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Dear Captain & Army,

About a month ago, I finally broke things off with a long-term Darth Vader ex I’ll call Joe. We officially broke up last year, but spent this summer falling in love all over again, though we kept it completely secret. However, when Joe finally admitted to cheating on me with a very close friend while we were still together – something I had long suspected but never had confirmed, and which he had directly lied to me about many times – I knew it had to be over, once and for all. So, despite Joe’s protestations and pleas, I told him not to contact me ever again, and after a few days of mourning (and not reaching out, despite wanting to very badly) found the courage to block him in every way possible. Only in the last week was I finally starting to feel something more than the emotional mess that is equal parts angry, sad and nostalgic.

But then, just yesterday, I got a call from another ex, someone I briefly dated just a few months before Joe and I resumed our relationship. The ex told me they were recently tested for STIs, and came up positive for a common one. I immediately made an appointment for myself, and am now waiting for results to come back.

Of course, I know that if the test comes back positive that I will have to tell Joe. But I’m already worrying about having any contact with this person again, who I have finally removed completely from my life and who was a 100% toxic influence. I feel that news like this merits a phone call, but the thought of even hearing Joe’s voice again fills me with sadness, dread and, if I’m totally honest, excitement. I worry that I won’t be able to keep the conversation to simply the facts of the situation, and that if I open that doorway right now, I won’t be emotionally able to shut it again. My only friend who knows about our summer fling suggested writing an e-mail, and then keeping Joe’s blocked so he can’t respond. But I feel like that is somehow wrong, considering this is an issue of sexual health and safety.

What do you think, Captain? Should I call, or will an e-mail suffice? And either way, how do I make sure to stay to the script? Is there a good script for this?

Sincerely,
Possibly Positive

Dear Possibly Positive:

Would you believe that there are greeting cards for just this occasion? And that there are services where you can send this info anonymously (recommended!)? And that there’s a very sweet show on Netflix called “Scrotal Recall” about just this problem if you’d like to feel less alone about the whole thing?

You do not have to have a talk with “Joe” about this, LW, and you don’t owe him and the “close friend” he was sleeping with anything but the basic information to protect their health. If you choose not to use InSPOT, an email (DEFINITELY EMAIL OR POSTAL MAIL, NO PHONE OR MEETING UP) script might go like this:

“Dear Joe/Dear Friend:

One of my former sex partners tested positive for _______ STI, and given the timing you may have been exposed, too. Please get tested and inform your partners.”

Or:

“I recently tested positive for _______ STI, and I recommend that you get tested and inform recent sex partners as well.”

Informing them takes care of your ethical responsibilities here. I do think you should reach out to the friend as well (Do you honestly trust Joe to take care of someone else’s health in an ethical way?) Once you convey the info, you don’t need to have one iota more discussion or provide any more details.You can safely ignore/block any replies. You do not have to listen to Joe’s reactions or care about his feelings right now. Pesky microbes are not a referendum on you or on your past relationships, and reaching out with key health information is one good exception for violating a “no contact” policy.

I hope you get answers soon and that they alleviate your anxiety. When you climb back on the dating horse, this might help.

P.S. There’s always singing telegrams!

Dear Captain Awkward,

My question is one of those probably 60% of the people in the room have, but no one wants to ask. (I did check archives but didn’t find a close match.) The top line question is, is there any ethical way to build and test the viability of a romantic relationship when you and the potential sweetheart are both already in relationships.

Of course people do this all the time, ranging from “just getting to know as friends” and “grabbing a drink” to “flirting” and “cheating.” A purely puritanical response might be, “no nothing never, consider your partner.” A Francophile might respond, “oh course everything it’s natural.” There’s some comfort in rigid or absent rules. The most of us are somewhere murkier in between— an uncomfortable place.

