Dear Cheryl: In my freshman year of college, my roommate and I started discussing sex, etc. We both liked to party, and we bet on who could get the most guys in a year. I know, very immature, but we were young. To make a long story short, I won the contest. By junior year, I had slept with over 300 guys.
I now have HIV and herpes. On top of that, I experience debilitating anxiety when I'm out. I feel like people recognize me and know my reputation. It's very embarrassing. I've been alone for over five years and only been with women for the past two years. I have a nasty resentment toward men because of what they did to me. — Sorry for Everything
Dear Sorry for Everything: You've suffered enough for your behavior. It's time to forgive yourself. It's time to move on. Everyone else has. People are not looking at you and gossiping about your past. They have their own problems. You're not even a blip on their radar.
You need to forgive men, too. The men you were with were young and stupid, just like you, and they're also suffering for their behavior. You need to stop condemning all men. Get to know a man before you judge him.
And it's time to start going out. Take baby steps at first. You can overcome your anxiety. Plan short outings. Sit in a coffee shop for 15 minutes, the next time for half an hour. Walk through the mall. If it's too difficult for you to do on your own, talk to a therapist.
The bottom line is you don't have to keep punishing yourself. People can live long, happy lives with HIV and herpes. It's time to start enjoying your life again.
Dear Cheryl: I'm 37, a semi-successful freelance writer and divorced. I started writing when I was married, and my professional name is my ex-husband's. I hate it! I hate being known by the name of a man that I'm no longer married to and, in fact, detest.
And now it gets even more confusing. I'm getting married again. I love my fiance very much and would love to take his name. But I'm afraid I'll lose my professional contacts and whatever professional credentials I've built up.
Am I stuck forever with the name of my hated ex-husband, or do you think I can make a clean break? — Cher and Madonna Knew What They Were Doing
Dear CAMKWTWD: First of all, you can have two names, a professional name and a personal name. For your personal name, change your name to your husband's once you're married. That's the name you'll use on your checks, bank accounts, driver's license, credit cards, will, etc., etc., etc.
Now about your professional name. How well-established are you? You say you're "semi-successful." Do readers and editors recognize your byline? Does your name make it easier for you to get interviews and assignments? If that's so, then I wouldn't change it. You're stuck with it, like a mole that can't be removed.
If your name doesn't help you that much, then go ahead and change it. But before you do, inform the editors and publishers you work with about it. Get their feedback.
To make the transition easier, you might consider hyphenating the two names for a while.
Got a problem? Send it, along with your questions, problems and rants to [email protected] And check out my e-books, "Dear Cheryl: Advice from Tales from the Front" and "I'll Call You. Not."