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Dear John: Haunted By A Hook-Up

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

I’m a suburban middle-aged dad now, but I was a different person a lot of years ago. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of, but with the help of someone who saw what a mess my life was, I was able to pull myself together and build a nice normal life for myself, my incredible wife, and our three beautiful children. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel today and how close I was to probably being in jail or dead now if I hadn’t made a lot of changes. One of the things I’ve changed is I used to live a completely reckless sex life, including having sex with men. I can’t really explain it except to say that it wasn’t really about love or sex as much as it was about just being out of control. I was also a heavy drug abuser, which was part of it.

So anyway, cut to 30 years later, and out of the blue, one of the men that I was briefly but intensely involved with has contacted me through Facebook. I ignored his friend request, but now a month later, he has sent me a message asking if we could catch up some time.

John, I haven’t thought about this man in 30 years. I don’t mind telling him I don’t want any contact, but what I’m terrified of is that he’ll somehow contact my wife. It’s completely irrational, but for a couple of weeks every time the phone rings or I get an email message, I’m afraid it will be him. It has turned my world upside-down, and I can’t stop thinking about how fragile my “new” life is. I’m also deeply ashamed of the person I was and really don’t want to be reminded of it. I need help.

A Different Man

Dear Different Man,

I suspect your new life is not nearly as fragile as you think.

First, you have nothing to be ashamed of and an awful lot to be extremely proud of. Through the help of a friend and your own desire to change, you went from being a confused and troubled young person to a reliable and loving husband and father. That is a monumental achievement. So you had some bisexual experiences. Big deal. I’m sure you made some decisions you regret, but who hasn’t? (The one thing I hope is that you underwent a thorough screening for sexually transmitted diseases as part of turning over a new leaf. You can’t fail to share that kind of sexual history with a partner without being 100% sure – 1000% sure – that you are disease free, especially if this occurred in the late 70s or early 80s. But it sounds like you’ve been with your wife quite a while, so I will assume this is not an issue.)

As hard as it will be, I think you have to strip this situation of its power over you by talking with your wife. Trust her. Tell her about your past and the hard work you did to become the man you are today. Tell her how frightening it is for you to share this with her and how lucky you feel to have the life you have now. Like I said, I know it will be hard. But she’s an incredible wife, right? Trust her to act incredibly.

Dear John,

Someone I work with left an anonymous note in my mailbox at work telling me I smell bad! I don’t know if it was a sick joke or what, but it has had me in tears and also mentally wondering who left it. Now I’m suspicious of everyone! Why would someone do this?

Not Amused

Dear Not Amused,

Someone might do it for a lot of reasons. It could be an off-target attempt to be funny. Or an on-target attempt to be cruel. What you have to consider, though, is the possibility that they simply wanted to inform you of something you’re unaware of.

We can agree that leaving an anonymous note is not the most courageous way to handle an issue like this, but we can also agree that it is terribly difficult to let someone know they smell bad. You have to find out if the message was accurate. I would suggest sharing the note with a close friend or two and asking them if it’s true – frequently, people are unaware of their body odor in much the same way a fish is unaware he’s in water. If they say, yeah, actually, there is some truth to it, make an appointment to see your physician or a physician’s assistant to get to the bottom of this.

If they assure you that there’s no basis to this note, in time its sting will lessen until you forget all about it. If that’s the case, you have just learned something it will serve you well to remember the rest of your life: Some people are jerks.


Dear John,

A friend/acquaintance (more the latter) has struggled for years with various schemes, many quite harebrained, for making money. She has been all over the place, idea-wise, and nothing has ever amounted to a hill of beans. Well, lo and behold, she has apparently stumbled onto an idea that has begun to take off – and I mean really take off.

Suddenly, she is making major amounts of money and has every reason to expect to make a lot more. My problem is that I am shocked at how jealous I am and how much I resent her success. When she was failing, I thought she was kind of a charmingly quirky loser, but now that she’s doing so well, I am bitter and basically hate to run into her. To be fair, she has been very gracious, attributing her success to luck and good timing, so the problem isn’t her; it’s me. What can I do?

Green-Eyed Monster

Dear Monster,

I think the jealousy you’re experiencing can only arise from a deep-seated dissatisfaction with your own lot. Your feelings would be understandable, perhaps, if your friend won the lottery and was acting insufferably, but you say she has worked hard and is self-effacing to boot. So my question to you is, why are you so unhappy with your life? Do you have your own secret dreams you’re afraid to pursue? I think it would be a great idea to discuss your feelings with a therapist. Something is missing from your life, and you need to find out what it is.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected].

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 28, 2012.


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