Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: I hope you’re chatting with me outside on your laptops on this perfect autumn day.
Q. My boyfriend didn’t tell me he has an STD—and I want him anyway?: My boyfriend and I have been together about four months now, and about a month ago we stopped using condoms (I have an IUD). A few days ago, he told me he had something that he’d been too embarrassed to tell me earlier because he didn’t want me to see him differently and ruin something that was going so well. Turns out that what he needed to tell me was that he’d contracted herpes from an ex-girlfriend a few years before. He’d been taking suppressive medication since we started sleeping together, and hasn’t had an outbreak in over a year—but, naturally, I was more than a little shocked. Honestly, herpes can be dealt with; I’m having a much harder time with the fact that he didn’t come forward with this information when we decided to have unprotected sex. The problem is, I’m absolutely falling for him in every other way, and normally find him to be much more of an oversharer than one to withhold. He’s been extremely apologetic and responsive to my questions (and minor outburst), and I have no reason to think I’ve actually been exposed. I guess my question is: Is it absurd that I want to stay with him? I’m trying to imagine my response if a girlfriend told me this happened to her, and it wouldn’t necessarily be encouraging.
A: You’re absolutely right that the time for this difficult discussion was after it became clear that each of your histories with sexually transmitted germs was germane, and before you potentially exposed each other to your viral life partners. Of course it’s embarrassing to reveal you have herpes. And letting a prospective partner know this runs the risk of that partner deciding to run in the opposite direction. I agree that herpes does not have to be that big a deal, and steps can be taken to mitigate against spreading it. But whether you were comfortable with this risk is a decision that should have been yours to make. The fact that your boyfriend is on suppressive medication does reduce the potential of your exposure. But there’s something unseemly about his assumption that once you got in the sack with him, you’d assess your risk in a more favorable light. However, since he is on the medication, and he’s owned up pretty quickly, let’s call this a misdemeanor. If I were your girlfriend I would not tell you to dump him. But although you are physically intimate, you have to work on your emotional intimacy. You can tell him despite your disappointment at his withholding this information, you want to continue the relationship, but you two have some work to do to rebuild your trust.
Dear Prudence: Keep the Camera Off My Thighs!
Q. Asking for my money back …?: My friend, who is the same age as me (18), was involved in a car accident that has left her with serious head injuries and permanently disabled. Shortly before the accident, we were planning to take a trip across Asia. On the day we were due to pay the travel agent, she was short of almost $1,000, as her boss had delayed her wage payment. I paid it for her and told her to give me the money when her boss paid her. I don’t want to be insensitive when her family is dealing with something like this, but that is a lot of money for me. We picked the cheapest package deal, so it’s nonrefundable. Is there a way I can ask her family for the money?
A: You are coming to me because you really don’t know how to form the words to express your sorrow that your friend’s life will never be the same, that her family is facing the most devastating possible news emotionally financially and every other way, and that—umm, you’re out an extra $1,000 for a trip you two can now never take. I understand that $1,000 is a lot of money, especially for a teenager. But her family was about to wish their daughter bon voyage on a big adventure, and now they face a lifetime of unforeseen expenses to care for her. Five years from now she will still be trying to rebuild her life, and you will be deep into yours and will have spent $1,000 many times over on hair appointments, dinners out, new clothes, and all the accoutrements of a happy, young life. Vow now that you will stay connected to your friend and be grateful every day that you are healthy. Accept that your $1,000 is gone and that you won’t burden this suffering family.
Q. Zombie attending my wedding?!: My fiance and I are getting married in a few short months in a traditional, full-blown Catholic ceremony. Our entire wedding is fairly small, and I made an exception for my friend who begged me to let her come. Now, she informs me that while wearing a dress, she will be wearing “zombie” leggings— ones that make her legs look gorey and slashed. I tried asking her politely to not wear them, due to it basically being too strange for me. She insists that I am suffocating her individuality, but I feel she is being disrespectful of my wishes. I loosely defined the attire as “business casual.” Am I being too unreasonable?
