I won’t lie, since being diagnosed with HIV in 2002 things have definitely changed for me, in the dating scene especially.
After I was diagnosed, I definitely went through a phase of wondering whether or not I was still lovable. Would anyone be sexually attracted to me now that I was HIV positive? It made asking guys out and being asked out a whole heck of a lot more complicated. Like that needed to get anymore complicated, right?
In the world of dating and sex, disclosure is a tricky thing. First, know there is no one right way to do it. I can’t tell you how many different ways I’ve disclosed my HIV status to a potential romantic or sexual partner.
Sometimes I tell them up front, because if they can’t handle it I’d rather we cut it off sooner rather than later. On the other hand, sometimes if I’m enjoying the experience I’m having with the other person and I’m not ready to face that reality yet I might hold off as long as possible.
That’s not to say that I know the other person is going to have an issue with it, but depending on how I’m feeling at that given moment will determine how well I think I’ll be able to stand up to the rejection should they have an issue.
For instance, once a guy came up to me in the grocery store and asked if he could give me his number. After giving me his number he asked: “Are you going to call me?” I told him I would.
As I continued on with my shopping, I realized that when he asked if I was going to call him I should have said: “I will, but I’m HIV positive, is that a problem?”
Determined to see it through, I dashed through the store looking for him, and found him in perusing some melons in the produce section.
I walked straight up to him and said: “Hey there, I wanted to put this out there, I’m HIV positive. Is that going to be a problem?”
He looked at me for a moment and then said: “Yeah, kind of.” I smiled, pulled his number out of my pocket, said: “No problem,” gave him his number back and walked away.
For a moment there was a bit of hurt, but at the end of day, I wasn’t invested in him in the slightest, so the sting of rejection was pretty mild.
On the flip side, I’ve met guys that I really liked right off of the bat. In those cases I hold off on disclosing my status. Sure, I know this means that if I’m rejected it’ll hurt more, but sometimes I just want to enjoy the experience of dating, and being courted. I mean, who doesn’t?
When you’re living with an STD, disclosure becomes a cross between art and science.
The science part is critically analyzing the situation to determine what the most likely outcome will be if and when you disclose. You start to ascribe meaning to the things they do or don’t say. If the interaction is online then maybe it’s reading over their profile looking for clues that might tell you whether or not they’re going to be cool with it. On a date, perhaps you talk about a friend who dated someone with an STD so you can gauge his or her reaction.
The art piece to disclosure is all the ways in which we carefully select every single aspect of the moment leading up to and including the actual disclosure.
“I’ll do it after we’ve had some wine, and the restaurant lowers the lights” or “I’ll just put it in my online profile so it’s out there” or “I’ll bring the subject of STDs up casually to see how they react.”
In the end, it’s simply a game of mental gymnastics I employ in an effort to manage the risk of rejection. There, I said it: rejection.
If you're someone, like me, living with an STD, here are some things that have helped me live with dating and disclosure.
For people living with an STD, there's this idea that because of the disease that lives inside our bodies we are somehow unlovable and sexually undesirable; we’re damaged goods. Add to that the reality of life: You will be rejected. The good news is that you were going to be rejected anyways, even if you weren’t living with an STD.
Yep, that’s right! Rejection happens all the time during the human experience. Sometimes we’re the ones doing the rejecting, and sometimes we’re the ones being rejected. Being rejected is not about you; it’s about the other person.
Let’s say I’m chatting with someone on one of the dating/hookup apps. The conversation is going great and I’m getting excited at the possibility of meeting this person. Then he asks me how tall I am. I tell him 5’7. The conversation stops.
When I follow up to ask if he’s still interested he says, no I’m only into short people or tall people, or blond people, or heavy people, or people with purple hair who jump up and down on one leg when the moon is full. Or maybe it’s because I’m HIV positive. The point is: that’s about the other person, not me.
Whether you’re living with HIV, HSV 1/2, HPV or another STD, you’ve got to come to a place of love and acceptance for the person you are, disease included, you’ll make the rejection all about you.
Imagine someone rejected you because they only like people with brown eyes and yours are blue. Does it matter? Do you care? Or is it their loss? Exactly, it’s their loss. If they can’t see that you are more than your eye color, are they really someone you want to devote your time and energy to?
Every day people engage in mutually respectful and loving relationships, or steamy one-night stands where one partner is STD-free and the other is not. It’s 2015.
We know how STDs are transmitted and we know how to protect our partners and ourselves. If someone can’t see past your status, then they aren’t worth your time. Save your tears and keep moving along. There is someone out there worthy of all that you have to offer. I promise.
One of the best things I’ve done is finding others who are like me: people who are living with STDs themselves. Not only is it nice to know that you share a lot of same struggles, but it’s helpful having people that you can go to with questions you have and you know that they’ll have some insight because they’ve been in your shoes.
Thankfully, finding others who are in the same boat isn’t as hard as it used to be. There’s an app for that! No, really. There is. I stumbled upon the Positive Singles app and found an instant community of people to connect with.
The people I’ve met on the app have become some of my best friends. We chat about everything under the sun, STD-related and otherwise. Having a community of people to connect with made such a difference for me, and I would encourage you to do the same.