As someone who is openly HIV-positive, I often get the privilege of hearing from other newly diagnosed gay men from across the country. As anyone can imagine, learning you are positive can feel like taking a cannonball to the chest. So sometimes you need to talk to a stranger before you can catch your breath and find the words for your family and friends.
Although I’m no psychotherapist, I can relate and speak to the myriad of fears that flood your head space while sitting in the clinic and receiving the news. In almost every instance, the most pressing concern in the emails, texts, and phone calls I receive is about how HIV will affect a person’s dating life.
I remember it all too well. When I first found out about my status, all of my romantic dreams instantly felt like dead ones. Who would love me now? Can I ever enjoy sex again? Will I ever get married? And I went wah, wah, wah into my wine glass all through the night.
The truth is, once I picked myself out of the puddle of tears, I was relatively unaltered. I had a doctor’s appointment every four months and a new pill to add to my pillbox, but my worth on the dating market remained the same. Of course, the first couple months were pretty shaky. Learning how to disclose your positive status isn’t something most gay men discuss over cocktails on a Saturday night — although it should be.
I had to answer the question I’m asked over and over again. When is the right time to disclose? Many of my friends think you should let the person get to know you first before launching into your medical history. After all, you don’t disclose all of the dirty details of your life on a first date, so what makes your HIV status any different? Right?
Wrong. Being HIV-positive isn’t the same as having a beast of a mother or being a Log Cabin Republican. Those dirty details are the layers of who you are as a person, and they’re revealed as a relationship develops. Being positive isn’t a part of your character; it’s a matter of logistics. Either your Friday night date is someone who understands the logistics of dating someone positive, or he doesn’t.
If a potential match is afraid of dating someone who is positive, your personality and charm will not remedy his fear. Your status isn’t a deep dark secret or something to hide. But acting as if it is will most assuredly scare away anyone who is unsure about dating you.
Just as in any dating environment, confidence goes further than any amount of money, expensive suit, or HIV-negative status. If you treat your positive status as some cloaked secret that you’re asking him to overlook because everything else is great, he’ll respond accordingly. But if you tell him before the first drink is served and approach it as if it’s something you need to clear up for the benefit of both of you, your honesty will be appreciated and will most likely be a turn-on.
You know what confidence is? It’s knowing that the goods you’re selling are worth their sticker price, and you don’t need to discount them for anyone. It doesn’t matter if you’re positive, negative, too short, too tall, balding, or bushy-browed — you should be worried about who is right for you and forget about trying to be the right person for anyone else. It may never move past the first date regardless of your status, so don’t act like you’re desperate for your potential match to love you until you know you love him back.
Unfortunately, some people would like to see you stay in a state of despair rather than have you realize you’re the same good catch you’ve always been. It’s human nature to want to feel superior, and people will use any excuse to justify their feelings. You may even have men lash out at you for not being a sad sack and giving them the attention they think they deserve. It’s as if, because you are now positive, you should be grateful for their interest. Conversely, your disinterest in them is a disruption of the natural hierarchy they’ve subscribed to.
To these types of men, you just smile more, because there’s nothing more gratifying than getting under the skin of a person who wants to feel better than you but can’t.
Yes, people will try to put you down. Everybody loves a sob story, and everybody loves to hate a success. But regardless of your status, you’ll always deal with people who want to see you struggle.
People like their boxes. If you’re positive, many will want you to stay in yours. I’ve been told that I have no idea what I am talking about and that and I’m not realistic about how hard living with HIV really is. True, living with HIV can be difficult, but only if you listen to other people’s opinions and beliefs of what it’s supposed to be like. If you don’t, you’re free to define how your life is viewed for yourself.
It’s your choice to live your life as a tragedy, a drama. or a romantic comedy. Just remember, you’re in charge of casting your leading man. If he isn’t smart enough to understand your script, then he doesn’t get the part.