“So embarrassing: I caught head lice. Do I have to tell the dude I’m dating?”

Dear Sarah,

This is so freaking embarrassing, I can barely write it. But here goes:

Last weekend I had the most amazing time. I’m working as a day camp counselor and a bunch of us went to the beach and then ended up crashing at the dreamy, ginormous, swell-egant, fabulous vacation house of one of my co-worker’s friends from school. This boy, who I’ll call “Jay,” was super sweet (yes, and smokin’ hot) and we ended up cuddling in a hammock overlooking the pool…overlooking the ocean. The neighbors were were hosting a bonfire and some kids played guitar and we all sang and toasted marshmallows and had intense conversations about life and looked at the black sky and sparkling stars. The whole thing was so “kumbaya” and picturesque I felt like we were in a Free People catalog or something. Anyway, at the end of the night, Jay and I fell asleep next to each other on the couch. The next day, we said we would text and get together again back in the city.

Monday morning rolls around and I’m getting ready to go to camp and nearly whistling to myself with joy—but my hair feels really itchy and weird. I see something moving on my pillow and it’s a bug! GROSS. I figure it’s a sand thingie and Google it. Nope, it’s HEAD LICE. Then I receive an email that there is basically an epidemic at camp. I thought only little kids got lice! Waaaaah, I don’t know what to do—do I have to tell Jay or I can just cross my fingers that he didn’t get it? Will he think I’m disgusting and never want to see me again? I’m 18 and going away to college in September, but I thought this might be my perfect summer fling.

—Itchy in Manhattan

Dear Itchy,

First, lice prefer clean heads and are very easy to catch whether you are a child or an adult, so you are not dirty or gross or disgusting or any of that business. You are a simply a human being with hair. Second, as absolutely mortifying as it feels, you do have to tell “Jay.” In situations like this, the easiest way to figure out the proper approach is to ask yourself, “Would I want him to tell me?” Of course you would. The earlier you detect lice, the easier it is to avoid or get rid of. And, his parents kindly let you stay at their house, so it’s not fair to them to leave the nasty little critters behind without giving them a chance to vacuum up and wash any towels, pillow cases, etc.

Consider this experience training for future mortifying events: for instance, pooping on the delivery table in front of your doctor when you are in labor (yes, that happens). You can also look at the lice situation as a metaphor for dealing with more serious communicable diseases such as STDs. Early detection and letting partners know is both ethical and crucial for stopping something from spreading to more people.

How will Jay react? Let’s hope he has a sense of humor about the whole thing. He will certainly react better than if you didn’t tell him and he or a family member ended up with a head full of lice. Or—just keeping it real—he might be skeeved out and unsympathetic especially since you don’t have a track record together. However, if he’s that kind of guy, there is still plenty of time for another summer love—after you get rid of the lice (and about that…since you are in the city, go to a professional “nit-picker” —its more effective and safer than toxic chemical shampoos.)

Be thankful for the invention of email, because this is a situation when a phone call could be awkward and you can be more jokey and apologetic and informative in writing—and hopefully convince him that this a pesky annoyance but not a dating deal breaker.

I promise you that—no matter happens with Jay—this will be a very funny story one day.

Love, Sarah

P.S. I’ve had lice twice.

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