Dear Prudence

Blood Scare

The nanny told us she’s HIV-positive. Should she still care for our kids?

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg.

Photo by Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
My wife and I have a wonderful nanny who has taken excellent care of our two young children for the last year. She’s fun, smart, creative, dependable, flexible with our schedules, and our kids love her. She recently called out sick for three days, the first time she ever missed work. When she returned, she told us that she’s been HIV positive for about five years and was addressing a complication due to an otherwise minor viral infection. Our initial reaction (in retrospect, an ignorant and emotional one) was that we should let her go. We were concerned about the risk of infecting our children and angry that she hadn’t told us before we hired her and our children developed an emotional bond. We have discussed with our pediatrician and are moving in the direction of keeping her. Is this wise? Are there risks? If so, how can we mitigate them? Should she wear gloves when she changes our 1-year-old’s diapers?

—Nervous Parents

Yes, it’s perfectly safe to have a nanny who’s seropostive. She shouldn’t be wearing gloves while changing your child’s diaper unless both she and your baby have open, bleeding sores, which I imagine neither of them does (frankly, she’d have to wear gloves if she had open sores on her hands and wasn’t HIV-positive). She was under no legal obligation to disclose her HIV status to you, but self-reported once it affected her work, which suggests to me that she is a responsible and caring person. You’ve known her for a year and in all that time she’s been nothing but conscientious and attentive; I commend you for recognizing that your initial reaction of panic and fear was borne of ignorance. If she is on antiretroviral treatment, as most patients with HIV are today, the chances of her transmitting HIV even to an intimate partner are extremely low; the odds of her infecting a child is infinitesimally small. If you find yourself unable to stop worrying, speak with your doctor or consult an HIV/AIDs resource center for safety information. The more information you have, the more comfortable you will feel.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My younger sister confided in me that she is pregnant. She wants me to take her in for an abortion, without telling our parents. In our state, minors don’t need parental consent, but I love my parents and would rather not betray them like this. They are Republicans (so am I, but I don’t think that anyone should be forced to have a baby). If we did this, and then our parents somehow found out, I’m not sure they’d ever forgive me. Should I go behind their backs on this?

—Hesitant Clinic Escort

Take your sister. If you were reluctant to take your sister due to a strong personal stance against abortion, or if she were asking you to do something illegal, I might have a different answer. But the only thing keeping you from supporting her is the fear that your parents would be angry if they knew about it. That’s not a good reason not to help her. Her decision to get an abortion is not a betrayal of your mother and father, and it isn’t something she is doing to or at them. It may be a choice they dislike, but it was never theirs to begin with. Take your sister. Honor her confidence in you.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My sister is dying; at the most she may survive until next Christmas. She has a 3-month-old daughter and has been raising her boyfriend’s 6-year-old son. The boyfriend is now in prison for at least the next decade. This little boy has no one but us right now. My parents are elderly, my brothers are unable to take on any of this yet, so it falls to me. I have two boys of my own, one of whom is best friends with his “cousin.” My husband and I have talked about this, and we want to adopt the little boy and find another family to take my niece. I can’t stop working (and would have to if I had to raise another baby). Economically we can’t take in both children, and there is no way the rest of my family can help in any long-term capacity. A healthy little baby girl is going to have an easier time being adopted than a first-grader. I have seen several open adoptions through our church, so I know we would still be in our niece’s life. My question is how do I frame this to my sister and family without spoiling what little time we have left together?

Surely you’re joking. You must know, on some level, that there is no way to avoid “spoiling” a dying woman’s last days on earth by telling her you’re happy to look after her stepson after she’s gone but plan on adopting out her newborn baby girl. This is not a decision the two of you should be making on your own. I hope very much your sister has a will specifying her exact wishes, and if she doesn’t, you should help her formalize arrangements not by bringing a plan, but by asking questions. I also think you should bring the rest of your family into these conversations. If your sister were aware you could only afford to take one child, she might be able to find alternate arrangements with a close friend or other relatives in the interest of keeping the siblings together. Don’t deny her the opportunity to find the best possible home for both children after her death.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have a professional acquaintance I’ve never really liked—he gives me the creeps—but tolerated for our business’ sake. Whenever he calls I am polite and quickly pass him off to my husband. Recently he Facebook messaged me wanting to get together with us outside of work. Honestly, I have no desire to be friends with him, in business or otherwise. How do I get him to buzz off without blocking him on Facebook (which would prompt a phone call) or hurting his feelings?

—Ghost Protocol

Whenever I see a “without hurting his/her feelings” addendum to a letter I feel as if my hands have been tied. I won’t bother telling you not to accept Facebook friend requests from people you consider creeps in the future, as I assume you have already learned that lesson. It may not be possible to get what you want without a certain degree of rudeness, but here are two options that may help you avoid the directness I’d otherwise recommend.

A.    Don’t respond to the message and, if pressed, tell him you never check Facebook and that it’s not the best way to get in touch with you.
B.    Write back, “Let me check my schedule! We’ve got a really busy week coming up.” Repeat as needed; have “a really busy week coming up” until the heat death of the sun.

