I told my husband that my sister has HIV. But she doesn't.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 13 2009 6:37 AM

Twisted Sister

I told a devastating lie about my sibling years ago. How do I come clean?

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Dear Prudence,
I have done something so vile that I can't stand to look at myself in the mirror. I have a younger sister who is stunningly beautiful, while I'm rather plain by comparison. Growing up, my boyfriends all lost interest in me once they set eyes on her. When I was dating the man who is now my husband, I was afraid that the same thing would happen. As a preventative measure, before he even met her, I told him that she slept around a lot and as a consequence had contracted HIV. Needless to say, he never showed any interest in her. Several years and two kids later, my husband is always asking about her health. She's even asked me why my husband always seems so concerned about how she's doing. He's the sensitive type, and I know that he worries about her. I want to come clean, but how can I explain such a horrible lie?

—Sister Is Healthy As a Horse

Dear Sister,
Shades of Rachel and Leah crossed with the daughters of King Lear. I understand your self-loathing because not only is your original lie chilling, but you have let this tale fester for so long. It's a miracle you weren't found out by your husband expressing his concern to other family members. However, the good news is that you recognize how sad and ugly your actions were, and you want to make amends. Although your sister was the subject of your lie, your husband is the object of your deceit. Go someplace private and tell your husband there is a part of your life that you never fully discussed with him. Say that when you were growing up, your sister's beauty was a kind of torture for you. Whenever a boy showed any interest in you, as soon as he gazed upon her, he couldn't even remember your name. Explain that you know jealousy is a terrible, destructive emotion and you hate how you let it scar your youth. Then say that when you met him, you were so immediately happy with him that you were tormented by the thought that he might be attracted to your sister. (By this point, he should be starting to get your drift.) Confess that you told the terrible lie about her being HIV-positive just so it wouldn't happen. Add that what you did is not a comment on his character but on your insecurity. Say your sister is in perfect health, but your lie has made you sick at heart, and all you can do is beg his forgiveness.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am newly married to a wonderful man who makes me happy in countless ways. We have a great sex life. However, there is one difference we have that I am not sure how to handle. He is very comfortable with casual nudity, and I am not. I am just not accustomed to lounging about naked or seeing others do so. He is overweight, so I am concerned with making him think I don't want to look at him nude just because of that. Even if he had the perfect body, I would not be comfortable with him lying around nude with legs akimbo, junk hanging out. Also, he often will casually masturbate in my presence, not in the pursuit of a release, but just like some people might stroke their chin while in thought. This makes me extremely uncomfortable. I asked him to stop once, but he seemed confused as to why, and I didn't want to dwell on it. Should I get over my hang-ups, or should he be more sensitive to them?

—Doesn't Want To See That

Dear Doesn't,
First of all, what you describe your husband doing is not masturbating. Dave Barry aptly characterized such XY behavior as "rooting around in his underwear with both hands as though he thought the Hope diamond was concealed down there." I caught hell last week for suggesting that dribbling on the toilet was a standard male activity. So let me say that while some men may dribble, all should clean up after themselves. And while some (perchance all) men may root around, they should have the restraint not to make the women in their lives watch hours of such gem mining. You're married to a big, relaxed blob of a guy whom you're crazy about. So with affection and humor, you should be able to talk to him about how to negotiate the level of bodily display that allows both of you to be comfortable in your home. You might want to get the episode of Sex and the City in which uptight Charlotte tells the slobby love of her life, Harry, that it's too much for her to have him lounge naked on her white furniture—and he puts on boxers. Ask your husband's indulgence to watch this with you, then tell him that you wish you were as casual and open as he is, but unfortunately you're Charlotte, and when you're both hanging around, it would mean so much to you if he weren't hanging out.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
Recently, my parents and I have become aware that my cousin has some very extreme religious and political views. We found this out through his posts on Facebook, MySpace, and text messages. He has a mental disability and though he is an adult, he does not fully have the mind of one. We are very concerned about these extreme views of his, as we can all see him possibly becoming the next American religious fanatic turned violent. He has also in the past experimented with drugs. Right now, our biggest dilemma is whether we should show his father the postings and messages. Because my cousin is an adult and lives out of town, I am not sure what his father could do. I'm also concerned that telling will possibly alienate him or his son. We are a close family, but those of us who have read the material he has put on the Internet are very concerned.

—Fanatic in the Family

Dear Fanatic,
There have been so many cases in which investigations of horrifying shootings revealed warnings posted by the shooter, so it's sensible that you are concerned. I talked to Michael Karson, a forensic psychologist at the University of Denver, about this, and he said you should take action, but you should keep in mind that for every person who posts scary, violent words and actually harms people, there are many thousands of others with bizarre rantings who never hurt anyone. That said, he suggested your cousin be approached, not with shackles and Thorazine but with a calm desire to talk. Unless there's history you haven't explained, your uncle should not be alienated by your expressing concern about your cousin. He should want to know whether his son is going off track—and, presumably, even if they don't live in the same town, he surely wants to keep tabs on his mentally disabled child and make sure he's not alone in the world. So with the knowledge of what his son is posting, he (or possibly another family member) should say to your cousin something like, "I've read some of your writing about the future of the country. You have an interesting take, but I see things somewhat differently." Whoever does this is trying to offer a reality check and be a counterweight to help your cousin develop more socially acceptable values. It shouldn't be a one-time conversation, but a continuing effort to engage him and shape his thinking. However, there are certain warning flags that require action. If your cousin is making direct, credible threats, he needs to be reported to the authorities. And if he is delusional, he should be persuaded—or required—to get mental health care.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I'm a 14-year-old who is about to go into high school. My question is concerning a stuffed animal I've had ever since I was 4. I sleep with this little dog every night, and when I go anywhere else, I am sure to bring him. He's very familiar and comforting, and while I'm sure I could sleep just fine without him, it's very nice to be able to cuddle something soft and nonjudging, especially after a trying day. So, my question is: Am I too old to still be sleeping with a stuffed animal? Will it hurt me later on if I don't get rid of him?

—Don't Want To Let the Dog Go

Dear Don't,
I have every confidence that your long relationship with your stuffed dog is actually helping prepare you for the time when you share your bed with a live partner—one who I hope will listen sympathetically at the end of the day as your bodies are entwined. I have such a bedmate—my cat, Biscuit. My husband is cuddly, too, but I agree that there's something about a small, fluffy creature that just takes the edge off. There's no reason not to continue to let your sleeping dog lie next to you; after all, he's absorbed a decade of kisses and tears. But because you're wondering about it, the next time you go for an overnight, why not take him along, but leave him in your bag—just to see how it feels. And even though you will learn to get through the night without him, that doesn't mean he shouldn't accompany you to college or be lovingly cared for until, maybe someday, he will be ready for duty for your own children.

—Prudie

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