A: After the wedding, you might want to reconsider this friend’s place in your life. People simply don’t beg to get included in other people’s small wedding parties. You should have kindly explained to her that you simply couldn’t invite everyone you would have liked to. But having forced an invitation out of you, she now wants to make sure you know this event is actually all about her—why else inform you of her exciting Halloween VI look. You’ve expressed your objections, now you should forget about it. What bridal couples often don’t understand is that wacked out family members and friends are free entertainment for the rest of your guests. Your “friend” will not steal the spotlight from you; she will be a minor freak show that everyone can laugh about on the car ride home.
Q. Older driver with bad eyes: My mom is a very independent person but was struck by macular degeneration a couple of years ago. She still drives—although she lies about how much she drives. Her ophthalmologist says she’s “street legal” so he can’t take her license away, but at the same time, agrees with me that she shouldn’t be driving. Even when she had normal vision, she was not a good driver and had many accidents. With the condition of her eyes being what they are, I think it’s immoral for her to be driving. She’s well off, so she can afford all of the cab rides she needs. My question is this; Florida has a program where you can anonymously report a driver you believe shouldn’t be on the road. They’ll follow up and determine if someone really belongs on the road. She won’t listen to me or my siblings when we tell her to stop driving. Would it be wrong to drop a dime on her?
A: I wish you would drop a net over her. I’m sympathetic to the pain older people experience when their world starts shrinking. But your mother’s independence should not come at the price of someone else’s life or independence. I don’t understand her doctor’s distinction between “street legal” and “shouldn’t be driving.” “Shouldn’t be driving” is all we need to know, and as you say, your mother has long been a menace on the roads. I understand a doctor with many elderly patients does not improve his consumer rating by helping to take away their licenses, but you should be following up with him saying that you both know she’s passed the point where she can drive responsibly. Please also go ahead and report her to the DMV and make sure you follow up with the bureaucracy, which can move slowly. Comfort yourself in knowing the life you save may be your mother’s.
Q. Not his daughter: I am 35, and my wonderful beau is 63. He loves me very much, and shows it in many ways. We don’t really go out on dates; we both prefer to spend time together at home when he comes to visit (he lives out of town). We do stuff around the house, spend time with my kids, etc. I don’t believe we have ever been out to dinner or a movie, etc., and that is fine with me. At first I thought this was his preference as it is also mine (most of the time), but now I am realizing that he is embarrassed to be with me in public. While he is normally extremely affectionate, when we run errands together (hardware store, electronics, groceries, etc.) he pulls away if I try to hold his hand or take his arm. If he has to discuss anything with a sales or service person (like talking to mechanic when my car needed fixed), he says I’m his daughter. I once asked him why, and he said it just looks weird for us to be together because of the age difference. I’m wondering now if this is why we don’t go on a real “date” ever, because then I would obviously expect to be treated like his girlfriend and not his daughter. How can I get him to act normal in public? We have been friends for several years but only dating for about six months. I know I want to be with him for the foreseeable future, but it hurts me that he does this.
A: Nothing says ‘I love you’ so much as being at the supermarket with your boyfriend and having him point to you and tell the checker the mint chocolate chip is for his daughter. Stop wondering if your almost 30-year age difference is the reason you’re stuck in your home like the crazy wife hidden in the attic in Jane Eyre. It’s obviously not fine with you that you’ve never been out to dinner or a movie with him, and you need to explain that if you two are going to have a normal relationship, you need to act like normal people, and you don’t care what strangers assume about you. If he wants to treat you like a sweet deal in bed, but an embarrassment out of the house, then that’s all you need to know.
