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Got bedbugs? New Yorkers may scratch that relationship

By Richard Roth, CNN
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Bed bugs block sex
  • Bedbug infestation has added new wrinkle to New York City's dating scene
  • Exterminator says he's seen relationships killed when one partner gets bedbugs
  • Life coach on one of her clients: "She was horrified, embarrassed"

New York (CNN) -- You have heard of the seven-year itch in marriage. Now, the itch caused by bedbugs is causing relationships to come under even more pressure.

New Yorkers say they have increasingly heard tales of couples breaking up because of the little creatures that have infested New York homes, stores and movie theaters.

One man, interviewed randomly on the street, said he knew someone who broke up because of the bugs who like to hide in mattresses. He said that's "because they were scared to death about bugs. She wouldn't date him because he had bedbugs, and she freaked out."

The fear of bedbugs is also heightening intimacy tensions.

Stacie Handwerker, a real estate attorney, said, "I was dating a guy, and he asked me do you have any bedbugs in [your] apartment? Because if you do, you won't be seeing me!"

The exterminators are on the front lines of the bedbug battles, and they have seen the casualties: romance.

Timothy Wong, the technical director of M&M Environmental exterminators in lower Manhattan, said he has seen couples break up because of bedbugs.

"The girlfriend had them at home, and the boyfriend didn't stick by her, so it actually destroyed that relationship," he said.

"I got rid of the bedbugs, but I wasn't able to salvage the relationship, but I'm sure there were other problems before that," said Wong.

The phones were ringing nonstop in his offices. Wong says the callers are usually the ones not getting bitten. Some of the callers blame their loved one, claiming they don't have any bites.

Relationship and life coach Donna Barnes said bedbugs are a creepy aspect to dating right now.

She advises not telling people on the first date you have bedbugs. She says that when the relationship is escalating, it's a good idea to inform the other person if you are bringing him or her into areas of potential exposure, Barnes said.

She recalled a client who admitted having bedbugs.

"She was horrified, embarrassed and didn't want to tell anybody."

Barnes cautions "if that's the case, you're better off to not date for a little while and clean out the problem first and then go out."

Handwerker, who was interviewed while out with friends at a bar, said "what an age we live in where people now are vetting you out to see if you have bedbugs first. He didn't even ask me if I had any diseases. He doesn't want to be eaten by bedbugs."

Based on interviews, it appears women have more resistance to meeting a man who might have bedbugs. One woman said "men and women are different. A woman would care if a guy had bedbugs but if a man met a hot girl, he probably wouldn't care if she had bedbugs."

A man at the bar confirmed this, admitting "come back to my place" would be his response to an attractive woman with bedbugs.

There are no official figures regarding the effects of bedbugs on relationships in New York. Many New Yorkers questioned reported no contact with bedbugs or any relationship strains because of the fear.

One woman said, "I think there's enough excuses not to date someone in New York. ... Bedbugs doesn't need to be added to it."