The particulars of my situation are that I’m in a very long “boyfriend-girlfriend” relationship. It is overall emotionally positive, with the major quips being no sex for 4 years (he cannot get it to work with medical help), throwing out a stack of my love letters (he doesn’t like clutter), and never even considering proposing to me for 7 years (we’ve lived together for 5 yrs). Despite these difficulties, I have to say I have dealt with them with open communication and this is the one person I feel who has thus far been able to meet my emotional and cuddling needs while maintaining a ceaselessly patient attitude with my irregularities/failings.

However, I recently met someone with whom I quickly developed strong feelings. He expressed strong feelings first, and I found myself responding honestly. The fellow is 7+ years my junior, though he’s more of a man than most I’ve met. There are reasons to believe we’d be compatible romantically, I’ll spare you the details. Just suffice to say it’s not just infatuation. I love him and I would be inclined to marry him (no he hasn’t asked, our relationship is not anywhere close to that – I say that to express the trust, affection, connection, etc I feel for him). He has a girlfriend of 2 years. I don’t know what their level of commitment is, but she seems like a lovely person. We’ve known each other less than 2 months.

I have never physical cheated on anyone in my life (not a kiss, nothing). However, I have delved into emotional affairs, in the sense that I’ve shared a mutual crush. In those cases, the threat of something actually happening has sort of paralyzed me with fear and I’ve avoided contact with the person. After all, I have my sterling record to protect (and drive fear into me)!

But in this case, I do not feel either paralyzed or driven by fear. Primarily because the fellow puts me at ease and I trust him. This is not a rooster chasing the chicken scenario, wherein my fight-flight mechanism kicks in. If nothing happens (if we both do nothing and/or either one prevents it), I will just continue loving him (though hopefully the romantic element will dissipate, if there is a merciful God).

I’m 33 considering a guy who is 7+ years my junior, while I’m already in a 7 year relationship with a guy who has (yes finally) decided he wants to marry me. They are both wonderful guys, but I now feel for one what I no longer feel for the other.

These are high stakes tables for me. And anyways, I like to think things through before they get real and hairy. This is my life — I just want to live it. But analysis paralysis is a real thing. I want to do the right by everyone involved, but also love is the one thing that we’ll do anything for.

Getting back to the question, what’s fair game for getting to knowing one another better and testing the romantic viability of the relationship when we are both in a relationship (no one’s engaged, but in a boyfriend/girlfriend).

And also, side note, the statistics are against the longevity of relationships where the woman is significantly older. Although I know many long marital examples of 9+ older women who lived happily ever after. But I think most of society still raises an eyebrow. Perhaps that would impact your advice. I should say, I feel I could learn a lot from him and respect him immensely (he’s way more accomplished that I was at a similar age).

Sincerely,

Honest heart with serious doubts

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Dear Captain Awkward:

About a year ago I made a conscious decision to stop consuming porn. I stumbled across the basic argument that you can’t be certain whether or not the people being filmed have been coerced. This coupled with recently having  realized that I was/am a Nice Guy(tm) (and being mortified) was enough to make me too uncomfortable with porn to continue to consume it.

A year goes by and porn comes up in jokey conversation amongst friends so I admit to not consuming porn anymore and am interrogated as to why. Apparently it isn’t enough to suspect that some of the people being filmed may be coerced.
The gist of the conversation was that since:

  1. There are women that get rich doing porn
  2. I still wear clothes and use gadgets that are produced by exploited labor.
  3. I am a tool and a hypocrite and therefore totally wrong about porn. At least until I go and actually do something about something else that’s more important like disposing of my smartphone and/or swap out all my clothes for those produced by people making what would be a living wage in the US or EU.

I am stuck with limply stating that I have to start somewhere. OK, maybe I’m a little too bitter about this.

I’m still befuddled by trying to fix the Nice Guy stuff, now I have to defend not watching porn?  I don’t require that anyone else forgo watching it, I have just found the human trafficking/coercion angle very compelling. I guess that it’s possible I may have implied “…and you shouldn’t either.” and that could explain the vehement resistance, but I really didn’t expect it.

