I’m 34, single and looking for someone to settle down with. In my younger days however, I saw a lot of sex workers—I lost my virginity to one (at 24) and used them to build my confidence up until I felt ready for a relationship. My best friend “Sam” is well aware of this, and because he has literally no secrets from her, so is Sam’s wife “Amy.” For the most part I get along fine with Amy—I was the best man at her and Sam’s wedding—but she is a rather extreme feminist who believes that sex work, while maybe okay in theory, is in our current reality exploitative of women and therefore evil. She wouldn’t even let me take Sam to a strip club for his bachelor party—I ended up not doing it because Sam genuinely didn’t want to, but I’m afraid this gave Amy a sense of triumph and power she doesn’t deserve.
I had been seeing a woman for almost four months who I was starting to think was the one, when she abruptly confronted me about my past with sex workers. When I admitted it was true, she dumped me and bad-mouthed me all over social media. Turns out she heard it from Amy, who “thought she had a right to know.” I ended up getting into a huge verbal altercation with Amy when she refused to either apologize for sabotaging my relationship or promise not to sabotage future ones, that ended with Sam ordering me out of their house with the threat of physical violence.
That was about two weeks ago. Sam and I finally just talked again, and we both really want to reconcile, but when I asked him to talk to Amy and ensure that she won’t tell any future girlfriends of mine about this part of my past, he said he can’t control what Amy says or does, and seemed to imply that I was some kind of Neanderthal for thinking a husband should have that kind of control over his wife. I don’t see it as control, just common courtesy and regard for others’ privacy. I have no intention of continuing to patronize sex workers once I’m in a long-term relationship, and don’t think any good could come of my future girlfriend/wife knowing about this.
But I don’t see how I can keep it a secret if I continue to be friends with Sam and Amy. And I really don’t want to drop them, especially Sam. I don’t have a lot of close friends—in fact he’s pretty much it. I love their two little boys to death, and I think their family has been incredibly valuable to me in terms of modeling healthy parent-child relationships, since my own family of origin was anything but. Now though, I keep thinking about how every time I’ve ever asked one of Amy’s friends out, I’ve been rejected, even when we seemed to have great chemistry. I’m paranoid she’s been telling everyone and that her and Sam’s whole social circle sees me as some kind of scum.
So what do I do? Do I need to find a woman who is cool with the fact that I used to see sex workers? That would narrow down an already narrow playing field even further, since I’m no longer looking for a casual fling or a party girl, but a woman with good values who wants a faithful monogamous relationship and motherhood. When and how would you suggest I tell a potential girlfriend this, to keep her from dumping me in disgust like the last one? Or do you have any other suggestions?
So this is one of those times I get questions that straddle the line between “shitposting” and “actual problems”. As a general rule, I don’t worry too much over whether a letter is fake or not; the ones that are obvious get in the bin, and if there’s a lesson involved that others could benefit from, then I’ll go ahead and answer it. After all, the much value of readers’ questions isn’t just for the person who wrote in, but for other folks who are dealing with similar situations.
So we’re gonna assume that this is all in good faith.
That being said, phrases like “gave Amy a sense of triumph and power she doesn’t deserve” is one of those moments where you might want to consider your attitude about women and Amy in particular. If Sam didn’t want to go to a strip club for his bachelor party — and lots of guys don’t — then that’s not exactly Amy getting a win somehow. That’s you respecting Sam’s wishes, which is part of the point of a bachelor party.
So let’s talk sex work, sex-work exclusionary radical feminists and handling conflicts like a grown-ass adult.
To start with, it sounds like Amy’s view that sex work is theoretically ok but not right now is more of a hedge against how she actually feels. It’s easy enough to say “I’m cool with it IN THE FAR FUTURE but not now,” and call that being pro-sex work. What it actually amounts to though is trying to dress up an anti-sex work outlook in the guise of being supportive someday but not until… well apparently in Amy’s case, until the downfall of capitalism, anyway. But as the leftists are often saying: there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism. What this means is that the nature of the economic system makes all forms of consumption inherently causes harm down the line, whether to the worker, the consumer or the environment. The system that we all labor under is inherently exploitative; the person making your coffee or building your roads and buildings are selling their bodies to survive. Since there isn’t a way to opt out of capitalism, it means everyone’s stuck working within the system.
However, a lot of folks — such as sex-work exclusionary radical feminists — treat sex work as not just exploitative but inherently wrong, no matter the circumstances. That anyone involved in sex work is either coerced into it or deluding themselves. This, needless to say, irks a shitload of sex workers, from escorts to pro-dommes, from dancers to cam-girls, porn stars and folks running OnlyFans. Lots of folks out there who do sex work genuinely enjoy their work or find it to be the best option for them in terms of time, flexibility and money. And while yes, there’re folks who go into sex work because of dire financial straights… plenty of folks go into manual labor for exactly the same reason. The difference is that one is seen as immoral, degrading and exploitative while the other isn’t… despite the fact that an argument could be made that manual labor is not only more exploitative but more damaging to the laborer.
