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"Am I Undatable Because I'm HIV+?"

Summer 2011

I have a good job. I am athletic and health oriented. I am the boy next door. I live right outside of one of the largest and gayest cities in the world. I have awesome family and friends.

Oh, and I happen to have HIV.

Because of the latter, all the other traits I can bring to the table seem not to matter when it comes to dating. I have tried HIV dating Web sites and social events but I have been unsuccessful. Since my status does not define me and I do not like limiting myself to just HIV+ guys, I am open to dating anyone who fits into what I look for in a man. Although the statistics amongst gay urban males regarding HIV seem like this would not be an issue in 2011, it still is.

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My question is how do I deal with HIV stigma and dating without giving up hope?

Signed,
Seriously single and losing hope.

Dear SSLH,

I love that you do not define yourself by your health status! Leading with who you are as a person rather than your health status as your primary image of yourself is going to shape your dating experiences. Using one's status as an excuse or feeling victimized by it is a recipe for poor self-esteem and bad dating experiences.

I agree that even in 2011 the HIV stigma exists among gay men -- and straight men and women as well for that matter. I had a client who is very handsome, physically in great shape with everything a partner could want in a man in terms of both looks and personality. He experimented on dating sites by posting two different profiles; one, which doesn't mention his HIV status, and one that does. He received more inquiries than he can handle when he left his HIV status off and considerably less when he added it to his information.

I also like that you are not limiting yourself to only HIV+ men as a way to protect themselves from rejection. I have had clients tell me that after 2–3 dates they told guys of their status (before having any sexual contact of any kind) and have had gay men say insensitive things like, "Why didn't you tell me that from the beginning I wouldn't have wasted my time" or simply honest things such as, "You're good looking and totally my type but I can't put myself at risk."

Whether said with sensitivity and honesty or in a mean, uncaring way, both can feel rejecting and be very upsetting.

While it makes sense to me that someone would protect themselves from rejection because of HIV infection, limiting yourself to one type of man makes dating all the harder.

While I want to make it clear that I am not minimizing the effects of having HIV and being in the dating scene by comparing to other health issues and physical traits, I do want to minimize it in the same way I would want anyone else to minimize an issue they have during dating.

My answer to your question is basically to treat it like any other physical or personality trait you may have in terms of disclosing something unique about yourself which might turn a potential partner away. I have had clients with issues around their penis shape and sizes, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, depression, recovering sex and/or chemical addictions, weight issues, and other various health and physical issues which they could not change.

Each of these men had to disclose to dating partners and had to face being rejected and judged.

When do you tell? I always encourage sooner rather than later by being transparent and getting things out on the table as you are getting to know each other. When is that? It is different for everyone. There is no specific time other than sooner. You have to feel it out yourself and by talking to friends, therapists and dating coaches about what feels right for you.

We all have something that to a potential dating partner could risk rejecting. Dating is brutal and I consider it to be one of the most barbaric social requirements we have in finding a partner. There are no rules to follow or any allegiance to someone's feelings. People come and go and say things that are insensitive or say nothing at all both of which can be very hurtful as you are exposing your heart and placing yourself in vulnerable positions.

That said, the most important thing to remember is someone else's judgment of you is 90% about them and 10% about you. So if they choose to deny dating you understand this is about their own concerns and has nothing to do with you. You cannot take any of it personally.

You have to keep up your own hope and not give up whatever the issue is that you have -- in your case it is being HIV+. I have seen many HIV- gay men not care about HIV status and both date and partner with HIV infected men. You cannot predict who those men will be.

All you can do is keep putting yourself out there and take care of your own feelings and protect your heart knowing it will get hurt and that is part of the dating experience for us all!

Joe Kort, PhD, is a sex and relationship therapist specializing in GLBT issues, Imago Relationship Therapy, Sexual addiction and male survivors of sexual abuse. He writes for www.MaleSuvivors.org, www.365gay.com, and is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do To Improve Their Lives.



