I spend most of every first date contemplating whether he's worth a second one. Am I having fun yet? Do I care to hear these stories again? What did he say his job was? Usually it ends with a pat or a hug and one of us nervously attempting the lean-in (you know, going in for a kiss while trying to look like you aren't, just in case it's rebuffed).
Of course, I'm not alone in this. For most poz folks, there is always a little extra anxiety leading up to the end of a date, which stems from one of two things: you've either decided they're not worth a second date and you're figuring out how to enjoy the next half hour, or you've decided they are worth a second date and you're spending the next half hour searching for the words to tell them you're HIV-positive.
Don't worry -- everyone has been in this kind of situation, whether it's related to HIV or not. The secret is to own it. At this point in your life, if you let a virus define who you are to the point where you're trembling in fear to tell a complete stranger about your health, there needs to be some serious personal work outside the dating world.
We all know what it's like to be in the hot seat, afraid we're about to be judged or rejected (or worse). But if you think about it, we're often judging ourselves long before the world is. If we skip that step, we might surprise ourselves. Here are some things to consider:
1. Are They Worth It? Because HIV is still stigmatized, we often associate disinterest with our status. If he ghosts us afterwards, we're quick to assume it's because we're poz, when really he might have ghosted us anyway, because he's a jerk. So be selective in who you disclose to. Trust me, it will save you so much emotional strength down the road. Allow yourself time to decide whether he's worth a second date. If he is, then you can decide when to take that next step. Sometimes it's better to wait until the second or third date to see his character before you share your status.
2. If It's True, Say "I'm Undetectable." Yes, you're HIV-positive and you aren't denying it. But if your viral load is suppressed to undetectable levels you have zero chance of transmitting HIV. That's right -- you've got the safer sex thing in the bag! So own that word "undetectable." Sing it from the rooftops, because while HIV might be part of you, it is never who you are. If you're lucky enough to be undetectable, make sure your date knows it, and that undetectable means uninfectious (it's science, baby).
3. Show Passions First. Hear me out. There's always a moment in every first date when they ask you about your passions, goals, and dreams. Instead of talking about career or business goals, tell them, "I dream of the day HIV stigma ends." Or mention offhand that one of your missions is to lead by example. Imagine saying, "Something I'm super passionate about is educating people about HIV. I'm undetectable, which means I can't give the virus to anyone because I'm virally suppressed. But not a lot of people know what that means."
Not only can you disclose your status in a way that's not awkward or apologetic, you're showcasing your enthusiasm and passion. And enthusiasm is very sexy. You inadvertently change molecules in the air by showing your date it's not a big deal. That kind of attitude is magnetic.
4. Be on Your Own Team. Never apologize for living with a virus. Remember, part of caring for yourself goes beyond your HIV treatment. It's about loving yourself. Everyone fears rejection, especially at the beginning. But at the end of the day, fear is a coward. When you look at it directly in the face, it runs away. Don't be afraid to mention HIV in a discussion without going into detail. See how your date responds, and try your best to convey compassion for them regardless. Once you get them on your level, tease them by saying something sarcastic like, "Well, I'm HIV-positive, so I've been judging everything you said." I've seen this happen. It always gets a laugh, and a laugh is often a window into trust.
5. Ask Him (or Her) First. Why not turn the tables and ask about his status? That way he's more present when you disclose yours. People are so comfortable blithely asking someone's status through hookup apps that we forget what it feels like asking in person. Hearing the words "Do you have HIV?" still gives me chills. There are so many ghosts attached to that question. In a weird way, it does relieve your anxiety a bit by laying it on the line. And you never know -- he might be HIV-positive too.