On herpes and forgiveness. Nine months into our relationship, my boyfriend told me that he has HSV-2. That was almost a year ago. It still bothers me. What now?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Almost two years ago, I met a guy online. We lived in different cities, but a lively correspondence led to an in-person meet-up. He was an eccentric but compelling character, and we had great sexual chemistry and interesting conversations. After some time without a boyfriend, it felt great to have someone to share the details of life with.
We began visiting back and forth. Last winter, on a trip we were taking together, he told me he had some very painful news to share. He revealed that he has genital herpes (HSV-2), and that he felt a flare-up coming on. He hadn't told me yet, he said, because he gets flare-ups infrequently, almost always when he's traveling alone and not sexually active. He acknowledged he'd been in denial or semi-denial about his condition, which he'd had for six years, and that it was inappropriate of him not to have told me earlier. We had been sleeping together for about nine months, albeit more infrequently than many couples because of the distance thing.
I was livid and nearly dumped him on the spot. Compounding my anger was the fact that we'd been having unprotected sex, something I felt reasonably okay doing because when we first met, he strongly implied that he had a clean bill of sexual health. He told me he'd recently "been to Planned Parenthood," and I didn't press for specifics (which was bad of me, know).
He apologized, as he has many more times over the months, but somehow his apology didn't feel deep or real to me. When I mention this to him, he gets defensive, along the lines of: 'I've apologized a million times, and you continue to stigmatize me!'
I'm not sure why I didn't actually send him packing right then and there. But I think it has something to do with the fact that I was coming off the most stressful year of my life, and I must have been feeling too fragile to deal with a breakup. I don't necessarily feel proud of continuing to date him, but that's what I did. Three or four months later, I moved to his city and into the house that he shares with housemates.
Early on in our time of living together, we fought about the herpes issue. I did internet research and discovered that regular use of condoms and daily use of suppressive anti-viral drugs by him would greatly reduce the risk of transmission. He agreed to use condoms, and we do, but he still resists the regular use of antivirals. He insists that his case is mild (maybe two flare-ups a year), that he hates the thought of daily prescription drugs, etc. I have some sympathy for that point of view, but I also feel as though, after concealing herpes from me for so long, he should have bent over backwards to make things right. He continues to say he simply doesn't think he'll give it to me, and I continue to think 'wtf, the risk may be low, but of course it's there.'
He's all right with using condoms but from time to time mentions that having sex without them, eventually, is an important goal for him. For my part, I feel less sexually comfortable with him than I might, and I'd like that to change someday too, but it's hard to see how it can. He often points out that with herpes, the bark is worse than the bite (e.g., the stigma can be harder to handle than the disease itself). He has a point. And if I were 100% sure about marrying him and being together forever, I could likely become more relaxed about the risks. It is not a life-threatening disease. Nearly a fifth of Americans have it. I know. Look at it from one angle, and it's not such a big deal.
But there's the catch-22: it's hard to feel 100% sure about marrying and being together forever with someone who has violated my trust in this way.
FWIW, I am early 30s and he's around 40. I'd like to get married and have kids someday. I'm aware that the window of opportunity for that doesn't last forever. He's quite sure he wants to be with me. That certainty has been a big part of his attraction. But there's more too: the aforementioned joy of companionship. He keeps me organized, on an even keel. We are both independent workers, so we're together just about 24/7. And we haven't killed each other yet.
He feels that I am holding him at arm's length emotionally—which I am—and he would very much like me to make a commitment to him, in terms of establishing a rough timeline for buying a house, getting married, having a kid, or at least making clear my intentions to do one or all of those things with him. He accuses me of using the herpes issue like a trump card, alleging that I was ambivalent about him in a bigger way from the start. Again, there's some truth to that. From the beginning, I've been both sincerely drawn to him, and regularly confused/taken aback/annoyed in some of our interactions.
In a sense, that pattern has stayed constant. From my end, the relationship often feels like the proverbial frog that bumps its ass on the ground when it hops: for hours, days, or even weeks I'll feel hopeful—This could be it!!—and then that old anger, indignation, and/or nonplussed-ness will come back, accompanied by massive amounts of guilt that I'm not loving him right, that I haven't really committed.
I don't have other major trust issues with him, e.g. I don't believe he's ever cheated on me, and I'm not that worried that he will. The only thing I can really relate to this is that he can be a private person: if he doesn't feel like sharing, getting him to explain how he feels about a particular thing is like pulling teeth.
Also FWIW, I had my blood tested for herpes a couple months after he first told me, and came up negative. I don't believe I am infected now, though of course if I ever go back to dating I'll have to find out definitively, and probably be prepared to disclose my history of exposure even if I do test negative.
MeFites, what am I asking? Am I over-reacting? Under-reacting? How bad was the thing my boyfriend did? Am I going to be able to forgive him? Or am I just letting my day-to-day comfort and the fear of disruption that a breakup would cause lead me to kick the can down the road, wasting both of our time? Is this relationship dead? Or am I fretting myself out of a humanly imperfect but in many ways good thing?
I will own that I am, by nature, someone who has a hard time making up her mind, and is inclined to agonize over decisions. I'm moderately neurotic, and while I've always had good friends and, often, a romantic relationship, it may be that I have a hard time letting people in. I think my boyfriend loves me. I've had numerous opportunities to walk away from him, and I haven't taken them. The idea of just saying 'yes' and moving forward has a great appeal. On the other hand, my ambivalence has been wearing on people in my life (and also confusing them, since I don't generally tell the whole story), and I know it's been wearing on my boyfriend and on myself too.
Because someone's gonna suggest therapy: shortly after I moved to his city, I implored my bf to go to Planned Parenthood. He did, and someone there gave him a lead on some inexpensive couples therapy. We haven't made an appointment yet, though I bring it up from time to time when we fight. If anybody thinks it'd be worthwhile (or not), opinions welcome.
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