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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Dan A. (Seattle) Thu., Jul. 28, 2011 at 8:35 pm EDT
As long as you disclose, I say go out and have fun. Please don't have unprotected sex.
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Comment by: Anonymous (Columbus,Ohio) Tue., Jul. 26, 2011 at 4:45 pm EDT
I have had the same fears of being alone, but have the strength to know that I will be comfortable in my life if things change. I currently left my HIV- partner of 7.5 years, and I didn't stay with him b/c he was neg., I stayed b/c we cared for each other. I then met someone right after that, and went on some dates. To my surprise, I told him my status and he was very fine with it. We still are much in love after 10 months, but I ended it b/c I needed sometime to sort some other events in my life at the moment. I do believe that you have to go out there, b/c we all get rejected for one reason or another. It might be that they find out we are HIV+, not the right person for them, have different future plans (e.g. wanting kids, moving,ect.), or just grow apart. If you are honest with who you meet, you might be surprised by how they react when you them that you are positive. Many people (neg. or pos) find their true soulmate, many commit b/c they are comfortable after a certain amount of time together. We need to understand that maybe the person will shun us for being positive, grew apart, or many other reasons people leave people. HIV is an infection, and other viruses have possible consequences of death and/or medical challenges, I know many people with HIV, Herpes, HPV, and other serious STD's, and their partners who are not infected looked over that. It's Love that has no boundaries, and if those people have boundaries, maybe they don't know how to love.
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Comment by: Paper Clip (Manila, Philipipnes Philippines) Tue., Jul. 19, 2011 at 8:51 am EDT
This is very informative and beautiful article.

When I was diagnosed just last April this year, I also faced the same thing. But, before everything become emotionally intimate, I already disclosed my real health condition. And lo and behold, it was not became an issue. If the person really like you, he/she will accept you for who you are. It's just that in this case, there are still people protecting themselves and we cannot blame them for that. On another note, when I had suitors who were really resolute and told them my situation, instead of rejecting me, they liked me for being honest and it came up with a good friendship. It also lessen my burden in keeping this status for myself.
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Comment by: Veronica (Yuba City, ca) Sat., Jul. 16, 2011 at 1:40 am EDT
I live in Yuba City and I'm not HIV pos however I am on a dating site and once people find out where I live they don't even want to go on a first date with me because I live too far ugh People will reject you for one reason or another but the right one will come along and keep you no matter what. Don't give up on your dreams no matter what :)
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Comment by: Thomas (Columbus, OH) Thu., Jul. 14, 2011 at 10:38 am EDT
Thank you for this post! Both to SSLH and Dr. Kort. I have been exclusively seeing the most wonderful HIV+ man for 2 months. We had been friends much longer before that. To date, I am HIV-. We actually have a few friends in similar positions as we are. My bf and I were hoping to find a local support group or to start up a group for dating partners whom are +/- or any variety really. There are surprisingly NOT many resources. We just make it work day to day. I wish you the best of luck SSLH! Someone will see you for YOU. I'm glad I did with my guy.
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Comment by: Devan (Toronto , ON) Tue., Jul. 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm EDT
Great discussions. I have many connections to the various feedback but I connect more with Michael, CPC and Mico’s responses. I am 51 years, smart, handsome, athletic, world travelled, work fulltime in health sector, and HIV positive for 21 yrs. But HIV does colour the world and the experiences we all live in. The division of HIV in the gay community is evident regardless of what country we live in. The intersections we all carry based on race, ethnicity, skin colour, socio-economic status impacts each of our interactions on a daily basis IF we are fully aware. As a racialized gay man, I am very aware of racism in the gay community in Toronto and elsewhere. So that becomes a barrier in some circles to date. And then you add HIV status.
I have just come off a seven years sero-discordant relationship. In my expereience, to be frank HIV is an issue when it comes to intimacy, sex, emotional connectedness, spirituality and being in an inter-racial relationship added its joys and challenges. I know many sero-discordant couples stay in a relationship for companionship. But I want more than a companionship. That's why i have a pet and friends. I want it ALL and not have to settle because I am HIV positive. I have made a conscious choice that I will only date HIV positive men. I have no desire to be in another sero-discordant relationship –been there done that and a lot wiser for it.
So my response to SSLH is ask for the world and do not settle. You deserve the best and do not let some dude tell you otherwise. But be clear on what you want and why and what you can offer to the other. Stay well.
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Comment by: Seriously single and was also losing hope (FL/GA) Mon., Jul. 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm EDT
I'm in a similar spot as SSLH; I found out a couple years ago, I'm in my 20s, just got accpeted to a professional school, and I'm moving to a city where there's a lot more gay men (and consequently a larger + population). Yet I'm still really very wary about dating. I haven't seriously dated since I found out. I don't define myself by any means by my status. Half the time I forget I have it (I've been undetectable ever since finding out and have had a full immune rebound straight from the getgo, so I haven't had to really worry about anything).

