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Sunday, May 18, 2008

When You're Single with Herpes

Hi, All,
My Inbox received a ton of e-mails from my recent Match.com column, published on MSN’s Dating & Personals page. It’s topic, "Being Single with Herpes," is a sensitive one. Some of the e-mails were loving, while others were angry.

Here’s the question that was posted ON MSN, along with my response. Following it are some of the assorted emails I received, along with my comments.

Dear Dr. Gilda,
I’m a 42-year-old single father. My ex-wife denied ever having herpes, but gave it to me and finally admitted the truth. The fact that she lied to me about it compounded the problem.

Now divorced, as I encounter new relationships, I really struggle with this burden. I am able to meet and date women without difficulty—I’m fairly outgoing. But as an honest person, I’ve always felt that it is unfair to see someone to the point that they really care about me before telling them about my “curse.” So I generally date briefly, until it seems there is potential to have a serious relationship—and then tell them. Although I know I’m doing the right thing, it hasn’t worked out very well. I’ve lost three relationships over the past two years because of this and admit that it’s very frustrating. That being said, I hold my head high, knowing that one day the right person will be willing to accept this negative for all the positives I have.

What would be your advice for determining the right time to tell the person you begin to love, knowing that this issue is likely one of the greatest barriers to a relationship?
– Mr. Honesty

Dear Mr. Honesty,
Although it may feel this way when you’re dating, herpes is hardly “one of the greatest barriers to a relationship.” Statistically, I’ve read that 25% of women and 20% of men have genital herpes. Ninety percent of them don’t know it. So while you know about your condition and are willing to discuss it with potential lovers, it’s possible that many of these women have herpes, too, and either don’t know it, or are not forthcoming about it. Even then, if they’re careful, they won’t necessarily always pass it on to their partner. And put it in perspective: It is not a death sentence!

Our culture advertises perfection. And, of course, you want to present your most perfect self to all your romantic interests. But whom do you know who is perfect? Every person has some unique challenge to overcome. And how an individual navigates this challenge determines his or her personal success in life.

You are to be commended for wanting to honestly share your situation with potential intimates. But there is no perfect time to reveal a potentially embarrassing truth. Of course, upon meeting someone, you don’t want to say: “Hello. My name is Mr. Honesty, and I have herpes.” You should not share personal information about anything until you feel emotionally safe with a person. See if a relationship will unfold first, and tackle each situation as it arises. I know people with terrible, disabling conditions who are happily married to very special partners. You can be, too. If the past few women were not for you, it may be because they were quite simply not for you, and nothing else. Get out of the mindset that the relationships didn’t go forward because of herpes.

This is what I recommend you do now:
1. Search the Internet for herpes support groups. There are hotlines, support groups (online and off), and social events. You will find you are not alone.
2. Volunteer time at a hospital in a ward that cares for terminally ill patients. You will actually be grateful that your own issue is so minor.
3. Observe survivors and “thrivers,” like Montel Williams who has MS and Lance Armstrong who beat testicular cancer. Read their stories, and mirror their coping tactics.

As my Gilda-Gram advises, “When you perceive yourself as ‘damaged,’ that’s the impression you will project.” So boost your self-image, embolden your self-confidence, and let your dates know that you’re a good guy and a hot catch! If you believe it, you will be it!

XXXX

What follows are the e-mails some of my readers sent me, and my comments to them. People’s names and e-mail addresses were deliberately omitted for privacy purposes. I hope this dialogue inches us closer to constructive interchange as we navigate our very complex lives and the people we love.

XXXX

Dear Dr. Gilda,
This is a reply to the man known as Mr. Honesty that has genital herpes. I too am a male that has genital herpes and was devastated when I first learned I had herpes over 17 years ago. I was rather promiscuous in my early years and to this day do not know who gave me the disease. I would like to let him know that I too wondered when to tell a potential partner I had the disease. I thought that if I divulged that information ahead of time no women would ever want me. I was not as forthcoming as he and I had sexual relations with some women before telling them, which was wrong. The first one I told after we had sex reacted in a manner I expected. She stopped seeing me instantly and understandably so. However, after some period of time I approached her again and we ended up getting married. That marriage ended in divorce some time later but not due to herpes. I then waited to tell me current wife about the disease until after we had had sex. She took it very well and we continued our relationship and have been married for over 10 years. Although occasional outbreaks prohibit us from having sex now and then all other times we enjoy a healthy sex life and she has not exhibited any symptoms. I do not condone my behavior in waiting to tell your partner about your herpes until after you have already had sex and in hindsight wish I had been more forthright like yourself. You are doing the right thing. My point is that two women married me knowing I had herpes. Even though it may seem like gloom and doom now there is hope. Hold your head high. The right woman will come along that will accept you and love you for who you are and the fact that you have herpes will not matter.
Good luck,
Been In Your Shoes

