Herpes. It’s the punch line to countless jokes, but what the jokesters sometimes forget is the fact that herpes simplex 2 is an incurable disease and that 20 million Americans suffer from it.
Brent Deck cannot forget. He has herpes. And to bring together his fellow sufferers, Deck has founded the New Day International Social Network. Headquartered in Framingham, Mass., New Day tries to give infected American singles a way to cope socially with the disease. Deck says it isn’t meant to be a dating service but a social support network that “eliminates herpes as a factor in relationships.” Says Deck: “For our members, herpes isn’t really a physical problem but an emotional one. It affects how they feel about themselves and their roles in relationships.”
Deck, 32, founded the network with his own money last April “as the answer to a personal problem,” he says. “I would’ve been interested in it if it were available, and it wasn’t.” So far New Day has 350 members whose ages, occupations, hobbies and comments on how they feel about everything from Woody Allen to guns appear on an anonymous list (without photographs) sent to members in their area. When one member finds another intriguing—and both agree to communicate—Deck gives out first names and phone numbers. His $75 fee, he says, is “a fraction of what normal commercial dating services might cost,” and he doesn’t expect his nonprofit corporation to break even for at least a year.
What his members need most, Deck says, is a kindred soul to talk to. “It’s nice to meet some new people without having them go into a tirade about herpes,” says a Boston nuclear fuels consultant, 32. Among members’ common traumas is deciding how and when to tell dates about having the disease. Like some fellow sufferers, the consultant mentioned above doesn’t admit to having herpes unless he believes the virus is active. A 40-year-old widowed mother of two from Texas still has not had the nerve to tell two men she’s been seeing. Another member, a 33-year-old Hollywood, Calif. artist, says that even his male friends avoid him because they “feel they’ll contract it like the flu.” As a result, he says, “I’ve been celibate for the last three years. It’s like a deep, dark secret. There’s isolation and withdrawal. Is this my time of hell on earth?”
Deck empathizes with his members. “I’m volunteering to talk,” he says, “but it’s still not easy.” After he got herpes five years ago, he split from the woman who gave it to him and “went through the whole range of emotions. I was angry at just about everyone.” Now he is more philosophical. “Herpes is really no big deal,” he maintains. “A cold sore is a cold sore, no matter where you get it.”
Trained as a naval architect at the University of Michigan, Deck manufactured boats for two years. Today he runs New Day and an engineering company specializing in heat reclamation out of a basement office near his Framingham house. A bachelor, Deck finds that herpes makes him shy about approaching women (“throwing away perfectly good chances to develop relationships”) and that he “shudders at the thought of giving it to someone I care about.” Deck met someone through New Day who is “very nice, but we’ve discovered we’re entirely different. I’m not about to establish a serious relationship just because we both have herpes.”
So far, indeed, New Day is too new to have been the catalyst for many lasting romances. But Deck still feels the network is helping its members. Take the 33-year-old Boston secretary who broke up with a man two years ago rather than tell him that she had herpes. Through New Day, she recently met an engineer. “It was wonderful not to have to worry about telling him,” she says. Adds another Massachusetts member, “When I finally met my first date from the service, we just looked at each other and smiled for the longest time.”