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To get involved with someone HIV + or not
May 8, 1998

I just started a relationship a month ago with someone I've grown to care alot about. The relationship is the best I've had in 7 years. He just told me he was HIV positive. Do I run for the hills knowing what can happen? It's not so much that I'm afraid of contacting the virus(although I guess I should be) as it is the potential responsibility I would incur taking care of this person. I have for years jokingly said to partners I'd send them home if they developed a serious illness. Is that an indication I couldn't rise to the occasion and should bow out before I'd have to make that decision?

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Only you can answer the question of whether you should allow yourself to get more involved with someone you are already involved with who is HIV+. I would strongly suggest that you two talk a lot about how you both feel potentially beginning a long term relationship with one of you being HIV+ and the other being uninfected. I am concerned when you say that you are not so much concerned about whether you'd contract the virus. You both should be very concerned about this. It is always scary to get close to someone and to feel vulnerable. Knowing that someone we are in the process of falling in love with has a life threatening illness is aq major dynamic and reality that is part of the emotional and physical dowry the person you are dating has brought into this relationship. It can not be ignored.

On our second date my last partner told me that he had AIDS before he ever opened his mouth during a kiss. Though I was already HIV+, I was frightened about falling for a man who I knew that our shared future would in all likelihood not be for the rest of our lives we both wanted. It is important not to make any commitments you are not ready for. Early on, within the first 3 months that Lee and I were dating he turned to me on the sofa one morning and asked: "What happens if I get sick, will you take care of me?" I was overwhelmed by his question. The only response I was able to give was "Today I can not promise that if you got sick that I would totally take care of you. But I am increasingly growing to love you. If you get sick at some point in the future and my feelings have continued to grow for you at the rate they have grown form the time I met you until now, then yes I will be there for you." Three months later while I was on a trip to the South Pacific he was hospitalized with his first AIDS related illness. When I called and found out, I was so upset that I cut my trip short, flew home and spent the rest of my vacation with him in the hospital. We were together continuously from then until the day he died in our bed two and a half years later.

None of the pain I experienced either during his multiple illnesses or after he had died made me regret one bit my decision to marry our lives together. Taking care of him and learning how to prioritize his needs over mine, while also attending to my own needs was the hardest challenge I have ever yet faced in my life.

Do not enter into any relationship, but especially one with all the additional potentials for difficulties and pain that this one has casually or impulsively. Really reflect on what you feel your capacities are and honestly talk about these with the person you are dating.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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