And yet I'm still pausing to date other guys. When I do, I'm probably not going to say right away (because there's a lot more interesting things to see/know about a person first, but more toward the beginning of dating (second/third date?).

Anyway, you're definitely not alone, SSLH! (And if you're in FL/GA, I could also be the boy next door to you. Just sayin' ;)
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Comment by: Name it (Richmond, VA) Sun., Jul. 10, 2011 at 11:14 am EDT
Hi, I need to say something here. It is what it is, one cannot change something like being HIV positive. However we also need to live in the real world, why would someone knowingly start out a relationship which such a handicap. For the record, I was negative while dating a Poz person over 15 years ago and low and behond despite total safe sex turned up postitive. Despite what is being siad the negative person does take a risk. Cheers
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Comment by: michael (los angeles) Fri., Jul. 8, 2011 at 5:21 am EDT
this article make it sound like our society is so enlightened that since it's 2011, everyone should be enlightened about HIV...that great strides have been made about enlightenment about HIV like civil rights or political correctness......normal people don't know about viral loads or CD4 counts nor infectious diseases and its relation to HIV and AIDS.

sad fact is, no. most people do not see HIV the way HIV+ people see HIV. to say that that HIV doesn't define who you are is wrong because it is part of who you are and saying that you are not letting it define you is a bit off. you might as well be a gay guy saying i'm not going to let being gay define who i am when i look for a guy....just doesn't make sense.

people will see HIV+ people as a disability. you might as well have a big scar on your face because that is reality, or have a missing leg at a bar trying to pick someone up.....

tragic, but a fact of life....this world is not as enlightened as we would like it to be. being HIV+ is like you passing up dating someone with one arm or cross eyed or blind or is 2 feet tallor ........it's reality. it's just another form of vain discrimination.
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Comment by: CPC (South Africa) Fri., Jul. 8, 2011 at 2:07 am EDT
Keep on loving yourself - that is the most important aspect I would say. Then just sit back and relax, if it comes your way: good; if it does not enjoy your life, and focus on other people who needs love, compassion and caring.
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Comment by: Gary (New York City) Thu., Jul. 7, 2011 at 7:45 pm EDT
It saddens me that in a community plagued by judgment, this forum is no exception (read responses above). That said, I've been single and dating for two years. I'm usually upfront, early on, with my status (and I'm 55 years old). Of course there are guys that don't respond the way I'd like them to. But I've learned to accept that -- regardless of my status -- I'm simply not going to be some people's idea of an ideal mate. For me, it's HIV; for others, it's diabetes, alcoholism, herpes, hepatitis and on and on. I don't want to sound Polly-Anna-ish, but I believe deep in my soul, someone will find me and love every ounce of what I have to offer, and I, him. Until then, there's no underestimating honesty and patience.
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Comment by: Mico (DC) Thu., Jul. 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm EDT
I am in my early 50s and I would rather date a man nearer to my age, then someone 20 years younger than I am. I think it is best to be upfront with your status.

Hiv is part of who we are, if we have hiv. To not disclose from the beginning, shows something in us, whether we don't want to risk and face rejection because as humans, we want that connection with another or because we feel it is private, when it is not private if we are going to date.

As for being athletic, I am athletic, but I'm not buff. I show the signs of hiv and yet I eat healthy and do not eat fast food. Many don't want to bother with this. Plus, I am on a disability and I live within my means while managing to enjoy my life. Since I live in an area where I do not need a car, I gave up owning a car, something freeing to me and yet, I found others judge me by having a car or not having a car. They liked I drove a pickup truck and how I looked in it. It's all drag and then there is the sex.

Don't forget the shade of skin, the color of the eyes, the color of the hair or having hair, plus many other things, I find, exhausting and worse than the hiv.

I'm told I'm a good friend and I go out of my way to help someone in need. It's not enough. I was there with the huge money and I'm glad I downsized. I do not regret it and never will.

If you have found a place in your life that you are happy with, of course, with the exception of not having a mate, well, enjoy life! Make it with your family you have made, along with the blood family you are born into, if you are able to with them too.

