Got an STD?

A former student wrote this honest and vulnerable letter, and wanted to share my reply with you all. Identifying details have been changed. Hi Maryanne, I'm having some very painful times right now, due to not following your really great advice in your workshop…I wondered if I could ask you something? I'm having a bit of an ethical dilemma. A friend set me up with this man, a well-known philanthropist; we’ll call him Giles Dawson. Because my girlfriend vetted him, so to speak, and because I spent some time with him and began to trust him, I decided to spend the night with him. I mentioned using a condom, and he said, "I've been tested, I am healthy."

Stupid, stupid me. A few days later I got a virulent herpes infection, and I've never, ever had an STD or even a yeast infection. I am paying big time now. When I confronted him he refused to let me see the results of the said tests, or let my doctor have access to them. Speaks volumes, albeit in Hindsight! I am heartbroken. And here is the most hilarious part: I gave my goddaughter your book and sent her off to college with a raft of condoms. But evidently her godmother (me) is not bright enough to use them herself!!! JEEZ!!!

Here is my ethical dilemma. I'm a professional musician. My friend who introduced us, Ariel, a fellow musician, is having a big concert at a venue owned by this man. Ariel’s partner Chris will also be performing there. Chris is pretty famous in the music industry and this is my professional community. Being tight friends, they will expect me to come. And, as much as I would like to show up on opening night and write Giles Dawson gives herpes on the wall of the bathroom in bright red lipstick, I'm not going to.

Here's my dilemma: should I contact my friend Ariel, and say, hey, thanks for setting me up w/Giles, but you should not send any other women his way, and I can't/won't say more for ethical reasons? My therapist says I should not say anything at all. But I want to protect other women. What do you think? Thank you for your help, Caroline, the idiot


First, my heart goes out to you! I know how incredibly painful it can be to go from feeling hopeful that you have FINALLY met The One, to being annihilated with some turn of events that reveal this couldn’t be further from the truth. Second, I hear how hard you have been trying to practice all the tools in your CORR® relationship tool belt, and what immediately comes to mind is the story that illustrates so poignantly how growth and healing is a process: The lady walking down the street falls into a hole. Shocked and horrified (and banged up) she pulls herself out and vows never to do this again. Next day, lady walking down the street, forgets the hole is there and, yep, falls in again—but this time she remembers how to get out and quickly brushes herself off, licks her wounds, and vows to watch where she is going in the future. Same lady walking down the street, sees the hole, falls in anyway, OY, skulks out, ashamed and embarrassed, realizing she may need to be even more vigilant, much to her surprise and dismay (“Why, oh why, does this have to be so hard?” she cries). Finally, lady walking down the street sees the hole, walks around it, pats herself on the back—then decides, hmm, maybe she will take a different street next time!

As for vetting, I am sorry you had to learn this particular lesson in such a dramatic, harsh and painful way. As unfortunate as it is, we cannot assume that because someone endorses someone, they have done all the investigative homework for you. For many reasons, that’s almost never the case; and, as you can see, it’s a potentially dangerous way of qualifying a candidate for intimacy. One stand-out reason: your friends would probably never have had a reason to screen someone they knew socially and professionally for STDs or HIV. Another, almost as important: they wouldn’t likely be privy to his private affairs beyond what this man wanted them to know, particularly given his fairly public persona. Finding these things out, I am afraid to say, is always your responsibility, as you now see so clearly.

Even so, it’s not enough to simply ask the 14 questions I have outlined in Hindsight, What You Need to Know Before You Drop Your Drawers, plus your own. We must wait and see if this person’s life reflects the integrity they claim. Getting physically intimate too soon makes this very difficult, as chemistry distorts reality in some critical ways. Therefore, we must take care to slow down, pause, control our urges. We need to quench our own longing to be validated, to be held and share our sacred selves, until we find our suitor has integrity and is a capable, skilled partner who shares our same values and ideals. In other words, we must do our homework! There is still no guarantee.

For example, Giles in another version of this story may not even have known he was infected—these things can sometimes happen. In this case his subsequent behavior illustrated, loud and clear, the level of deceit you were dealing with. The good news: I would like to remind you that for every unconscious interaction that touches us deeply, there is a conscious opportunity to love ourselves, to grow and to pick up our tools and practice-practice-practice on our journey towards mastery.

In answer to your ethical dilemma, I believe the only question one ever need ask in regards to how to behave towards another is, after some genuine self-inquiry and soulful contemplation, what will you, a loving child of the Divine, do with this next, right now?

Here are some suggestions:

The ego cleanse: Take several feet of construction paper and cover every mirror in your house for three days. Instead of looking in the mirror, i.e. the outside world, for validation, build the inner muscle. Who are you, according to your highest self? What are your gifts, your strengths, the qualities that make you uniquely you? Then get some colored markers (you’re an artist), paint some self-portraits, write down all your favorite quotes. Surround yourself with beauty and wisdom, and you will see how quickly you can move back to your center of being internally referenced!!

Heal, deal, and feel: Create a clearing ceremony and invite a few very close friends. Write down everything you want to let go of, what you want to heal, and make a ritual out of doing it. Collect some of your favorite music, find a sacred space, and bring all four elements to the party. Fire, water, earth, and air, and let spirit help release your burden. Turn this lemon into the best damn lemonade you have ever tasted!

Cleanse your sexual palate: Wondering what the hurry was to sleep with this man? Clearly, his actions and words didn’t match. You mentioned you began to trust him: you may want to look at that. Trust is established over time, and is a result of people saying what they mean and doing what they say consistently. Did you have a chance to meet his ex-girlfriends or ask about his relationship history? How much time does it take for your trust to deepen? How many licks to get to the center of your lollipop…as it were? And you may ask yourself, where are you deceiving yourself? Take 6 or 9 months (which may seem like forever, but you’re worth it) and be sex-free. See how you behave on dates, what kind of men you attract and what comes up for you! It was one of the best gifts I ever gave myself, especially if a certain someone has left a bad taste in your proverbial mouth.

Be gentle with yourself. As you come back to your loving center, you’ll know the appropriate actions to take. I am here if you have more questions.