Dear Been,
Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it helps others going through this ordeal.
Dr. Gilda

XXXX


Dear Dr. Gilda,
I would like to contact Mr. Honesty since reading his story brought tears to my eyes. I am in a similar situation; I feel my ex-husband gave me herpes. I cannot prove it, but, this has been a very hurtful experience. Any information you can forward to me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!
Regards,
Ms. Curious

Dear Dr. Gilda,
Today on MSN.com you gave advice to the 42-year-old single father who's ex-wife gave him an STD. I had the same thing happen to me with my ex-husband. Is there any way you could give me his contact info so I could contact him so that maybe we could converse? It was helpful to me to hear someone is going through the same issue that I have been facing.
Thank you,
Ms. Confused

Dear Dr. Gilda,
I read your article on MSN Suddenly Single about the 42-year-old single father whose ex-wife gave him Herpes. I understand how the man feels and the things that he is going through with telling people he cares about that he has this virus and then facing rejection. I too have the same problem. I understand that physically I will not die from HSV2, but it does cause emotional issues not only for me, but also when it comes to relationships. I understand that there are ways to help prevent the spread of the virus to help protect your partner, but it has been my experience that many people will reject you because they do not want to have to deal with the possibility of getting it or the "ick" factor. To many, those of us with HSV are "damaged goods." I am a divorced 38-year- old woman that got Herpes type 2 from my ex-husband. I face many of the same issues that Mr. Honesty does. If Mr. Honesty needs someone to chat with, please do give him my e-mail address. I would be more than happy to offer support and to let him know that there are many people dealing with the same situations as he.
Thank you,
Cuddly Lady

Dear Curious, Confused, and Cuddly Lady,
I’m sorry that e-mail addresses are confidential, and it would be impossible for me to share these confidences. I have often wanted to match up different e-mailers because I saw such similarities in them, but I’m afraid it’s impossible.
Dr. Gilda

XXXX

Dear Dr. Gilda,
I read the advice you gave to the "Mr. Honesty" on the topic of herpes. Having been in that position I agree with some of what you said but think you missed the boat on parts of it. The analogies you made to MS and cancer were really not germane as they are not contagious and the fact those individuals are thriving doesn't mean anything to someone with a communicable STD. He wants to be able to handle what he has, not just see that someone is worse off than he is. That doesn't help him deal with his problem. What I did, and what I would have advised him to do, would be to research the condition. Once I learned all there was to know about it, my feelings of anger and frustration and thoughts of never having a family (currently married for 20 yrs. with 2 kids) subsided considerably. Loaded with the knowledge would enable him to not only reveal his condition, but to discuss it in a manner that might put his potential partner at ease with the idea. Support groups are a good idea both emotionally and socially.
Been There Myself

Dear Been There,
Thank you for your comments. I once dated a man who said he regretted not pursuing a terrific, beautiful woman because she had a limp. Now that he was older and wiser, he recognized how superficial of him it was. We all endure limps of one kind or another. It is up to our prospective partners to decide what is within their limits of acceptance and what it not. Through that process, they grow—and so do we. Someone will not like my red hair, but someone else will love it. It’s the same with any disease, whether communicable or otherwise. In my view, it’s the limps we have, and the lumps we take, that define us . . .
Dr. Gilda

XXXX

Dear Dr. Gilda:
I wanted to respond to your advice to the 42 year-old man with herpes. I contracted herpes when I was 18 the second time I had sex with the guy to whom I lost my virginity. He did not tell me that he had herpes and I always felt really strongly that I needed to share my status with potential partners BEFORE we were intimate. Over the years, I developed a "Good News/Bad News" strategy that involved me giving the good news ("I am HIV-negative") first, followed by the bad news ("I have herpes"). I generally told people I was dating before we had sex for the first time. Frankly, it really made me consider who I was dating and having sex with more closely: because telling someone was fairly traumatic and I really needed to feel safe and comfortable, I probably had sex with a lot less guys than I would have if I didn't have herpes.

