other one.) I was offended that he’d even ask at this early stage, so I didn’t tell him. Instead of respecting my privacy, he decided I must be embarrassed about my number or else I would tell him.
Is this thing DOA? I know asking that question is a no-no, but is it a deal-breaker? I’d almost be willing to tell him my number, which is normal, if it means getting past this awkwardness.
Oh for the fuck of shit. I hate hate HATE “the number” question. But first, Carolyn’s answer:
Gah, no, don’t. It’s none of his damn business, but that’s not why this is DOA. It’s DOA because he didn’t respect your “no.”
It’s very important that you don’t cave in to people just because they make that the easier option for you. It is a classic form of manipulation: Ask for something you know isn’t yours to have, and then indicate that a refusal to comply will be punished — by blame, judgment, yelling, stony silence, accusations of ulterior motives that it never occurred to you to have. (You’re embarrassed?) Toddlers do it, adolescents do it, immature adults do it, and abusers do it.
So unless you want to be in a relationship with a toddler, an adolescent, a boundary-challenged man-child or an abuser, please tell him you’re not interested in seeing him anymore.
Carolyn’s right on with that advice, IMO, particularly with regard to the way that the dude pressured the woman to give up her number of sexual partners, as though he had a right to know, and he was going to find a way to make her tell him even if she was reluctant.
The whole question of “the number” came up in a Sex and the City episode where Miranda attempts–and fails–to figure out exactly how many men she’s slept with. The title of the episode is, tellingly, “Are We Sluts?”
That’s where “the number” conversation is nearly always heading: 100% good ol’-fashioned slut-shaming. I believe very strongly that we should never feel obligated to open ourselves up to shaming, so if you’re asked the question the way that woman was, don’t feel you need to answer it. Frankly, unless you are a bride about to hand over that ring Daddy gave you at the Purity Ball, the number is probably going to be an issue. If it weren’t, he never would have asked in the first place.
I have been confronted with “the number” question a time or two, and I usually just ask the dude directly “Why do you want to know that?” Once or twice it’s been a harmless, not-very-deft segue into the safe sex discussion. In that case I usually just say “Oh, I always have safe sex. And don’t worry–we’ll use condoms.” No need for them to know the specifics–the actual number of partners I’ve had is irrelevant. Sure, there have been a few lovers with whom I’ve discussed numbers to simply because we’re comfortable and curious and I know they won’t judge me if we compare notes (yes, there are men out there who are non-judgmental about women’s sex lives). Mostly, though, I just avoid the question entirely; I also don’t ask it.
Sometimes, though, “the number” question can’t be avoided. Then it’s okay to Be A Bitch.
For example, about 10 years ago, I was on a third date with a very attractive man. There was a lot of flirtation, and kissing, and then he asked, “Have you slept with many men in New York?”
Huh? I decided to make a joke of it, “You mean, as compared to sleeping with men in other cities?”
“No, I mean, have you slept with a lot of men? Like, how many?”
I pulled back, gave him the Frosty Eye of Death and said, “Enough.”
He stared back quizzically, and then repeated, “Enough?”
“Yes,” I told him, “I’ve slept with enough men.” I mentally filled in the rest of that sentence, which was “…to know that you will not be among them.”
Eiither he read my mind or he figured that my non-disclosure was a sign of incorrigible sluttiness, because the date ended shortly thereafter and I did not hear from him again.
Do I know the exact number of men I’ve slept with? Yep. Would it matter if I had totally forgotten how many or never bothered to count? Nope. And I’d be perfectly happy if none of us ever had to have “the number” conversation ever again.
*I realize this is a totally heteronormative relationship discussion…it seems to me that this particular issue is full of gender norms and stereotypes that mainly afflict heteros. Does “the number” come up for gay women? Is it fraught with the same baggage? Would be curious to hear commentary from lesbian/bisexual readers.