It sounds like Amy is, if not a SWERF, at least sympathetic to their beliefs. And while she could benefit from, say, actually listening to what various porn stars, escorts and pro dommes say about their work, the issue here isn’t Amy’s beliefs. It’s her actions that are a concern, and where those actions intersect with your life.
Now here’s where things get messy. One of the issues that this question runs headlong into is “what right do we have to interfere with somebody else’s relationship?” If you knew somebody was dating a known abuser, you would presumably want to make sure they were aware of the danger, yes? It’s very much the question of how to handle the missing stair and whether a whisper campaign is the right way to address the issue, especially if there’s some reason that you can’t excise the person from your community.
But what if that harm is in the eye of the beholder, rather than objectively real?
Amy, clearly, feels that you have harmed folks by visiting sex workers and that this is something that people should be aware of if they’re dating you. Now, presuming that you were seeing independent sex workers, folks who chose the job of their own free will and weren’t coerced into it, you treated them with respect, used protection, tipped well and so on… well, there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, but this was an arrangement between two consenting adults. Under those circumstances, any “harm” seems to be notional at best. Her interfering in your relationship is unwarranted at best and, frankly, none of her business. And while folks can debate about whether someone has the right to know… that’s fine for debate, but taking it upon oneself to intercede is a step too far. Especially if no actual harm was done.
(Now, if somebody was seeing sex workers who were coerced into it, that’s a different story. Same with folks who take a don’t-give-a-fuck approach to safe sex and STIs. But again: if that’s not you, then that’s not relevant to your situation.)
That having been said, there’re a lot of ways all of this could have been avoided long before it came to Amy deciding to take it upon herself to pull your ex aside. First and foremost, Sam fucked up. Sam may not have any secrets from Amy… but this wasn’t his secret to share. This was your secret, not his; he was just privy to it. If you hadn’t given him permission to share that with others, then he violated your privacy by telling Amy. So right off the bat, Sam owes you a very sincere apology. Next, it sounds like things got way out of control when you went to talk to Amy about this. It’s one thing to say “you have no right to get involved with my personal life, stay out of it.” It’s another that things escalated so far that things came to the verge of violence; that’s a sign that shit went out of control very quickly.
And while Sam is right to say that he can’t control Amy, seeing as he was the vector for her finding out, he does have a responsibility to say “hey, I think you should stay out of DEJ’s business,” especially if — as I said — this was just about a transaction between consenting adults.
But just as importantly: you can’t dictate Amy’s actions either and short of trying to file some sort of restraining order, you can’t make her do anything either. The only control you have is her access to you and your future partners. Frankly, if neither an apology nor a promise to mind her own business was forthcoming from Amy, then ultimately, it’s on you to enforce your boundaries and say “welp, sorry Sam, I’m out. Call me when you all are ready to apologize and stay out of this.” And while yes, keeping Amy out of your life means cutting Sam out as well, I’d like to reiterate that it was Sam who violated your privacy and told Amy. His decision to share your secret is what lead to your current situation, and it doesn’t sound like he’s tried to make things right.
Frankly, I’m not sure how you can stay friends with them. It’s pretty clear you don’t trust Amy any more and seeing as she and Sam are a matched set, there’s not going to be any time with Sam that Amy isn’t involved in, in some way, shape or form. And if you are honestly worried that Amy’s gossiping to the rest of her social circle… well, that’s all the more reason to cut them loose.
Now if you’re going to try to maintain a relationship with them — and frankly I’m not sure why, considering — then either you’re going to have to keep Sam and Amy separate from any future relationships or you’re going to have to get out in front of things before Amy can. So yes, the cost of keeping them in your life is going to mean dating women who are pro sex-work and are cool with your having seen sex workers. There’re plenty of women who are pro sex-work who are also monogamous and family-oriented; the two are hardly mutually exclusive. It just means that you’re going to have to do your due diligence in who you date and look for folks who are going to have a more progressive outlook than you have been. That may reduce the pool of potential dates and require more effort (and more break-ups and rejections) on your part… but again, this is part of the cost of keeping Sam and Amy in your life.
(And frankly, if you’re seeing “having good values and wanting faithful monogamous relationships” as being incompatible with being ok with sex work your having seen sex workers… well, that’s on you, chief.)
When do you tell her? Well, at the very least, before there’s any chance of her interacting with Sam and Amy. If the topic hadn’t come up on its own — say, when talking about opinions about sex work and sex workers — then I’d say you would want to bring it up sooner, rather than later, and definitely before there’s any sort of commitment. It might be best to bring it up during the STI or safe-sex talk, when you discuss your must-haves, your hard no’s and potential triggers. However, as with any Awkward Conversation, it’s one you want to roll out carefully. You block out time to talk about it, you explain why this is going to be potentially difficult to talk about and why you’re worried about bringing it up, you ask her to let you share your side of things without interruption until you’re done, you roll it out as matter-of-fact, not as a thing to be ashamed of, and then you answer all of her questions. And when she’s done, you let her share her feelings without interruption until she‘s done.
