Advice on manners and morals (Nov. 6, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Nov. 6, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Nov. 6, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 6 2008 6:43 AM

Sex Is a Sore Subject

My new boyfriend has herpes, and I don't. Should I take the plunge and sleep with him?

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Dear Prudence,
I have just met the most unbelievable man and have fallen completely in love. On our second date, he told me that he caught genital herpes in college. (He married the woman who gave it to him, and they have divorced.) At first, I was shocked and considered writing him off, but the more I thought about it, the more I didn't know what to do. I kept in contact with him, and every time we spoke or saw each other, I knew this was someone I wanted in my life. We have decided to hold off on being "completely intimate" with each other until the time is right. My concern is that the time may never be right. I truly love him and would never want to hurt him. Please help.

—Helpless

Dear Helpless,
It says a lot for your beau's character that he was so forthright about this. (For herpes carriers struggling with the issue of when to tell potential partners, you don't have to blurt this out before it's clear that the relationship is progressing to the point where it will become germane. But you do have to give your partner fair warning, which means you don't drop this bomb as you're dropping your drawers.) He is respectful of your concerns and is not pressuring you to become sexually intimate. He sounds like a catch! But you understandably are concerned about catching what he's caught. You need to educate yourself so that you feel confident about whatever decision you make. The book Sexually Transmitted Diseases: A Physician Tells You What You Need To Know is a good place to start. The author writes that "millions of people with herpes form loving, lasting relationships with partners, and over time herpes often becomes more of a manageable, periodic nuisance." She advises that avoiding sex during outbreaks and otherwise using condoms can drastically reduce the chance of transmission, and suppressive therapy can reduce it even further. Be warned: Whenever you read a full medical account of herpes, it might make you want a boyfriend with a more appealing chronic condition—say, leprosy. When the doctor writes "millions of people," she's not kidding. It's estimated that 20 percent of adults in this country have genital herpes. So if you leave this man to search for someone without his viral baggage, you might just find yourself facing the same dilemma with someone you don't love as much.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Approximately 20 years ago, I saw my oldest sister, D, for the last time. I was a teenager, and she was 29. After years of rocky relationships, with our mother in particular, she cut off all contact with our family. Our father recently died. Because we weren't able to locate D, he passed away without seeing her one last time, as he had wished. Mom has resigned herself to the same fate. Recently, I accidentally found D while surfing a popular social Internet site. She's moved across the country and changed her name, but seeing her picture, it is undeniably her. She seems fulfilled and looks like she has a tremendous support system and a happy relationship. I very much want to contact her. I would offer not to tell our family about our correspondence unless she wanted me to. At the same time, if she went through the trouble of changing her name and moving across the country because of us, would my contact just be an intrusion on her happy, family-free life? At a minimum, we will have to notify her when Mom passes away so she gets her inheritance. Should I try to contact D while Mom's still alive, in case there's any hope of reconciliation?

—The Baby

Dear The Baby,
You need to consider the possibility that a 49-year-old woman who looks like the sister you haven't seen in 20 years and has "changed her name" is just a woman with a resemblance to your sister but isn't actually her. That said, go ahead and get in touch, but don't spill your whole family saga in the first e-mail. Make a tentative approach by explaining that you saw her Web page and thought there was a possibility you two are related. If she says you're right, she's your sister, then see where it all leads—keeping in mind that going to the lengths she did to escape the family could mean that your sister is somewhat psychologically disturbed or that disturbing things were done to her that you know nothing about. But if this woman says you're mistaken, accept that either you are or that you're just going to have to live with the ambiguity that maybe your missing sister is telling you to get lost.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I work at a small, private company run by two Jewish men. There are only about 20 employees, and half are Jewish. When I interviewed for the job, my boss told me everyone got to go home early on Fridays in the winter. I later learned that this meant only Jewish employees could go home early; non-Jewish employees were told to stay a full day. This disparate rule even applied to Jewish employees who didn't observe the Sabbath. I asked my bosses why everyone couldn't leave early, as it seemed like discrimination not to give everyone the same hours. They told me bluntly: because you're not Jewish. I then asked them, what if I told you I just converted to a new religion that required me to be home early on Fridays as well? Would you not respect my religion? They did not get my point. What can I do, short of finding a new job in this wretched economy?

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—Oy Vey

Dear Oy,
I agree the way your bosses have handled this is bound to stir up both resentment and extreme slacking off on Friday afternoons if half the office—including the bosses—disappears before sunset. But you have brought this to their attention, and they were completely unmoved by the potential of your founding your own sect based upon the doctrine of TGIF. Since you don't complain about what your work life is like the other four and three-fifths days of the week, there doesn't seem to any point in becoming obsessed with the fact that for part of the year, your Jewish colleagues leave early one day a week for religious observance. If you want to quit your job over this, given the economic conditions you rightly describe as "wretched," you will probably end up with more free time than you know what to do with. 

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
Oh my God, he wants to marry me. We've known each other a long time, we love each other dearly, we share values and interests, he makes me feel cherished, the sex is great. But as a single woman in my 50s, I've lived on my own for more than 30 years. It was once hard to accept that I wouldn't have a husband and children of my own, but I have come to be generally happy with my independent life. I'm orderly and territorial; I love my apartment, my routines and rituals, my privacy. And he ... leaves his socks around if he stays over; uses half a roll of paper towels at a time; hates most of the foods I love; is loud; puts things back where I can't find them, if he puts them back at all; snores; has the TV on all the time. All minor things, I know. I feel rigid and petty for letting them irritate me, but they do. I have spoken up about some things, and he tries to be responsive, but I don't press other issues precisely because I know I don't have to deal with them all the time. And now I'm terrified that if we did get married, I would either turn into a raving nag or a resentful brooder. He is very easygoing about my own quirks and accepts my need for independence and privacy; he's even promised we could have separate rooms or spaces of some kind, though in the wildly expensive city we live in, that's a hard promise to keep. There's a big part of me that wants to embrace this sweet and adventurous prospect and enjoy having something I never thought I would. But part of me wants to run screaming from the room. How do I decide?

—Bride or No Bride

Dear Bride or No Bride,
You know, he could write his own letter about you: She stores her soup in alphabetical order, scrubs grout for relaxation, never takes her nose out of a book. Yet he accepts your quirks as part of your charm. Of course, in these situations, it's always harder for the tightly wound neatnik than the voluble slob (viz., The Odd Couple). Your struggle is over whether these daily annoyances will kill your desire to go through life with a beloved partner. I'm of the school that it's good to embrace that chance for sweet adventure you thought would never be yours. But to help you decide, try imagining yourself 10 years from now. In one future, you are puttering around alone in your lovely, quiet space. In another, before falling asleep together after fabulous sex, you have to get up to toss his socks in the hamper and turn off the TV in the den. Only you know which makes you happier. And you haven't said whether there is a third possibility: He accepts that you can't live with him or without him, and you two just keep things the way they are.

—Prudie