Dear Prudence: My Boyfriend Told Me About His STD After We’d Already Had Sex

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 10 2011 3:25 PM

Start Spreading the News

Dear Prudence advises a woman whose boyfriend revealed he had herpes only after they had unprotected sex—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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 prudence@slate.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!

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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.

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