Over the past 20 years I have never given herpes to anyone, including guys with whom I was having sex without condoms in longer-term relationships. I have not had an outbreak since 1992 or 1993, but I realize I may still be able to infect someone. However, I recently came across a pamphlet at Planned Parenthood that stated that after approximately 5 years, the genital herpes virus tends to go dormant. If the gentleman is still experiencing outbreaks he may also wish to take daily medication that will help decrease outbreaks, which will then reduce the risk of transmission. My outbreaks were so infrequent that I did not take medication after the first outbreak, but I always told potential partners that I could tell when an outbreak was coming and that I would never have sex with someone if I even suspected that I might be having an outbreak (once an ingrown hair caused a false alarm). Sharing this type of information (along with being able to state that he is HIV-negative, assuming he is) with potential partners may help him assuage both his own anxiety and his partners' during what is always a difficult discussion.
Sincerely,
Minneapolis Mama

Dear Minneapolis,
Your positive attitude is exactly what I was getting at by contrasting “survivors” and “thrivers” with those who foster doom and gloom. Good for you for navigating your personal issues in such an upbeat way! I'm sure your interpersonal relationships shine.
Dr. Gilda

XXXX

Dr. Gilda,
I read your advice column often and it is very informative. Most of the time I agree with you, but I would like to comment on your advice to the 42-year-old single father whose ex-wife had given him herpes and would not admit she had it at first.

I don't have herpes, but I can only imagine what a problem it can be. From my own point of view, I believe it would be a big barrier in a relationship. I have managed to get through 50+ years of my life without it, and I would do anything I could to prevent getting it. Now if you fall in love with someone, and they don't know they have it and later find out they do, I think it would be easier to stand by them and the two of you deal with it together. But dating someone and finding out at the beginning of a potentially serious relationship would be a whole other thing. I think I can honestly say that I would not continue the relationship. Herpes is a lifelong, no-cure condition. No, it isn't life threatening, but it can sure cause discomfort, pain, and a lot of anxious moments from what I have read and heard.

I agree with your strategies to build his self-esteem. He needs to feel good about himself and not be down because of something that wasn't his fault. The problem with the examples you gave him as to disabilities, cancer, MS, etc. is that these conditions are not contagious. You can live with someone that has any of these conditions and not be anxious that you will contract the same condition.

When I was reading your advice, it just seemed to me that you were downplaying the impact of herpes on his life. By saying we all want perfection and none of us has it makes it seem as if herpes is like a big nose or sticky-out ears. I just think he is going to have to find that special person that is willing to deal with this challenge. I think of myself as a compassionate, caring person, but I wouldn't want to do it. I should probably mention that I have been through breast cancer and reconstructive surgery so I would probably go through the same "stigma" if I told potentially serious males of my physical imperfection, but there again, my condition isn't contagious. I would just have to find a mate that wouldn't mind that I am not physically perfect. I feel good about myself, but I know that there are a lot of people out there that couldn't deal with such things, so I just think he needs to be aware that the herpes will be a big factor in his finding a mate.
Girl with Other Imperfections

Dear Girl,
One of my online grad students was ashamed of the way he looked. He continued to harp on his disfigurement without even stating what it was. His feelings of negativity ran his life with terrible insecurity and feelings of unworthiness. Through this sensitive course I was running, he built the courage to submit a photo of himself to me and to the rest of the class. (I felt great that we had made such a terrific breakthrough!!) When I saw the photo, I squinted my eyes in disbelief. He commented about having a “big head,” which was not disfiguring at all. BUT IT WAS, TO HIM. Actually, he was quite a good-looking guy.

What you think about, you bring about. If you think you’re scarred for life, then you are. I’m happy you’re aware that you must be more discriminating in selecting future partners. Everyone should be!!! It’s just that you got a jump-start on the others out there.
Dr. Gilda

XXXX


Dear Dr. Gilda,
This morning I read a story on MSN about a man who has herpes. I feel for him because I have it now for 20 years. I have been in that man's situation several times and never had one woman reject me when I told them. In fact, I had two women cry because I was so thoughtful in telling before we had sex. But it all comes down to the type of person that woman is to be able to understand. I take Valtrex everyday and that helps people you’re dating have some assurance the likelihood for contracting the disease is very slim.

Anyway, here is a website that might help that reader find someone with the same issue: http://www.positivesingles.com/
Stay well,
Overcoming the Odds

Dear Overcoming,
Thank you for sharing that site with my readers. I’ll pass it along.
Dr. Gilda

XXXX

Dear Dr. Gilda,
First, I don't need a response to my comment. Second, I read your comment to a guy whose ex-wife game him an STD, herpes to be exact. You said it wasn't a death sentence. But unless you've been down that road, it sure feels that way. I was misdiagnosed with herpes when I was 1 month before my 18th birthday and it had just come out on the news along with AIDS. There wasn't much information back then, but I can tell you it was scary as hell. You don't know who to talk to about it, and believe me most the world does see it as a curse, not just a little inconvenience. Say the word and half the crowd will scatter.

