Dear Prudence answers readers' questions live at

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
Oct. 12 2009 2:47 PM

Girlfriend Keeps STD a Secret

Prudie counsels a woman concerned about her pal's sins of omission—and other advice seekers.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on weekly to chat with readers about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems. Prudie is taking next week off, so the next chat will take place Monday, Oct. 26, at 1 p.m. (Read Prudie's Slate columns here.) 

Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. I hope I'm ready in case any of you have questions about discoveries on this Christopher Columbus Day.


Annapolis, Md.: I have recently found out from a very good friend of mine that she has herpes. She's had it for many years. She is sexually active and very attractive. She has a history of many relationships.

The problem is that she does not tell her boyfriends that she has herpes. I sometimes get introduced to her partners and feel sorry for them. My friend does not tell them about her condition because, in the past, when she has told them (usually after they exhibited symptoms of herpes themselves), they no longer want to have anything to do with her. She wants very much to get married and feels that, after she is married, she will tell her new husband when the time is right.

Her excuse for this is that the "major" part of the population already has herpes and just doesn't know it. My respect for her as a friend has been weakened ever since she confided this to me.

Here is my question: The next time she introduces me to a new boyfriend, should I give him the news that his new girl is herpes positive ... or just stay out of it?

Emily Yoffe: Speaking of discoveries, I guess discovering that the woman you've been sleeping with harbors an incurable sexually transmitted disease counts. It's true that many people have herpes, though not the "major" part of the population, an oversight your girlfriend sounds as if she is single-handedly trying to correct. She also seems not to have put together that it's difficult to maintain a relationship with someone who you've just caused to be covered with genital blisters. So before she gets married, she might want to rethink her attitude about disclosure. But I'm afraid it's not your place to disclose this to her sexual partners (and readers—do you disagree?). You should, however, have a serious discussion with her about how her deceit is only going to harm people she cares about and make it impossible for her to find a true and lasting relationship.

Vermont: Is there an absence of teenage (17 ½-year-old, specifically) common sense these days? My stepson just stayed over this weekend and brought a friend; the friend was sick with a cold. My stepson lives five hours away, and my husband meets his ex-wife at a halfway point. What was the best thing to do: Send the boy back with his ex? Let him come anyway and leave his snotty tissues all over the house (like he did) until prompted to throw them away? We are appalled his own parents did not think to tell him to stay home. I am willing to overlook the lack of household things that went undone until we asked my stepson and his friend to do them (make their beds, re-fill the ice-cube trays, put toilet paper on the holder if they leave a single sheet ...), but this somehow took the cake. Are my husband and I being unreasonable?


Emily Yoffe: Your stepson should not have brought a sniffling friend. But maybe he saw the friend as an emotional shield he needed to deploy to get through a weekend with his father and stepmother. If your stepson lives five hours away, he obviously doesn't have the comfortable sense that your house is his house. This is surely reinforced by the fact that you are still seething on Monday about having to replace a toilet paper roll on Saturday. Let's say this child wasn't your stepson who occasionally visits but your own son who was there all the time—blowing his nose, going to the bathroom, leaving his blankets on the end of the bed. Then you'd have to decide what issues are really worth tangling with a teenager over, and which, for your sanity and his, you ignore or take care of yourself. (I know, you will never get back that precious minute of your life you spent putting in that toilet-paper roll.) And if you think a teenager who leaves an unmade bed and empty toilet paper holder "takes the cake," then you should be very grateful you have a stepson who causes you so little grief.


Wilmington, Del.: A year ago, when I was out of town, a former co-worker's son was killed in a car accident. By the time I got back, the funeral was over. I meant to write her but never did. (There was a lot going in my own life, but I know that is no excuse.) How can I write her after a year? I think of her often and wonder how she's coping.

Emily Yoffe: You write to her. You can say that she has been much on your mind the past year, and particularly now with the anniversary of her son's death. Include some memories about her son and their relationship. Say that you think of her, and him, often and that your heart remains heavy because of his loss. Add at the end that you apologize for not being in touch, and you want to rectify that. Then follow up the note with a call or e-mail to see if she would like to get together. Many people who have suffered terrible losses talk about the pain they feel when everyone else has moved on and expects them to. But no one fully recovers from the kind of loss your friend suffered.


Baltimore: I have a bad situation with my husband and my sister. Recently, my sister wrote an e-mail that was meant for my eyes only which ended up being seen by my husband. In the e-mail, my sister pretty much insulted every member of my husband's family and, sadly, though I'm ashamed to say it, my sister and I have made a lot of these comments about my in-laws to each other before.



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