Q. Unwanted feelings: My ex-husband left me and my daughter five years ago. He has a lot of issues, and he cut off contact with his parents and siblings as well. I have kept in touch with his family regularly so my daughter keeps her ties with her father’s side, even if her father is out of the picture. This year was a difficult year for her, and she’s had some problems at school, so her uncle has stepped in as a father figure and made a lot of effort to care for her. As he’s spent more time with us, I find myself increasingly attracted to my ex-husband’s brother. I have no idea if my feelings are reciprocated, but I feel disturbed. I feel like it’s wrong to have feelings for my daughter’s uncle. How do I deal with such feelings? Please remind me why this is a terrible idea!
A: It’s perfectly understandable that after struggling to care for your daughter alone all these years that you find yourself attracted to a man who’s stepped into your life to help and who is a much-improved version of your ex-husband. Good for you for keeping your daughter connected to the paternal side of the family, it’s important for her to have as much loving family as possible. It could be that your former brother-in-law also finds himself attracted to you, but it’s good he hasn’t acted on this. He’s stepped up to help his niece. I think it would be way too confusing for you to start a romance with him; think of all the emotional complications that would entail. I don’t have to enumerate why picking your ex-husband’s brother as a boyfriend is a bad idea—the sentence itself sums it up. It’s hard to get out there and date, especially after having been so badly burned. But it’s been five years, and it’s time for you to start looking for someone who doesn’t come with so much baggage.
Q. Silent sister: My sister has not spoken to me since I told her I was pregnant. She has been trying to get pregnant, undergoing medical assistance (artificial) when she and her husband can afford it. Unfortunately, both her sister-in-law and I got pregnant within a week of each other. I was the second to tell and knew that she was upset about the first. I should have held off, but I don’t keep secrets, and she knew I had been trying for about five months. My daughter is now 8 months old. How can I reconcile and reconnect with her? I’ve apologized, but I think it’s more about the breach in trust, but how can I work to repair that when she won’t speak to me?
A: You’ve apologized for having a child? Maybe it’s a good thing that someone as unstable as your sister is not a mother. I understand it’s devastating not to be able to have children. But women with fertility problems have to be able to accept that their friends and loved ones with children are not somehow jinxing their ability to reproduce. These irrational feelings should be aired to a support group or therapist. You simply don’t cut off contact with people who are lucky enough to be able to have children. Stop apologizing or acting as if you’ve done something to hurt your sister. You could drop her a letter saying how much you miss her and how you would like her to be part of your life again. But if she wants to blame you for her fertility troubles, then she’s got mental troubles that are beyond your ability to address and you’ve just got to accept this.
Q. That $1000.00: While I understand what you are saying, Prudie, I’m thinking the girl wouldn’t be writing to you unless she actually needed the $1000 she spent on her friend who suffered the accident. Playing devil’s advocate and assuming she cannot just write off the debt, what would be an appropriate time to wait to bring up the topic, and how would one go about bringing it up in as delicate a manner is possible?
A: My answer is, one wouldn’t. She does not say that writing off this debt will mean she loses her car and becomes homeless. A catastrophe has just shattered the young life of her friend. She needs to count her own blessings and let the money go. Let’s think in really practical terms. The debt was incurred by the friend who may never have the ability to earn any money again. It is not therefore the parent’s financial obligation. The friend’s parents may be facing financial ruin because of the tragedy that’s just befallen their daughter. The amount of time the letter writer should wait to bring this up is forever.
Q. Herpes: While herpes can be dealt with, it seems pretty questionable to me that this guy put your health at risk because he was embarrassed and afraid to lose you. You’ve only known him four months and when it was time to deal with something tough, he chickened out. We’re all human and he did eventually ‘fess up—after you’d potentially been exposed. But personally, I’d be wondering how he’d deal with even bigger problems if you stay together. What then? Can you really trust him?
A: You raise very reasonable questions. He has not behaved admirably, but he was taking medication, and he has ‘fessed up. I think she should give him another chance. Dumping him and going back into the dating pool is not necessarily going to reduce her chances of contracting herpes.