I had to tell my now husband of 21 years that I was one of those people and really expected him to run. I'm not sure I wouldn't have in the same situation if given the chance earlier in my life. But he didn't. He said he loved me and that we would get through this together. And so we have. But that's not saying that others didn't run as fast as they could.

I've had many friends whose lives have been changed drastically from being told they have herpes. It's not an easy disease mentally or physically. But mostly, emotionally. I wanted to die and came really close if it hadn't been for a good friend. I didn't want my family to get it, so I was afraid to use the same dishes, or go to the same toilet, or for them to drink from the same cup I did. There are support groups, but if someone finds out you’re going to one, it can also ruin your life.

Any STD is traumatic to the person that has it. So be compassionate next time. Unfortunately, I waited 20 years after my diagnosis to find out it was false. And believe me, I didn't know whether to be relieved or just downright pissed off at the doctor that had made the mistake.
Once Terrified

Dear Once Terrified,
Fortunately, we’ve come a long way from the original fear about Herpes. Today, Dr. Ruth names the virus simply as some blisters. And that’s what they are—uncomfortable blisters THAT ARE CONTAGIOUS. As Match.com’s weekly Suddenly Single advice columnist, I note that we’ve gotten into the cultural habit of having sex with too many poorly chosen partners. If there is any good that has evolved from this issue, let’s hope the virus is used as a social condom in helping to keep responsible people from having indiscriminate sex. Congratulations on your good news. I think it would be beneficial for you to list the POSITIVE ways your life was changed as a result of the (mis)diagnosis—like finding that wonderful husband of yours!
Dr. Gilda

XXXX

Dear Dr. Gilda,
Regarding you advice in the Suddenly Single article today, I’m appalled at your comparison to someone having herpes and Montel Williams (MS) and Lance Armstrong (cancer). MS and cancer (and a lot of other disabilities) are not diseases that can be passed on to people. People who have herpes and other transmitted diseases that feel these diseases are not so bad (not a death sentence) and have the attitude of so what if I pass it along?, I shouldn’t tell, wait until I get what I want or think I deserve are the problem and that’s why these diseases are out there.

Who wants to get herpes or any other disease because you’re dating someone? No relationship with anyone is worth putting any part of your health at risk?
Someone Who Knows

Dear Someone,
Please re-read my comments. I NEVER said “so what if I pass it along?, I shouldn’t tell, wait until I get what I want or think I deserve” are attitudes I condone. It sounds like you’ve been on the receiving end of some very nasty peoples’ attitudes. A brilliant lawyer friend of mine has herpes, and has lived with it and has had a happy, married life with two terrific kids. After he got Parkinson’s Disease, the herpes seemed insignificant. That’s my point!
Dr. Gilda

XXXX


I WELCOME YOUR FEEDBACK ON THIS POWER-CHARGED TOPIC.

XXXX

If you would like my FREE REPORT, “5 Fix-It Steps to Enhance Your Love Life and Your Career,” please sign up on the pop-up box on my Home Page, www.DrGilda.com.

XXXX

Dr. Gilda’s Offerings:

--DR. GILDA’s GUIDES on “How to Win at Relationships” and “How to Win at Work” (http://www.drgilda.com/books.htm#guides)

--INSTANT ADVICE —BY PHONE OR E-MAIL for SAME-DAY advice in the privacy of your home
or office (http://www.drgilda.com/instant-advice.htm)

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(http://www.drgilda.com/mentoring-packages.htm)

--BOOKS: “Don’t Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on
Yourself” (http://www.drgilda.com/books.htm) and “How to Win at Love”(http://www.drgilda.com/books.htm)

Monday, May 12, 2008

Your Honey Wants One Thing and You Want Another

NOTE TO MY READERS & FANS: I am so sorry I've let this Blog lag. In fact, I've missed doing this. I've been working on a 4-Volume Program about cheating that has consumed every waking hour. It's almost ready for you to see. If you haven't already done so, please sign up on my Home Page (www.DrGilda.com) to be placed on my mailing list. (You'll also get a FREE REPORT of my 5 Fix-It Steps to Enhance Your Love Life and Your Career.)

XXX

You thought it was hard getting to the point of a promised commitment!! Well, friends, once the deal is sealed, that's when the fun really begins. Here's a story about a woman whose husband asked her to go on a nudist boat trip. The woman was "horrified." But what actually happened with this couple will surprise you. My comments about love's compromises are quoted in the CNN.com piece below. ENJOY THE READ!!

