Dear John: My Co-Worker Makes Me Feel Dirty
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
I work in an office with a woman who is the office germaphobe. Literally half the times I see her she is wiping down some surface or other with some kind of cleaner. That’s no big deal, but what really gets under my skin is the big display of hand sanitizing she puts on every time I hand something to her as part of my work. It’s so insulting – I don’t see it as being any different from telling me how dirty she thinks I am. Should I say something to her? What, though? It’s gotten to the point that I try to only drop things off at her desk when she’s not there so as to avoid the annoyance of dealing with her.
Not Sterile, Just Normal
Dear Not Sterile,
I’m not surprised she’s gotten under your skin. Your skin sounds a little thin to begin with.
It’s obviously nothing personal. It sounds like this woman has mild compulsions regarding germs and cleanliness. Try not to take offense, and if you see any signs that her condition is deteriorating, talk to one of her friends about the possibility she may benefit from professional help.
I started dating a guy a couple of months ago that I was introduced to by a mutual friend. He’s around 40, never been married, and hasn’t been in a relationship for a long time. Things are going fine – he’s nice, smart, successful, considerate, and fun to be around. We really enjoy spending time together. Our problem, if it is a problem, is one I have never encountered before. He recently told me that for a few years now, he has seen a prostitute pretty regularly – once every month or two. It was always the same prostitute and she would almost always go to his apartment. He says she’s a nice person, not at all what you’d think. In fact, he always refers to her as an escort, not a prostitute. And of course, he hasn’t seen her (hired her?) since we started dating. I was kind of floored because he just doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would do this. He was a little surprised at my reaction, I think, because to him this was just a convenient sexual arrangement and he didn’t think of it as especially degenerate. He said he told me just because he wants to be completely honest with me as we get closer. John, I really want this to work, but is this normal? I don’t want to ignore a red flag just because I want to stay together.
Wondering and Worried
Dear Wondering and Worried,
I wouldn’t call this a red flag, exactly. But it’s kind of a pale pink.
I can easily imagine a normal single man settling into a routine like this. But I can also imagine any number of unsavory weirdos doing it, too. My point is simply that, in and of itself, it doesn’t tell you much about the guy.
There are other things here that catch my eye, too: he’s middle-aged and hasn’t been in a relationship “for a long time.” Again, this may mean nothing. Or it may mean he doesn’t really want to be in a relationship.
One thing I can say definitively: before you agree to be intimate with him, you should insist that he be thoroughly screened for sexually transmitted diseases. The least bit of resistance to this on his part should be an immediate deal breaker.
Assuming he goes along with that, though, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to proceed cautiously and see what happens. I do think it’s a good sign that he told you this simply because it would have been an easy secret to keep. I think it’s a check mark in the plus column.
Since things have been going well, there’s no harm in seeing where they go from here. Just keep your eyes wide open.
I went to a small rural elementary school. One year, in fourth or fifth grade, a girl joined our class and my classmates and I were so cruel to her I cry when I think about it. It was such typical kid stuff – for whatever reason, we all just ganged up on her and the poor kid didn’t stand a chance. Nothing physical, but I know the emotional torment we put her through probably hurt more. Her mother came in to talk to the teacher about it one day and I’ll never forget how our teacher tore into us over it. Nothing changed, though, and she ultimately left school. I feel so, so awful about this. I have a two-year-old son now and when I think of how that mother must have felt sending her little girl into that hell every day, it truly breaks my heart. Not to mention how the girl felt opening the door to school each day. She was so alone. I am so ashamed and so sorry. I have thought about trying to track her down, but I’m not even sure I could. I remember her name, but I never saw her again. Should I try to find her? I don’t want to open any old wounds for her, but I owe her an apology that I sincerely want to give her.
So Very Sorry
What a sad story. I think you should absolutely try to find her. Even if you can, she may not be receptive to your apology, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the right thing to do.
And while your desire to apologize is good, you shouldn’t stop there. A version of what you described goes on every day in every school in the country. As your son grows, you can emphasize to him how important it is to resist the temptation to fit in by rejecting or excluding someone. At school events or playgrounds, you can encourage him to approach the shy kids and the loners and include them in the fun. You can set up play dates with kids who seem like they need a friend. You can raise a kind boy. You can’t take away the pain that little girl felt all those years ago, but you can certainly try to prevent another girl or boy from feeling that way today.
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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