DEAR NATALIE: I have just started dating again after losing my husband. I have met a few nice guys and everything works out until we consider sex. I feel that the rules of intimacy have changed but I really do want to get close to someone physically. The problem is that I ask if “we” (though unnecessary for me) get tested for exposure to some of the STDs that are out there. More than one guy has told me that they are "clean" and another told me he only dated "nice" women. Am I wrong to hold to off until I know what’s going on with them physically? --TAKING IT SLOW
DEAR TAKING IT SLOW: First of all, I have a major issue with any guy that says he only dates “nice women.” That is code for some outdated, misogynistic nonsense around that idea that if a woman likes to have sex, she is somehow “dirty” or “bad”. Moving forward, I hope that you do not date men that look at women in such a two-dimensional and disturbing way. You deserve better. You also deserve someone who is on the same page as you. No one should ever engage in any kind of sexual activity unless they feel completely comfortable. And while there is nothing wrong with asking someone to get checked out before you engage with them, and I applaud you for asking them, I wonder if part of you is doing this because you aren’t completely ready to move forward with a new partner. Maybe this is a way of putting up a wall. Accepting someone new into your bed really does solidify that your husband is gone and that you are about to turn a new page in your life. I would contemplate that thought and see if what’s really going on is fear of moving on, not just fear of contracting a disease. But, if that really isn’t the case and you really just want to be sure that someone is disease-free, you have every right to ask for that. I believe that the right partner for you would be one that would get tested because you asked. But, in any case, always use protection until you are in a committed relationship. Just because he hands you a paper doesn’t mean moving forward you can trust that he isn’t seeing anyone else.
DEAR NATALIE: I recently got divorced and my ex-husband has moved on rather quickly. Our city is small and I feel like all of the places that we loved together are now off-limits because I see him there with his new (younger!) girlfriend. It’s really depressing and my friends keep telling me I need to stop going out for a while. But I don’t think that’s fair. When I sit at home, I’m even more depressed. Do you have any suggestions as to how best to move on? I don’t want to feel like a loser and I do. --CAN’T GET OVER IT
DEAR CAN’T GET OVER IT: I’m so sorry to hear that you are having a tough time moving forward with your life, but what you are describing sounds like a completely normal reaction to your divorce. You are grieving the loss of your marriage. You are allowed to sit with your feelings of sadness, depression and loneliness. You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone, including your friends. If I were in your shoes, I would do two things: Find a new hobby that does not involve bars, restaurants or the possibility of running into him. Take up a book club, take a new class at the gym, volunteer at a local museum, or do something that gets you out of your head and into a new space with new faces. The second thing I would do is talk to a therapist. You are allowed to work through your feelings with an objective third-party who can help you see things that you can’t see. You just need to express your feelings, let it out, and not worry about what others think you should be doing. Time does heal, but until that moment arrives, avoid spaces where you could be triggered by old memories. You don’t have to punish yourself for being divorced. Life happens and all we can do is dust ourselves off and try again.
Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: If you are a more introverted person and find yourself drained by the idea of meeting new people, take the pressure off. If you stay at an event for an hour, make it a goal to meet two new people. This gives you a chance to decompress between conversations and recharge.
Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, email@example.com; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212. Follow her on Twitter at @NBSeen and on Instagram @NatalieBenci
(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)