I don’t know if I’m just hurt or really offended by their reaction. Do I try to let it drop or do I need new friends?  Or am I just a hypocrite?

I was looking for an analogy that would allow me to write about your question without writing about porn in more detail than I’d like to do under my real name, and then it hit me:

You became a porn vegan.

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Normally about this time I’d be posting links to the Shameless Self Promotion Sunday thread, but it looks like that won’t be necessary this week. Welcome Feministe and Manboobz readers!  I am enjoying your fine and well-spelled comments.  I would love to hear more thoughts on how we socialize both men and women to say “no” and to respond to “no.”  And I’m always looking for questions – email me at welcometoawkwardtown@gmail.com.

Also, maybe some of you can help me with a doozy of a reader question.  I’m especially interested in hearing from higher ed people, occupational health and safety people, lawyers, etc.  Here we go:

Hi,

I have a work-related question that is gnawing at me, and since you tackle those, I figured I’d give it a shot. I work in a chemistry research lab with a number of rather nasty chemicals. We have several undergrad interns who are finishing up their projects, and one of them has recently announced that she’s pregnant to the entire lab minus the people in charge. She goes on like nothing is going on, and she’s still doing experiments with the aforementioned dangerous products.

The reason she doesn’t want to tell the people in charge at the lab is that her immediate boss is also her professor, who still needs to grade one of her exams. The professor in question is a horrible woman and nobody would put it past her to fail the student for being pregnant. Please keep in mind that this is all happening in a country where women’s rights are not as well-defended as in the US, and there isn’t much of a structure to help the student with her problems with the professor. However, if the baby is born with a problem due to exposure to dangerous chemicals, the lab could still be held liable for that.

The pregnant student has made us swear that we wouldn’t tell the bosses behind her back, but considering the number of people who know, there is bound to be a slip-up soon. Furthermore, she has made the rest of the lab extremely uncomfortable with her reckless experimenting, and we’ve more of less decided to sit her down and let her know that what she’s doing is extremely dangerous for her child (we have all already told her this, but so far she hasn’t listened).

My position in this is very difficult in this. I’m a post doc, which means I’m not a student, but I’m not part of management either. I need to think about my relationship with my boss, which I want to be as good as possible (my boss is also the boss of the professor in question – I don’t really work with her, but I don’t want to be on her bad side either). She doesn’t seem to care about what impression she leaves behind once she leaves the lab in a few months, but I’m staying behind and I don’t want this to turn against me. I want to tell the student that if she doesn’t tell her boss soon, I’ll tell my boss.

I know that this is a very difficult ethical question, and I know that I’m slipping into woman-as-vessel territory (and I’m not going to even speculate on the exam problem), but I don’t think that “it goes against my political beliefs to tell pregnant women not to do something” is going to cut it as an excuse when I’m asked if I knew about this, and I don’t want to lie to my boss. Do you have any advice on how not to be a concern troll and how to handle the situation in order to minimize the drama?

Thanks for your attention,
Clever Name Here

Dear Clever Name:

A lot of this stuff is above my pay grade.  I have no legal or occupational health and safety expertise.  I do teach at a college, and if this were one of my students I would feel justified in telling the student “You have put me in a terrible position, and I am obligated to tell my boss about this so that we can make sure that you are served well and also to protect the school in case of complications,” and then referring the student to my boss and/or student services, etc. but I am in the U.S. and there are some clear guidelines and protections available that you and your intern might not have.  I haven’t had to face this with pregnant students (though that does come up every other semester or so – Thanks, Abstinence Only Education!  You Don’t Work At All And Should Be Completely De-funded and Called Out For Being A Crock of Shit!) but I have had a student with some obvious and scary health problems who needed to be referred to some services so (s)he didn’t do things like stop breathing or have fainting spells and seizures in my class. Read More