Will this ensure that you won’t get dumped? No… because nothing can ensure that. But it’ll go a long way towards both setting the tone and making sure you get to present this side of you in a way that you control, rather than having to do after-the-fact damage control when Amy decides another partner of yours “deserves to know”.
But while I think it’s better for you to date women who’re already ok with sex work and having seen sex-workers in general, I still think you’re better off telling Sam and Amy to go screw until they’re both willing to apologize and stay out of your business. It doesn’t seem as though either believe they’ve done anything wrong and honestly? If that’s the case… you need to find better friends.
And when you do: be more judicious about who you share your secrets with.
Longtime reader here. I’m a 24 year old male with limited dating experience who’s gotten dates here and there over the past few years and would like to think I’m getting better at them, though I’m still nervous about initiating physical contact, sex, etc. This is especially the case right now, as I currently am living with my parents, both of whom are immunocompromised. I am looking next year to move out to a different part of my state, but don’t have enough money yet saved up from my job to do so right now.
I had a date with a girl from Hinge at a local brewery that went really well yesterday, and of course afterward my jerk of a brain started going “Well if you go on more dates and become physically intimate, you’ll bring COVID back and accidentally kill both mom and dad”. It’s worth noting that my mom almost died from an acute liver failure a few years ago, so the level of guilt I would feel if something happened to her because of my reckless actions would be enormous.
There’s also the fact that both her and I live with our parents, so I wouldn’t even know where to go to be intimate right now.
I realize I’m getting waaay ahead of myself, as a time and place for a second date hasn’t yet been established (but she is open to it). I just feel this burden on my shoulders and want to do everything I can to protect those I care about while still staying sane (therapy has been a big help for me with the latter).
Do you have any tips or advice?
Want to Avoid Infection Terror
The first rule of any anxiety-provoking situation is simple, WAIT: don’t borrow trouble from the future. When you get spun up about things that aren’t even on the table yet, you end up getting so worried about a theoretical future that you can’t appreciate the present. Never mind that you’re nowhere near the point that you have to worry about this; if you can’t relax and be in the moment, you won’t get there in the first place. So all you’ve done is stress yourself out of any potential happiness.
Now that being said, the answer is simple: vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. If you aren’t vaccinated already, then for the love of whatever gods you believe in go get your shots. Thus far, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines are all highly effective against the current strains of COVID, including the Delta variant. While the science is still out on whether boosters will be necessary in the future — particularly for the non mRNA vaccines — all of the vaccines available in the US provide not just high resistance to COVID but incredibly powerful protection against hospitalization and death. It’s telling that pretty much all of the deaths and new infections in the US are unvaccinated people; while there are some break-through infections, the numbers are a very small percentage of the total vaccinated population — well within the expected range.
All signs and science also indicate that folks who are vaccinated are COVID-sterile; that is, it is very difficult to be an uninfected carrier of the virus. Similarly, get your parents vaccinated, if they aren’t already. While there is still some question of the strength of the immune response in immunocompromised people, any increased resistance is better than none. The combination of your immunity and any partial immunity that your parents get from the vaccines means that you will have put significant barriers between you and any chance of infecting them.
By that same token, if you’re fully vaccinated — both shots, 14 days out from your second shot for maximum immunity — and your date (this woman or any other dates in the future) is also fully vaccinated, then you’re at greater risk of being eaten by a shark than bringing COVID home with you. Both you and your date are inhospitable hosts for the virus, which means that you both are unlikely to be asymptomatic carriers. If you want to take a belt-and-suspenders approach to this, you can also make sure that you prioritize dates in open air or well-ventilated areas, avoid crowds and mask up when possible. This will help minimize the chances of exposure and reduce the likelihood of a breakthrough infection to virtually nil. While it’s still not absolute zero, you’ll have better odds of winning the Powerball.
It’s also worth remembering that all of life involves an element of risk; we just are comfortable with some risks over others. While all the available vaccines don’t offer 100% immunity to COVID, the odds of two vaccinated people contracting the disease and passing it on are far, far lower than the risk of being killed in a car crash… and yet we get in cars and drive every single day without thinking about it. We take what steps we can to mitigate and minimize those risks and then measure the potential risk vs. the reward. Most of the time — such as with driving — we decide that the reward is at least worth the risk. There are no guarantees in this world, so everyone has to decide just what level of risk they’re cool with. If you want to date, then getting your shots and only dating other fully vaccinated people is gonna be part of how you manage those risk levels.
And in the meantime, if you can’t be intimate at your place or your date’s, look into AirB&Bs or apps like HotelTonight. While you may not be able to be as spontaneous as you would be if you had your own place, you’ll still have access to places where you and your special lady can go and have yourselves a romantic evening together.