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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Sex, STDs, and a 40-Year-Old Virgin: My boyfriend and I have been dating for just over two years. I contracted genital herpes when I was about 20 years old. I am now in my early 40s. I'm divorced, having been with my ex-husband for almost 20 years. He never caught the STD. None of my previous partners, to my knowledge, have contracted herpes. My current boyfriend is a virgin. This is the longest relationship he has ever been in. He had never had sex of any kind before me. I perform oral sex on him, but due to my STD, he will not reciprocate. Intercourse is out of the question. While he has gotten better about touching me, he does still thoroughly scrub his hands afterward. It makes me feel like he should be wearing a hazmat suit before coming near me. We have talked about this. While I feel his fear is irrational (I have not had an outbreak since I was in my early 20s) he feels it's founded. I've offered to go on suppression therapy, and of course use condoms, but to no avail. Am I to be celibate for the rest of my life if we remain together? I need some help in finding a new way to discuss this with him. He is a great guy—kind, sweet, loving in every other way.
A: Don't get too close when you discuss this because he's probably terrified you'll give him a cold sore. You are not a person to him—you are a vector for the herpes virus. If one person has herpes, it's only fair to inform a potential sexual partner of this fact, then that person can decide whether to proceed. But your having herpes is probably great news for your boyfriend because it gives him a built-in excuse to never have sex with you. It's not by accident that he's a 40-year-old virgin. Frankly, I don't understand why you want to have intercourse with this guy. There's not much appeal to inept, hasty, fearful sex. Of course you know the answer to your own question about whether, after two years, this is doomed to be a celibate relationship. The discussion you need to have is with yourself about why you'd consider staying.
Dear Prudence: The Happy Hooker
Q. Family Dysfunction: I have recently achieved a lifelong goal. My first book will be published sometime this year. The problem is that I feel alone in my success. My husband, my friends, and my parents are happy and have been supportive, but the rest of my family has ignored it to the point of rudeness. I don't expect them to jump up and down and have a party, but a simple "congrats" would have been nice. My extended family has meant everything to me, and I have done all I can to keep in touch and be supportive of all they do. I'm often quiet about my successes in my life, but this is the one thing I chose to share. I feel terrible and lost. This really hurts. Looking back, sadly, this seems to be the norm. Should I let them know how much they have hurt me, or is this one I should just let go?
A: I hope this isn't a self-help book about letting go of slights and unrealistic expectations. Congratulations on your book, and speaking for book authors everywhere, get used to realizing that hardly anyone else is going to care. You mention your book is scheduled to be published "sometime" this year. Normally the hoopla—what there is of it—doesn't start until there's an actual volume that can be procured. You need a serious expectation adjustment. Start assuming no one is interested in your accomplishment and you will sell no books. Then if anyone buys one, you'll be thrilled.
Q. Do I Go Apologize?: Years ago, I dated an amazing girl, “Allie.” We dated for seven years (through mid-high school to young adult), and we were engaged to get married. A few months before our wedding, I cheated on her with a co-worker. I came clean to my then-fiancée, after feeling very heavy guilt. Despite the long relationship and great friendship, we agreed to call the wedding off and go our separate ways. During the relationship, her father and I were very close friends—we golfed together, and I really admired and respected him. He's the kind of father and man I hope to someday become. Naturally, he was very angry and distraught after my infidelity unfolded. I haven't seen or spoken to him since and have only heard stories. Fast forward several years, I'm now married to an incredible woman who is the polar opposite of Allie, and we have a beautiful 2-year-old daughter. I'm completely faithful and committed to my wife and daughter, yet I still feel great remorse and guilt over the way things ended with Allie and how I disrespected her and her family, especially the relationship I had with her father. I repeatedly have a dream and feeling that I should go apologize to her father face to face, as I know he wouldn't read a letter if I sent it. Do I go and apologize and attempt to make amends? Or just let it be?
A: You were set to marry your high school sweetheart when you realized you felt as if you'd gotten trapped way too young. So instead of addressing that directly, you cheated. That was a weaselly but effective way of getting out of the wrong relationship. Sure, the ensuing breakup was painful, but that one was between you and Allie, not her father, your golfing buddy. I hope by this point everyone shares the perspective that it all worked out for the best. There are no amends for you to make to these people. You are a decent person, so you feel terrible about how you handled your relationship with Allie. So you need to find a way to forgive yourself without involving her family.
Q. Hugging Doctor: I have been going to the same general practitioner doctor for quite a while. He is kind and attentive. He has a great staff, and his office is very close to home. Overall, I'm very happy with his treatment. However, a couple of years ago he started greeting me with a hug. Not a bear hug, just a lean-in-pat-on-the-back type. This does not normally bother me, but he's my doctor, and I want to keep a professional doctor-patient relationship. He is also seeing sick people all day, and I'm a little creeped out at the germ factor. I have tried pre-empting the hug by saying, "I'm not a hugger," or extending out my hand for a handshake, but he just ignores it and goes in for the hug. I was recently in the office with my husband who had been injured, and he didn't hug or shake my husband's hand but hugged me. He hugs whether I am sick or well, and he comes in for the hug at the beginning and the end of the appointment. I don’t want to change doctors, but what can I say to him to make him stop without offending him?
A: Since you've told him this makes you uncomfortable and he just did it again—interesting the hugs are only for female patients—write him a letter. Say that you appreciate his excellent care and how well-run his office is, but say that you feel you must reiterate your discomfort with the hugs you get at the beginning and end of an appointment. Write that you've mentioned it before, but it hasn't stopped and now you feel the need to put this request in writing. Then if the hugs continue, find yourself another practitioner.
Q. Re: Family Dysfunction: My expectations about my book are low. I'm not quitting my day job by any means. I'm not sitting around having a temper tantrum about this one small thing, though I realize it sounds that way. When I've made mistakes, they have all been vocal about it. Things that happened 10 years ago still pop up. Yet, the positive is ignored. I guess I have a lot to think about in regard to my family and why I so badly need their approval.
A: There are many books already on the market that explore excessive approval-seeking. Look at some, then work on your Amazon author's page and concentrate on attracting readers outside your family circle.