Dating Means Disclosing the Best of Me, Not Just My HIV Status
Disclosure is a big part, if not the biggest part, of dating while positive. That, in itself, can cause an abundance of mental trauma if one isn't emotionally prepared for the consequences of disclosing to a potential partner. When I first rejoined the dating world, my disclosure process was completely different from what it is now. I would struggle for days trying to figure out a way to tell someone. I mean, to this day, I still find disclosing my HIV status to be gut wrenching, but the aftermath doesn't hit me as hard as it once did.
Coming to terms with my HIV diagnosis took a good six months or more. Then I had to decide how I was going to get on with my life. At that time, the best thing for me to do was not to involve myself romantically with anyone. My HIV status change had come from a failed relationship, so the last thing I wanted to do at that moment was to date again. It was a personal decision that I made for myself, and one that I truly felt was the right choice.
With that decision, which lasted for years, I trained myself to believe not only that I wasn't ready to date, but also that I wasn't worthy to date. I didn't want to deal with the realities that were set forth in front of me. I didn't know what dating would be like, the struggles that would lie ahead or the pain I would feel from the rejection of potential partners -- but I created scenarios in my head that made me hold out for a long time. Thinking back, the scenarios I created weren't far off from reality, but by waiting to put myself out there, I caused greater damage within myself.
I don't believe that there's anything wrong with taking a period of time to be alone and not date. Personally, I believe that it was a healthy step toward discovering myself and what I was truly looking for. But waiting for so long after finding out about my positive status was damaging.
When I finally did put myself out there, I learned hard and fast how devastating dating while positive can be. I think that if I had put myself through those struggles earlier, then they wouldn't have been as hard. But by that point, by my own doing, I was pre-jaded about relationships and had little to no self-worth. I had convinced myself that nobody would ever want to date me because I was HIV positive.
Once I returned to the dating world, I became more and more down on myself, ultimately becoming depressed. I couldn't come to terms with why no one I went out with was turning into a potential match. I was putting myself out there, disclosing and doing everything I thought I had to do, but still...I was alone.
After about a year or so of feeling awful, I once again retreated from the dating world to focus more on myself -- but this time I decided to dig deep for the root of the problem instead of placing the blame on my status as I had done in the past. It wasn't until I learned to love myself for who I was and what I brought to the potential relationship table that things began to change for me.
I no longer wore my status on my sleeve but instead focused on what made me special, different and worth being loved. When I finally appreciated who I was, I was more prepared to tackle the ups and downs of dating because the battle scars would no longer hurt as much or last as long.
Meeting someone new was no longer focused on how I would disclose, but instead on how I would present the best of me. That included disclosing, but with a new attitude. I was no longer down on myself. If someone couldn't deal with my HIV status, it was their loss, and not something that would affect me in the same way as before.
Whether you want to or not, you're constantly projecting to the world how you feel inside. If you are sad, depressed or down on yourself, it's evident to those around you. If dating isn't going too well right now, take some time for yourself and find the good in yourself. Being HIV positive is hard enough; dating shouldn't be a gateway to depression. Learn to recognize the signs and make changes.
David Duran is a freelance journalist and writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can follow him on Twitter at @theemuki.