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Serodiscordance: Can our love last?
Jun 11, 1998

Sir,

I'd thank you, first off, for the amazing service you provide. I've been a regular reader of your articles and columns for the past few months and have been consistently impressed with the human compassion you demonstrate.

Six months ago, I met and began the upward spiral into love with a man who is HIV positive (5 years, medicated for 2 years and responding very well). Never having been one to stick with a relationship in the past, this man has brought me incredible happiness; he has, however, also brought me the threat of HIV.

You see, I am not HIV positive, and I've known about his status from the start. Faced for the first time with a relationship AND the spectre of HIV, I have dove right into the maelstrom and suspended, at least for the past few months, my fears and apprehensions. I'm taken the time to thoroughly educate myself as to the hows, whys, and various treatments for the disease, but remain ignorant as to some of it's emotional side-effects.

I seem to experience a lack of empathy, sometimes, for which I cannot account. I wouldd've always considered myself quite sensitive to other's emotions, but, with him, sometimes I apparently say things that are completely misregistered. I'm trying to get into VaxGen's study of their new vaccine, as a prime risk-candidate, and when I shared this with him, he reacted by withdrawing emotionally...I know it was shared at the wrong time, but I thought that was something which would be able, eventually, to bring us closer together...

Sex, is, of course, always the issue. Each of us are libidinous souls...the taboo of penetration (unprotected) is something which lures both of us...whenever we go out and have a few drinks, it always seems that one of us takes the excuse to play penetration games with the other...I mean uses the drunken opportunity as an excuse for the 'oops' in the midst of passion...I don't want to hold anything against him, and would seriously like to spend the rest of my life with him, but I am afraid to broach the sex-subject with him (he has not yet come to a comfort level with the disease and his acquisition of it).

My queries: What emotional issues need I be aware of?

Is there a good book you might recommend for someone in my situation?

We're trying to make plans together, for the future (a home, careers, perhaps a business together...); can we do so effectively?

Thanks, in advance, for all your time and effort on my behalf.

MJS

Response from Mr. Shernoff

There are many successful long term couples of mixed HIV anti-body status. There is no particular set of skills you need with this kind of relationship as opposed to any other kind. Open communication, honesty and remaining open to one another's feelings are the key here. I am concerned that you talk about the penetrative games you play after having a few drinks. You may want to seriously rethink your consumption of alcohol or other mood altering recreational drugs, if you are already stretching the envelope sexually.

The emotional issues you need to be aware of have more to do with each of your own unique coping styles and whether emotionally withdrawing has little to do with HIV and was as well as remains a method of relating that existed prior to HIV. Living with the disease, (and let me remind you that both of you are living with HIV even though he is the only one infected, you both are certainly very much affected by HIV) can bring even more emotional roller coasters into each of your lives depending on your partner's health, the news reports about various treatments, etc. If you live in a city with an AIDS service organization call them to inquire if they run a group for couples where one or both are HIV positive. Joining a groups where you will be with other couples wrestling with all these issues can be an invaluable help and very supportive.

I am not familiar with one specific book that deals with partners of people with HIV. Go in or call your local gay and lesbian book store and ask them. If you do not live in a location where there is such a book store A Different Light is one of the largest gay and lesbian book stores in

the country. They have 3 locations, one in Manhattan, another in San Francisco and the third in West Hollywood. They do mail order books all over the U.S.

There is absolutely no reason not to make long term plans together as a couple. I know people with AIDS who have returned to graduate school, completed the program and began a new career after their diagnosis. There is an old saying that goes; "You know how to make God laugh? Make plans!." That goes for everyone, regardless of HIV status.

Best of luck.



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