As I celebrated the nation's Independence Day and my 29th birthday, I couldn't help but reflect on my own independence. Having been single for a complete year, a record in my books, this serial monogamist finds that the the holidays and moments of celebration tend to get me thinking about whether I am single by choice or circumstance. The question that quickly rises to the top of the many reasons I am alone is, of course, my HIV status. I can't help but wonder the answer to the biggest question I ask of people: "Would you date someone with HIV?"
It's a loaded question coming from me -- my friends, my family, and even people who barely know me are biased in their answers. I have found the most honest responses come when I catch people off guard. I once asked my friend John in a text message, his response first being "Really, this is what you text me?" My friend Lesley has gotten it at dinner, drinks, and while at work. There is my friend Michael, who asked me the question before I could ask him.
Answers have varied, but they generally net out in one place -- "Yes, but with caution and care." At which point I wonder, shouldn't every relationship be approached with "caution and care?" And "yes," while common, doesn't seem to be the reality I face. A few people, hands down, say "no." I have experience with the "no" firsthand. I have vivid memories of the poor guy who ran from my apartment when he saw the framed Worlds AIDS Day picture and the red ribbon that sits on my bedside table. I can't help but recall the countless faces that used to consider a random make-out session, now resigned to whispers or words of support. So despite a world where HIV status is now a check box on social networking profiles, I tend to think that being with someone HIV-positive is still too much for many to handle.
Ironically, my answer before June 2007 would have been a confident "no," my rationale being that the risks were too high and my future too
bright to be burdened with someone else's mistake. I would love to say I
didn't judge or hold a preconceived stereotype about someone who was
HIV-positive, but I most certainly did. Their status, in my ignorant
mind at the time, meant they were sexually irresponsible, had bad
judgment, or lacked self-respect. Looking , thoughts make me
sick to my stomach. Now, three years positive, one relationship down and
working to find another, the answer has changed for me, but that
doesn't mean it has for others.
After my diagnosis I went through the irrational thought of never
finding a boyfriend and dying alone (not unlike that when I was not
positive). But I was lucky to be blessed with a different experience.
Just two months after the devastating news, I met someone who challenged
even my preconceived notions. His name was Adam, and on October 6, 2007,
after three dates that were absent the status quo hookup, I told him
my biggest secret. Through tears and dialogue, he didn't run, he didn't
judge, and he would eventually love me more than anyone has to this day.
Adam, in contradiction to my worst fears, quite willingly embarked on a two-year
journey with me, him negative, me positive. Unfortunately, as willing as
he was, I was unprepared to share that journey with anyone else. Our
relationship would eventually end, perhaps partly because of my issues
with HIV and all it did to our physical and emotional interactions. But
likely more so due to reasons unrelated, like my tendency to be selfish,
consumed with work, noncommittal, and slightly obsessive-compulsive.
After all, he had overlooked the weird noises I made at night and was
willing to be a part of my unexpected journey. I, unfortunately, wasn't
willing to let him.
Having broke up and now being single for a
year, I have been unprepared for how many people are not like Adam. I
find so many are unwilling to embark on this unexpected journey, so many
scared of the "what ifs" and the conversation that follows those simple
words "I'm HIV-positive." So many not wanting to deal with the unspoken
caution that blankets every intimate moment.
This is not to say there are not those who will. I have met the couples who have built long-lasting, healthy relationships in which one is positive and another is not. I have met more who are both positive, embarking on the journey together. And no matter the status, all couples are dealing with the same issues that any relationship entails. But those willing to embark on a relationship with someone positive seem rare. The majority of people I meet are more willing to donate than go on a date.
Perhaps this is why so many keep their secret from those they love. In the days following my December 1 public disclosure, I received an unsettling number of notes from people who are positive but have told no one. I sadly understand why they don't. The fear of being alone, being judged, or not finding love often makes disclosure too great a risk -- a risk that still is prevalent in 2010. To think they keep this secret from loved ones, hookups, and in some cases long-term partners is shocking. It's also dangerous to our society. Then again, many of them are not alone. So for better or worse they are building relationships, perhaps on a lie, but building nonetheless.
So as I reflect on my independence and continue to search for someone to share this life with, I don't have to wonder about the answer to this question for that person. There is no hiding my status now.
And while I wonder if they will endure my OCD tendencies, I wonder what the answer is for so many others. The honest answer. The answer that comes when no one else is listening. The one you give when you ask yourself, "Would I date someone with HIV?" And knowing the little I know, I find myself, more recently, wondering how many people are willing to consider a more telling answer -- "Perhaps I already have."