XXX

“Honey, Let's Become Nudists”
Reprinted from CNN.com/Living

By Sarah Jio

(LifeWire) -- In 1989, Nancy Tiemann was 36 and living in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Tom. "We were both desperately in need of a getaway," says the one-time banking officer. When Tom suggested they join a boat trip to Belize chartered by a group of nudists, Nancy was horrified.

Tom, 66, a former lawyer, handed her a brochure on nudism and told her he thought the trip could be a lot of fun. After many discussions, she reluctantly agreed to give the experience a try -- under one condition: "I won't tell a soul; no one ever needs to know!"

Your marriage vows may have spoken of hanging in through sickness and health but what about stomaching extreme life makeovers?

"The prevailing message of our time is that you can be whoever you want to be," says Dr. Scott Haltzman, a clinical assistant professor in Brown University's department of psychiatry and human behavior. "The problem in relationships is that some partners change in ways their mates wouldn't have chosen for them. They begin to form new likes and dislikes, new tastes and ultimately new identities."

For Nancy, something unexpected happened in Belize.

"It was so refreshing to find out how wrong I had been with my preconceived ideas on nudity and being nude with others," she says. "A nudist was born."

Had it not been for her husband's dramatic suggestion, Nancy, 53, says she might never have discovered nudism, which is now a source of joy in her life -- and career. Shortly after their trip, the couple launched Bare Necessities Tour and Travel, a travel agency devoted to the nudist vacationer. It has since chartered more than 40 cruise ships carrying more than 25,000 nudist travelers.

'I'm quitting my six-figure job'

But sometimes one partner's need for change can be more destructive to a relationship.

Mick Quinn was the vice president of a high-tech company on Wall Street with a significant salary, plenty of options and an adoring fiancée. "We lived a few doors down from Jackie O's old place on Fifth Avenue," he says.

Despite all that, Quinn, 45, was yearning to start his own company -- a move that would take him from six figures to zero, at least in the interim.

"This did not sit well with my fiancée," says Quinn. She "saw my wish to leave such a safe job, to start my own venture, as a weakness. I was delivered an ultimatum: 'Leave the job, lose me.' On the day I quit, she ended our relationship."

Haltzman has seen it before. "When people choose to make drastic alteration in their lives and proceed despite the objections of their partner," he says, "changes have the potential to destroy a relationship."

Psychotherapist and relationship expert Gilda Carle, Ph.D., contends that it's common for women to intertwine their respect for the man they love with his wealth. Right or wrong, Carle says, "money is often tied into how a woman perceives her man as powerful, and sometimes, when he loses his power, he loses his appeal."

Quinn said his technology company was successful enough that he was able to retire when he sold it, and he's now happily married to another woman.

Toe the line or draw the line?

Before you pack up and move out, Haltzman says, drop all assumptions and figure out where your partner is coming from. "Couples often can weather seemingly outrageous shifts in roles and identities, and still grow closer in the course of this life transition," says Haltzman, author of "The Secrets of Happily Married Women: How to Get More Out of Your Relationship by Doing Less."

And sometimes bigger issues are at work. Haltzman says a dramatic change could represent something serious, like a psychotic break or a depressive or manic illness that needs to be addressed.

However, even with a lot of effort, experts say, some relationships just can't be saved. Carle describes a situation where a client's husband came home and announced he had become a cross-dresser. The spouse on the receiving end of such a major change, she says, has to be up front about both feelings and personal boundaries.

"Listen to that voice in your head and that feeling in your gut," Carle says. "Don't say 'yes' out of fear when you should say 'no' out of love."


XXX

Compromise is basic to every successful relationship. Now that you read the piece, I'm anxious to hear about YOUR experiences with compromise. Did you give up too much of yourself? Did you withhold more than you could have? How did you feel about the final distribution of feelings and resources? Please post your feedback here!
Love,
Dr. Gilda

XXX

Dr. Gilda’s Offerings:

--DR. GILDA’s GUIDES on “How to Win at Relationships” and “How to Win at Work” (http://www.drgilda.com/books.htm#guides)

--INSTANT ADVICE —BY PHONE OR E-MAIL for SAME-DAY advice in the privacy of your home
or office (http://www.drgilda.com/instant-advice.htm)

--MENTORING PACKAGES to provide ongoing life and relationship support
(http://www.drgilda.com/mentoring-packages.htm)

--BOOKS: “Don’t Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting on
Yourself” (http://www.drgilda.com/books.htm) and “How to Win at Love”(http://www.drgilda.com/books.htm)