It’s a tricky Scylla-and-Charybdis scenario, because your secondary goal is not to rebuff him so strongly that he calls you to ask what the problem is, but your primary goal is to socialize with him exactly never. It’s a narrow path to navigate, and I wish you luck in gracefully evading him.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been with my boyfriend for four years and we are in this for the long haul. We are not in a rush, but we are at the age where many of our friends are walking down the aisle, so marriage has been discussed. However, we have one fundamental difference on the subject. I would prefer not to live together before we were engaged, and he thinks we should. My reasoning is that he is not the type to get anything done unless he has a strong incentive. I don’t want to move in with him and find us unmarried 10 years later, which is what I envision happening. Our apartments are a few blocks away, so we practically live together anyway. How do I tell him how I feel without making it sound like I am pressuring him?

—No-Pressure Cooker

I get a fairly large number of questions like this one that boil down to: How can I tell someone what I want without making it sound like I want anything? The answer is that you can’t. You’re expressing a desire, not setting an ultimatum. Tell him what you want (“I don’t want to move in together until after we’re engaged, and I’d like to be married in 10 years”), understanding that he might disagree or have an initial emotional reaction you don’t want him to have. That part isn’t your problem. Your job is to advocate for yourself, just as his job is to advocate for himself. The two of you can only compromise and make plans together if you both have a clear sense of what the other person wants. Trying to downplay your goals in the relationship is a recipe for resentment and frustration.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
A few months ago my boyfriend broke up with his ex-girlfriend and started dating me. He said he was looking for new places, but fast-forward a few months and he hasn’t moved out of their apartment. He says he’s really picky about his living situation, and he’s paying his ex’s rent because she’s jobless. He’s over here all the time and has expressed deep feelings for me, but it’s become obvious his girlfriend is not over him. I appreciate his empathy, but am I being stupid? When do you stop being patient and draw the line?

—No Room Live-In Ex

I mean this as gently as possible, because I do not think you are a stupid person, but yes, you are being a bit stupid at the moment. He’s not living with her out of empathy. Here is another example of where it’s better not to suppress what you want and expect out of a relationship. Stop being patient now. Draw the line now. His girlfriend is not over him because he has not actually left her yet. You can hardly blame her for thinking the man who lives with her and pays her rent is still an important part of her life. I’m picky about my living situation, too, and if I were living with someone I’d recently dumped, I’d pick just about anywhere else to live, up to and including under a bridge. I’ll bet you don’t put up with nonsense in other areas of your life. Don’t put up with his.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m gay, and my coming-out process has been complicated by an anxiety disorder. I was seeing a great person who’d been understanding. Things were getting serious enough that I felt I could come out to our friends about our relationship, but then she told me she’d already informed our friends we were dating, often after I’d left the room. No one ever mentioned this to me. I was visibly agitated, and she thought my reaction was a deal-breaker. I agreed we shouldn’t see each other anymore. We’ve both since apologized, but she’s very upset that I was “ashamed” of her. I feel guilty, but also like my boundaries were massively violated. I feel I can’t trust my friends anymore and am more anxious than ever. Was I wrong to break up with her over this?

—Pushed Out

I don’t think you were wrong to end the relationship—if she’d been more straightforward and told you she wanted to come out to your friends, rather than doing it unilaterally (and secretly!) on your behalf, things might have worked out differently. I can see why your ex wouldn’t want to lie to her friends about the nature of your relationship, but she should also feel remorse about outing you without your knowledge. You weren’t staying in the closet because you were ashamed of her; you were building up the emotional readiness to come out on your own terms. If she can’t understand how her behavior caused you unnecessary distress and uncertainty, it may be that she needs to become your ex-friend as well. But don’t blame your friends who have been caught in the middle—this is a time you need more support, not less.

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Dear Prudence,
I was adopted as a baby in a partially open adoption, so I grew up knowing my biological parents, although we were never close. A few years ago I came out to my parents and they were very accepting. My mom even bought a “My Daughter Is a Lesbian” T-shirt. Recently, my parents encouraged me to come out to my biological family. Talk about a disaster. They’ve completely frozen me out. My half brother actually sent me an email saying I am going to hell. I would love to cut communication, but my mom says I shouldn’t, because family is family no matter what. I say in this case, water is thicker than blood ever will be. Help!

—Wants Out

I understand why your mother feels it’s her responsibility to keep you in contact with your biological relatives, but once someone has notified you of your eternal damnation via email, it’s time to acknowledge that communication has broken down beyond repair. I received a similar email several years ago from a then-girlfriend’s brother, and while he was very polite about informing me I was going to hell for dating his sister, it was rather difficult to make friendly small talk after that. There is no relationship to salvage here. If you stay in touch with your biological relatives, you can look forward to a healthy dose of spiritual abuse with the occasional round of disapproving silence. Your mother may mean well, but if she’s asking you to maintain a relationship with people who think you’re hell-bound for being gay, she’s asking too much.

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