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Trust
Jun 19, 1996

As an HIV-negative gay man, I have sensed recently that relationships (dating, or beyond that) have begun to break down among gay men, possibly under the weight of the AIDS epidemic. Even among men who are negative, there seems to be a mistrust and sourness about relating, dating, getting together. We're isolating, avoiding one another, etc. Obviously some good relationships are forming, but I see fewer and fewer of them. I'm not sure what the question is at the bottom of all this, maybe this is more of an observation. What can you say about maintaining or regaining trust in people and faith in life in the face of such assaults as homophobia, AIDS, AIDS-phobia, modern life in general, etc.?

Response from Rev. Pieters

I agree with your observation that "there seems to be a mistrust and sourness about relating, dating, getting together" among many gay men. HIV has had a decidedly negative impact on the romantic and sexual lives of many of us. I believe that it's not just that gay men are scared of being infected or re- infected, but that we're scared of getting involved with one more person who might get sick and die. We're all suffering from grief overload, as well as from AIDS overload, and that certainly makes large numbers of us scared of getting involved with another gay man. So we isolate ourselves to protect ourselves. But are we protecting ourselves, or protracting the grief and depression? How do we regain the trust and faith necessary to enter into a new relationship, or even to venture a single date, when we all have so much experience in seeing our relationships end in sickness and death? It has been said that one of the purposes of grief is to enable us to risk loving again. So part of the answer of how to regain trust in relationships is to make sure we do our grief work. And with the multiple losses we all experience due to AIDS, that grief work keeps going and going. Beyond the grief work, I believe we need to take a leap of faith: even though I know I run the risk of this relationship ending tragically, of experiencing that pain of loss again, I will take the chance because this relationship can give me joy, companionship, love, and life, even if it doesn't last for decades or even years. And what relationship is guaranteed to last forever? Even the best relationships, which may seem like "happily ever after" love, will one day end in death or separation. When I think about this question, I'm reminded of the gay men I've known who have willingly become involved with men who are HIV-positive. Even after their partner has died, they usually say that they would much prefer to have had the few years of intimacy and love than to have missed it completely by deciding not to be involved with someone HIV-positive. So to regain some sense of trust in people and relationships, I recommend three steps:

Get support. Whether it's through a support group, or therapy, or pastoral care, reach out and get support for your grief work, and intentionally work through your fear of involvement and intimacy with a professional. Act as if you trust people and have faith in life. Take that leap of faith: sometimes it means being an actor. When we start acting as if we have trust and faith, we can begin to experience what faith is all about. Model trust and faith, and see if that isn't an attractive quality to others. Expect healthy and whole relationships. I've often heard that the way people react to us has a lot to do with how we behave. If we act as if we will be rejected, as if we expect others to be sour on relationships, we're likely to find that to be true. If we act as if we expect a healthy, trusting relationship, we're more likely to draw that to us. If we model a healthy attitude towards relationships, more people will see that it is still possible, even in this age of "AIDS-phobia".

Eric Rofes in Reviving the Tribe discusses these issues in far greater detail than is possible here. His analysis and suggestions are valuable reading for anyone concerned about the health of gay male relationships after 15 years of living with AIDS among us. There's a Native American saying that goes, "The quality of life is not measured by the length of life, but by the fullness with which we enter into each present moment." None of us (HIV positive or not) have any guarantees that we will be here tomorrow. All any of us have is right now. In this moment, then, do you want to continue to isolate yourself because it's tough to find a good relationship, or because others you know are sour on the idea? Or do you want to act as if that relationship is out there waiting for you? Do you want to live in fear or hope? Personally, I find it difficult to find a relationship too. But I keep hoping that it's possible. I keep believing that there's someone out there with whom I'll "click." To me, that's a leap of faith, because all the evidence points to the contrary. But I keep hoping anyway. And even if I die without finding that one special love, I will have lived my life with hope rather than fear and despair. That, to me, is a far preferable lifestyle choice!



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