Q. Resent my young adult kids: I have three college age kids. After their father’s midlife crisis, which resulted in a cross country move, I spent months getting back on an even keel. I’m rebuilding my friendship networks and the like. What I can’t get over somehow is a resentment I harbor against my kids. They quite naturally still love their father. I love them. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t like my kids anymore even though they’ve done nothing wrong. Just seeing them reminds me of him. They look like him & they still get to be in touch with him. I’ve tried to hide it, but I want to come to terms with it. Do you have any suggestions?
A: It’s a good thing you can recognize this irrational reaction and want to do something about it. You’re still in shock because your husband just pulled the plug on the life you’ve known. It’s going to take time to feel whole and normal again. Please find a therapist to help you talk through these issues, and safely express your resentment. Just being able to talk about not liking your kids because they not only look like your husband but they still love him, might help diffuse your own roiling emotions.
Q. Hate that my boyfriend loves the slimmer me: I was obese when I met my boyfriend years ago. I was obese when we started dating. In April, I started to diet and exercise. Sometime in May, he made a comment about how my body type was not his preference. This was devastating. At the time, we were lucky to have sex once or so a week, and we’re both in our 20s. Fast-forward six months and I’m 40 pounds lighter. He’s all over me now, but I resent him for it. What will happen when I get older or something else unsightly happens to my body? I hate that he wants to bed me four or five times a week now that I meet his weight quota. How can I get over these feelings of resentment?
A: He wasn’t attracted to you when you were heavy, and now that you’re slim, you resent that he’s all over you. Your best bet might be to take your new body out into the market and see who else you attract.
Q. Mute husband of best friend … sometimes: My best friend just got married, and the problem is he won’t talk, in conversation, private or in a big group, to her friends. He is a chatterbox with his friends, but won’t say more than a few sentences and then not talk the rest of the evening. When we took them out for their engagement dinner, he spoke briefly about his running event, and then nothing the rest of the night. He didn’t even say thank you at the end of the evening! I love my friend, and she says that he’s just quiet around those he doesn’t know well, but after two years of trying to engage him in conversation with no luck, and seeing how outgoing he is in his own crowd, I am unsure how to treat him or act around him. I don’t want to lose my friend, and don’t want to argue over his behavior as she will obviously defend him, but how am I to carry on this friendship with a mute husband?
A: Yeah, he’s just the quiet, rude, hostile, ungrateful type. You’ve been trying for two years to have some social chit-chat with him to no avail. There’s no reason to lose your friend, but there’s no reason to socialize with them as a couple. See your friend for lunch or girls’ night out.
Q. $1,000 lent to friend: Would your answer change if it was $5,000? $10,000? I get that you’re encouraging the poster to suck it up, take one for the team, life’s unfair, etc. But $1,000 is a good chunk of change for anyone, but especially for a teenager. While it’s not the #1 issue at the moment, I would trust that the friend or her parents will bring it up eventually and make sure the poster is repaid. I’m preaching patience.
A: The friend has brain damage and is disabled! Her parents may not even know about this debt. Why get into silly hypotheticals about the amount? It was $1,000 that’s now gone. The letter writer has her life, her friend doesn’t. Case closed.
Q. Texting response: A neighbor friend sent out a group text 45 minutes ago, asking if anyone could take and pick her up for a procedure tomorrow. I had just seen the first message, when she sent a second text saying, “Wow no answer. Thanks friends.” Should I respond? I don’t know her super well.
A: Your neighbor may have supplied her own answer as to why she has to send a mass plea for someone to pick her up from a medical procedure. It sounds as if she understandably may not have any friends. If you are free and are moved to do it, fine, but you have no obligation.
Q. Gifting: Is it tacky to send a gift for a newborn baby three months after the fact when I found out about the birth the day she was born? Hopelessly late getting to the post office
A: The baby has now outgrown all those tiny onesies, so it would be great for the parents to get a gift now for their much bigger bundle of joy. Don’t apologize for the gift, it will simply come as a delightful surprise.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Oh, was this ever a “count your blessings” chat!