I am a 30-year-old woman and have recently begun dating a wonderful man. The problem is that I am infected with genital herpes (a lovely parting gift from a previous boyfriend). My infection is well-controlled but of course I need to tell this new man that I am infected. This is my first new relationship since becoming infected two years ago and I just don’t know how to break the news. I’m tempted to tell him by e-mail but it doesn’t seem appropriate. And should I do it now, before I get too attached to him, so I don’t get heartbroken if he leaves me? I’d rather put it off and enjoy his company as long as I can, but I don’t want him to think I’m misleading him either. He is a real treasure and I don’t want to lose him.
Nervous in Newcastle
This is a delicate matter, but I think your instincts are leading you in the right direction. There’s no need to bring up your infection until either sex or a major commitment with this man seems imminent. First, you will save yourself the stress of the revelation in the event that the relationship never gets to that point. Second, once he has gotten to know you better and to really like you, it will be harder for him to just walk away over something like this. (I can see why you might think you should get this out of the way now, before you get too attached to him, but remember that he is also becoming attached to you!) I don’t think he will see it as you misleading him, as long as you tell him before you make a commitment or have sex (or any sort of touching in an area of your body where you’ve had an outbreak) with him. It’s a difficult issue, and if he’s as wonderful as you say, I’m sure he’ll understand why you didn’t bring it up immediately.
This may surprise you, but I also think that telling him by e-mail is a good idea. Sure, it seems kind of chicken at first- and he’ll probably see it that way unless you explain your reasons- but there are some big advantages to e-mail. You can take your time and word everything exactly the way you want, and you can also provide links to some good information on the Web. As for him, he’ll have time to think about it and do some research before he responds (so you won’t see his immediate knee-jerk reaction, which may not be pretty). Many people don’t know that herpes can be managed and that with some simple precautions, the risk of transmission to a partner is low. Having that sort of information may make a big difference in what he decides to do.
Of course, there’s no way to know how he’ll react. However, it may not be as bad as you think. Most people have feelings of inadequacy that make them nervous (about relationships in general and sex in particular) with a new partner, so there’s a chance this may even make him feel less self-conscious, since you’re not ‘perfect’ either. You never know, he might even be infected with herpes himself (or have had a previous partner who was), since most sources say that about 25% of adult Canadians are infected with herpes. In that case, it will be no big deal- and he’ll be glad it was you that brought it up!
E-mail your questions to Heather at firstname.lastname@example.org. Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.