Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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: Good afternoon, I look forward to your questions. And I’m so excited that D.C. is getting a real snowstorm!
Q. STD Meds: to Take or Not to Take: The guy I lost my virginity to (about 20 years ago) was not as forthcoming about certain things as my naive teenage self expected him to be. As a result, I got herpes the moment I lost my virginity. I’ve worked through the initial feelings of having an STD years ago and have lived very comfortably since then. I’ve always been completely open and careful with partners and, to my knowledge, have not passed it along to anyone. The only times I’ve ever taken medication for it were when I was younger, the outbreaks were more frequent and more severe, and I was still learning how to manage my health and be aware of my body. Now I only have one or two mild outbreaks a year, if that. I’ve never been on suppressive therapy until recently, at the urging of the guy I’m currently seeing. He knew before we started dating about my “condition,” and asked me if I would go on suppressive therapy in order to reduce the risk for him. Initially I was fine with this—I completely understand his cautious attitude and I wanted to do my part to “protect” him. However, this leaves me taking a pill twice a day, and what was for a long time just a background issue and occasional mild annoyance is now a daily presence. Am I being selfish and thoughtless for wanting to stop taking this medication, knowing that it puts somebody I care about at a greater risk?
A: Let me start by using your experience as a public service announcement. My gynecologist told me he is seeing a startling rise in the number of young women in his practice being diagnosed with herpes. It turns out that they think having gotten the Gardasil shot to protect them from HPV, that they are invulnerable to other STDs—and they’re not! Herpes is for life, and even if, as you’ve discovered, it’s no more than a minor annoyance, if you were the one who didn’t have it, you might have your own strong desire not to contract it. Give your boyfriend credit that he’s willing to run this risk for the pleasure of being with you. I hear from many people with herpes who tell me their potential partner actually runs when they reveal this news. I also understand your lack of desire to permanently be on a systemic, suppressive medication for what is to you a very occasional and trivial health problem. Although it’s the opposite of erotic, I think you two should read through all the information on this CDC website about herpes, and talk about the risks to him of simply letting you monitor your own health, and the risks to you of being on medication (for as long as you’re together). Since this is a new relationship, the best compromise might be to stay on the meds and see where things go. If the romance peters out, you put away the meds. If you two become a permanent item, you revisit the question of risk.
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Q. Oh That Smell: Recently my 30-year-old stepson moved to town. He has many issues (including alcoholism). My issue is that I can’t stand the way he smells. He wears a musty, rank, cologne that lingers for hours, or even days, unless we wash or deodorize any fabrics in the room. Car rides are horrible. We have politely asked him several times not to use it, and I even suggested that the mild chemotherapy I take might make me extra sensitive to smells. I bought him a different scent to try out, but to no avail. Tonight, he showed up reeking again, and I grabbed my car keys and went back to work. I’m battling a serious, chronic illness, so working extra hours is not more than a temporary solution. It seems ridiculous to be focusing on a smell, when my stepson can’t manage independent living, but its nostril-popping bad. How do I deal with this without putting my husband on the defensive or becoming an evil stepmom?
A: If he’s dousing himself with cologne before a visit it may be to cover the smell of his poor hygiene or the reek of alcohol. It could also be that this scent has permeated all his clothing and even if he’s not slapping it on, his dirty clothes just permanently exude it. You’re right that chemotherapy can make even the most benign smells nauseating, so you are certainly within bounds to want to keep noxious aromas out of your house. If the cologne is as bad as you say, then this is going to have global effects on your stepson’s ability to make friends or find employment. This is something his father should talk to him about. Respectfully, your husband should explain that you cannot be around scents and that you’d both appreciate if he got his outerwear dry-cleaned, he laundered his clothes, and showered before coming. If your stepson just won’t do this, then your husband has to visit his son at his place or a neutral spot. Unless your stepson freshens up, the mere sight of him is going to create a stomach-turning Pavlovian response in you.
Q. My 70-Year-Old Husband Watches Porn Online: My husband of 12 years has apparently taken to viewing porn on the Internet. He knows basically nothing about computers, but acquired enough skills to Google and browse pornographic sites. He is a healthy and active 70-year-old but has E.D. issues. He also doesn’t know that I know what he views online. I am not sure if I should just keep quiet or tell him what I have discovered. I don’t want to embarrass him, as I think he will feel embarrassed if his habit is discovered. He is only on the Internet when I am not in the house—so he does try to hide it. It kind of creeps me out, but on the other hand this might be something that many older men actually do, but is not talked about publicly.
A: This sounds like a recipe for your husband contracting a virus—on your computer. There are several issues here. One is that I believe a married person is entitled to look at porn, as long as this hobby is not obsessive, does not interfere with the primary relationship, and does not contain illegal content. The other is your husband’s functional problem. His viewing habits are a sign that his flagging sexual ability does not mean his libido is dead. So if you’re interested in physical intimacy, take the porn viewing as a good thing. Next month, watch the Super Bowl with him. The advertisements that aren’t for beer or trucks are about drugs to help football fans get it up. After one of these, turn to him and suggest that maybe the two of you should investigate side by side bathtubs.
Q. Re: STD meds: If you decide to stop taking the pill, you should fully inform him. Don’t be surprised if he decides to end the relationship. You’re basically saying that a mild inconvenience is more important than his health. Also, you might want to check into other medication. I take the generic form of Valtrex, which is one pill a day. I’ve never had an outbreak in the five years I’ve had herpes, currently don’t have a partner, and am STILL taking the pill.
A: I agree that the medication decision should not be a unilateral one. And thanks for the suggestion about looking into all the pharmaceutical alternatives.
