As someone who is outwardly HIV-positive, I often get the privilege of hearing from other newly diagnosed people from across the country. As anyone can imagine, learning that you are newly positive can feel like taking a bullet. So sometimes it is best talk to a stranger before you can catch your breath and find your words for your family and friends. Although I am no psychotherapist, I can definitely relate and empathize with a myriad of fears that flood a person's headspace when they first receive the news. And in almost every instance, the most pressing and immediate concern after just finding out is about how HIV will affect a person's dating life.
I remember it all to 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.
Truth is, once I picked myself out of my puddle of tears, I was relatively unaltered. Besides a reoccurring doctor's appointment every four months and a new pill to add to my pill box, my worth on the dating market remained the same. Of course, the first couple months were pretty shaky. Learning how to disclose your status isn't something most gay men discuss over cocktails on a Saturday night, although they should be.
I had to answer the question I am asked over and over again. When is the right time to disclose? Many of my friends thought that 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, what makes your 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 are revealed as a relationship develops. Your status isn't a part of your character; it is a matter of logistics. Either your Friday night date is a person is someone who understands the logistics of dating someone HIV-positive, or he doesn't.
If a potential match is afraid of dating you because of your status, 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.
Like in any dating environment, confidence goes further than any amount of money, expensive suite or HIV negative status. If you treat your status as some deep dark secret that you are asking him to overlook because everything else is great, he will respond accordingly. But if you disclose before the first drink is served as if it is something you need to clear up for the benefit of both you and your date, you honesty will be appreciated and will most likely be a turn on.
You know what confidence is? It is knowing that the goods you are selling are worth their sticker price and you don't need to discount them for anyone. It doesn't matter if you are 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 are 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 realize that you are the same good catch that you have always been. It is human nature for some people to want to feel superior and will use any excuse to justify their feelings. You may even have some men lash out at you for not being a sad sap and giving them the attention that they think they deserve. It's as if that, because you are now positive, you should be grateful for their interest. Conversely, your disinterest in them may seem like a disruption in the natural hierarchy that they subscribed to.
To these types of men, you just smile more, because there is 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. So many people love a sob story and to hate on other people's success. Regardless of your status, you will always deal with people who want to see you struggle.
People like their boxes. If you are positive, many will want you to stay in yours. I have been told that I have no idea what I am talking about and how I am not being realistic about how hard living with HIV really is. True, living with HIV can be quite difficult, especially if you listen to other people's opinions and beliefs of what it's supposed to be like. If you don't, you are free to define how your life is going for yourself.
It is your choice whether to live your life as a tragedy, a drama or a romantic comedy. Just remember, you are in charge of casting your leading man. If he isn't smart enough to understand your script, then he doesn't get the part.
TYLER CURRY created the Needle Prick Project as an editorial and visual campaign to elicit a candid and open conversation on what it means to be HIV-positive today. To learn more about the Needle Prick Project, visit Facebook.com/getpricked or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter at @iamtylercurry.