What’s the Best Time to Tell a Gentleman I Have Herpes?

Sensible answers to the questions of modern manhood.
July 16 2014 4:19 PM

What’s the Best Time to Tell a Gentleman I Have Herpes?

Also, should he unbutton one button of his shirt, or two?

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

I am a married gay man. Occasionally, a new acquaintance notices my wedding ring and inquires after my “wife.” I used to tackle this with humor by saying, “Her name is Bryan,” but this embarrasses some people. How does a gentleman respond graciously in this situation?

As an aside, is there a proper term for one’s same-sex partner? I call him my spouse in public, as it seems neutral, if a bit cold. However, in private we call each other husband. Does the term matter, or am I being fussy?

Advertisement

Thank you for your question.

It’s not the style of your reply that provokes embarrassment; it’s the framework of the error. Surely you recall the classic chant: “We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!” Well, some of us who are thrilled to have queers here, among the lawfully wedded, have yet to get used to the small points of your presence. Our instincts are tuned to make assumptions that are, as the kids say, heteronormative.

It may be a little while before the average gentleman, corrected after making the flawed inference you describe, can simply emit a low-key, “Ah!” and dive back into the pleasant stream of small talk. He may need an extra second to dispose of his embarrassment precisely because he is wrestling with the urge to prove his sensitivity by delivering an overkill of apologies and by underlining the innocence of the mistake. Your stock answer is plenty gracious. Stick with it! A bit of levity often helps to ease such awkward moments.

A flavorless language unit, spouse is better suited to benefits-enrollment worksheets than to friendly conversation. I espouse referring to your husband as your husband.

* * *

My wife and I are divorcing after 21 years of marriage; our two sons will be in college when we file and complete the dissolution. My soon-to-be-ex-wife is telling our kids, friends, and family that, though circumstances are leading us to separate households, we will continue to spend time together.

I don’t plan to spend time with my wife after we’re divorced. I’ll see her at graduations, weddings, and other life events for our kids, but I’m not having drinks or dinner with her. We’re not watching the Super Bowl together.

She doesn’t want to be married to me, I get it, but why does she think I want to socialize with her after the divorce? What’s the expectation here?

Thanks for your question.

What are the expectations here? You must be civil and cordial. You ought to be the kindest you can be. But a divorce is not a picnic, and you have no duty to join your ex for any random clam bakes, fish fries, luaus, or such, unless she lives in suburban Philly, where, according to old-school protocol, it is necessary to attend her next wedding—but only if you bring Jimmy Stewart as your plus one.

What’s the real question here? You want confirmation that you’re not crazy? OK, you're not crazy. You want a man-to-mansplanation of your wife’s behavior? She is putting the best possible face on what is conventionally understood to be a biographical blotch, an emotional trauma, a personal failure. You can rest assured that some of the friends she is informing of her plans to keep dating you, or whatever it is, are like, “Whaat?” A few of those friends are calling her self-delusional, surely, but you may not do so, nor publicly disparage her in any other way.

* * *

I have genital herpes. How does a decently attractive, successful 32-year-old woman broach this topic with a gentleman? Is this a “Hi, I’m Mary: I have herpes” conversation? Do I wait until the topic of sex comes up? Generally I am a confident, self-possessed woman, but with the STD and the inner turmoil it’s caused, I feel lost and sort of broken.

Thank you for your question, which is an advice-column evergreen because, as you surely know, every year about 800,000 people in the U.S. contract genital herpes, and every year zero people in the U.S. discover a cure for it.

That’s a tough break, but please don’t feel broken! Maybe chatting with a therapist about these feelings should be your first move. “Lost and broken” is not a good brand to promote out on the singles scene. Attracts the wrong sort of suitor.

I recommend discussing this just before the topic of sex comes up, late in the pre-foreplay segment of an enchanted evening. It is etched in my memory that a common prerequisite for engaging in foreplay with a new partner is to construct a pretense for going back to someone’s apartment. Because you will be most confident if you feel at home, I suggest that you invite him back to your place for a drink. You’ll find that the Harvard Cocktail makes for an effervescent nightcap, as does whatever beer happens to be in the fridge. Soon after delivering the drink, break the news straightforwardly.

TODAY IN SLATE

The Juice

Ford’s Big Gamble

It’s completely transforming America’s best-selling vehicle.

Should the United States Grant Asylum to Victims of Domestic Violence?

The Apple Watch Will Make Everyone Around You Just a Little Worse Off

This Was the First Object Ever Designed

Don’t Expect Adrian Peterson to Go to Prison

In much of America, beating your kids is perfectly legal. 

Moneybox

How the Apple Watch Will Annoy Us

A glowing screen attached to someone else’s wrist is shinier than all but the blingiest jewels.

Music

A Little Bit Softer Now, a Little Bit Softer Now …

The sad, gradual decline of the fade-out in popular music.

Is Everyone Going to Declare Independence if Scotland Does It? 

I Tried to Write an Honest Profile of One of Bollywood’s Biggest Stars. It Didn’t Go Well.

Trending News Channel
Sept. 12 2014 11:26 AM Identical Twins Aren’t Really Identical
  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 12 2014 7:24 PM Come and Take It Libertarians fight for people whose property was seized by the police.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 12 2014 5:54 PM Olive Garden Has Been Committing a Culinary Crime Against Humanity
  Life
Outward
Sept. 12 2014 3:32 PM Yes, Those Straight Guys Who Wed for Rugby Tickets Are Mocking Marriage. What’s New?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 12 2014 4:05 PM Life as an NFL Wife: “He's the Star. Keep Him Happy.”
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 12 2014 5:55 PM “Do You Know What Porn Is?” Conversations with Dahlia Lithwick’s 11-year-old son.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 14 2014 7:10 PM Watch Michael Winslow Perform Every Part of “Whole Lotta Love” With Just His Voice
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 12 2014 3:53 PM We Need to Pass Legislation on Artificial Intelligence Early and Often
  Health & Science
New Scientist
Sept. 14 2014 8:38 AM Scientific Misconduct Should Be a Crime It’s as bad as fraud or theft, only potentially more dangerous.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 12 2014 4:36 PM “There’s No Tolerance for That” Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh say they don’t abide domestic abuse. So why do the Seahawks and 49ers have a combined six players accused of violence against women?