Q. House Boundaries: How do I keep guests within the boundaries I wish to set in my house? That is, I use my downstairs for entertaining and I do not wish (or see the need for) any guest to go upstairs where the bedrooms are. At a recent Christmas party, I found adults upstairs looking through bookcases. I had another say “Oh, Jamie just wants to see what your daughter’s room looks like …” Why do people think it is permissible to roam throughout when all the food/activity is down in the living area?
A: I agree people shouldn’t wander around other’s homes unless invited, but lots of people are happy to give house tours to guests or let them look around. In your case, close all the doors to the personal quarters and if guests start to wander upstairs, direct them to the powder room on the first floor. If you find people snooping you can gently lead them out saying, “I promised Melissa I would keep her room private.”
Q. Controlling Relationship?: I’m in a young relationship (just under five months). We fell hard and fast, were practically inseparable, and then circumstances led to me moving in at three months. We knew it’d be tight in his studio—we didn’t know he’d be allergic to my pet, who also has health problems that have led to our interrupted sleep. I have anger issues that were exacerbated by the lack of sleep. Instead of being supportive, he insists that my anger is the root of all our problems. Every time I have a reaction to something he says or does that goes against what I want, he points out my anger—even when I’m not reacting in anger. He used to be supportive and loving; now he’s controlling and jealous. He watches my social media posts, and lets me know when he thinks I’m posting about us; it always turns into a fight. He also gets upset when male friends comment on my posts—even when they’re his friends too! On top of all that, he’s asked me to move out more than once, but taken it back when we made up. Is there any hope for us at all? For the record, I’m in my mid-30s and he’s late 40s.
A: Yes, there’s hope for each of you if you break up and move out. Then you both need to spend time figuring out your part in this lousy relationship, and how you can keep from making such bad, impulsive choices in the future.
Q. Re: STD meds: You are being selfish. You yourself don’t enjoy thinking of this every day. And he doesn’t want to either. When something as simple as taking two pills a day can reduce the chance of you shedding the virus that day to less than 1 percent it seems even more selfish. Herpes can be passed on even when you’re not showing signs of an outbreak, so monitoring it will help, but it’s not everything.
A: She is on it. It’s fair for him to ask her to take it, and fair for her to think about being on medication indefinitely. I agree that staying on it now is the right thing to do, and if she’s not experiencing any side effects, it’s an easy choice. But it’s not out of bounds to discuss this further if the relationship becomes a long-term one.
Q. Declining a Wedding Invitation: How does one decline a wedding invitation from a formerly close friend without destroying what is left of the friendship? This friend is no stranger to bad and abusive relationships, having had several and also having supported me through a terrible marriage and divorce. The guy she is marrying is not as bad as ones in the past, but is still nasty to her, manipulative, and hypocritical. She has changed many of her long-held beliefs and attitudes to match his. She asked me for my honest opinion of him, and I brought up my concerns as gently as possible. She completely dismissed all of my concerns without taking any time to think about them. Since then, she has stopped talking to me. I received a save-the-date card for her wedding, so presumably I’ll be invited. Part of me wants to go and be there for her, as she was for me (she was also honest with me about my ex and I didn’t stop talking to her), but another part of me wants nothing to do with this wedding.
A: If you got a save-the-date then yes, you’ll be invited. Don’t make your response simply be about the wedding. She stopped talking to you after she solicited your opinion, but this card is an opening to rekindle your friendship. So do so. Call her and tell her you were happy to hear from her and want to get together. Talk about things other than how rotten her fiancé is. You have registered your opinion about the inadvisability of this union. But since you really are concerned about her, and she helped you extract yourself from a terrible marriage, it will be better if you can be there for her and see her through if things become intolerable.
Q. Re: Guests upstairs: I host a lot of parties. If I don’t want guests upstairs, I just put a big, pretty potted plant or two in front of the stairs. Anything large and decorative will do. No one has ever climbed over them.
A: Great idea! A baby gate and “Beware of Dog” sign would also work.
Q. Friendships, Dating: I met a guy, “Paul,” online last summer and we went on a few dates. I wasn’t interested in continuing to date him, but said we could still be friends when I let him know that. He was new in town and didn’t seem to have a lot of friends and we had common interests. However, I really regret that decision. He was inappropriate to one my female friends and weirded out a couple more by being overly eager. He no longer tries to make plans with me, but has inserted himself into my friend group more and more recently by connecting more with some of the guys. I know they are all adults and can decide who to be friends with, but they don’t know the back story on this guy and why I am uncomfortable with his presence in my social circle now. I regret saying we could be friends, because if I hadn’t none of this would have been happening. But what do I do now? Seems he is a permanent clinger in my circle now. I’m planning to confront him about the way he has creeped some of my girlfriends out. Is that appropriate?
A: He makes your female friends uncomfortable and the guys in your circle don’t know this. Since you introduced Paul, I think you should tell them. You can say you’re not saying they should blackball him, you just want them to know that some of the women—including you—are uncomfortable with him. Reiterate they are all adults and free to make their own social decisions, but you wanted them to know why some of the women don’t want to be around him.
Q. Not Invited to Sister’s Bachelorette Party: My sister is engaged and I just found out that my wife is not invited to her bachelorette party. My sister attended my wife’s bachelorette and was also in our bridal party. I am not in my sister’s bridal party, though other siblings are. I feel hurt (and know my wife will be hurt when she finds out). Anything I should do or say, or should I just let it go?
A: It’s not clear whether you and your wife are the only close family members left out of the bachelorette and the wedding party. If only a few of many siblings are in the wedding party, let that go. If all the other females in the family are going to the bachelorette, then have a word with your sister. I hope your wife was invited to the shower. If so, understand that for some women a bachelorette is the occasion to act crazy with a tight group of close friends. If your wife and your sister are cordial but not intimate, your wife will likely be happier not listening to stories of old hijinks she didn’t participate in.
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