Peace
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Comment by: Grey (Cleveland, OH) Wed., Jul. 6, 2011 at 4:30 pm EDT
I'm going t say that I appreciate PMs comments. I don't necessarily agree with them all - but he is honest about his feelings and passionate. AND I think he speaks to the fears a lot of us may have. I, personally, try not to let HIV define me. I'm super active - I'm an athlete, I go and hang out with friends and keep busy and engaged in life. BUT, for the most part - I don't date. I get hit on -- a lot. I flirt back, but I almost never take it past surface flirting. And if I ma honest with myself, it is because of many of the issues that pm raises in his comment. Now, I don't feel sorry for myself - I have a full life. Yes - i do get lonely sometimes, but thankfully I have a great group of friends (and probably more activities than I need to fill my day :P) - but it would be cool to date someone -- the reality is that HIV does make it harder. A LOT harder. I think it will remain that way as long as we don't face the ugly words and the ugly experiences that some people (many people?) with HIV have when to comes to dating. Is it hopeless? No - there are successful serodiscordant couples. I don't think they are the rule however. SO - why do I bring this up. I bring it up to encourage people like pm to get it out in the open and share the negative experiences, and ask the hard questions. Because for people like me - it makes it easier to try and find those answers....
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Comment by: pm (ma) Sat., Aug. 13, 2011 at 7:53 am EDT
thank you grey. i lived through the 80's in NY as well Mark. Yes I saw what you saw. I buried my first partner of 15 years in 1992--that was not the last death and certainly not the first, but that was the last funeral I have attended. my last relationship was discordant. I live in a very small town in the woods--NOT a city. I have a large circle of friends and a hobby that I love that keeps me very very busy. what shocked me the most coming back onto the dating scene after so many years was the difference in the way the standard online dating scene has changed. Hiv/Aids in my experience was years ago something that the entire gay community was together on. I found that this is not the case any more at least where I live. I found the divide between poz and neg to be extreme. I do understand that HIV/Aids is different for others. Please understand that I have Aids and I am 53. I am also a farmer--so living in a city would be a tremendous loss in the quality of my life....I am happy single. I still think the answer to this question has the potential to be very destructive. I do not define myself as my illness however with a medication change at 50 and a symptomatic illness--i can't avoid my illness anymore, but I can do things to help my symptoms and side effects and I do. For the one who "thinks" I am bitter you may want to pick another site for bashing others and you may also want to find out a little more about a person before judging them--in fact how bout not judging them at all? I haven't lost hope on anything..I get up every day, meditate, do yoga, take a sauna and go to work. How about talking about your own experiences instead of reading into mine and judging me....??????


Comment by: pm (ma) Thu., Jun. 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm EDT
this is a silly answer. hiv is contagious. even when protection is used there can be accidents. also the level of potential care that will be expected of a partner to provide a partner with aids is enormous in the long term (or short term). i suddenly became single at 50--i have had the virus for 23 years. at 50 i embarked on the "regular" gay dating scene and never once was hiv brought up by the other person--not once. unprotected sex was expected (i refused). i initially did not announce i have aids and received many responses. not ONE asked or even mentioned hiv. i always disclosed right after talking a bit to see if there was any connection. most often i was treated with disgust, disbelief and like it was horribly irresponsible of me to even be looking to date or to have sex. from my experience your answer to this question is ridiculous. the other "conditions" you mention are not contagious or terminal and are typically treatable with drugs with far fewer life diminishing side effects than aids meds. the gay dating scene that i have experienced does not want to know about hiv---don't ask don't tell seems to be the way--but i told and three years later i am still single and dating in my community is way off limits for me now that the dating scene here knows my status. yes at 50 i am still very handsome, fit and very datable with a few exceptions....i have aids and my med side effects leave little to no energy to continue the hunt. really--why would an hiv negative person get involved with a positive person (starting out as strangers) if they didn't have to--and they don't have to, so why? it makes no sense to date a person with a contagious terminal disease that is transmitted sexually if you can date someone who doesn't have the disease. try living in the real world.
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Comment by: Douglas (Miami Beach) Tue., Jul. 5, 2011 at 10:17 am EDT
I don't think this answer was silly at all. I think it was honest but also hopeful.

Many of us who carry the virus do not have and will not develop AIDS. For us it is not a "terminal disease" as you blithely state it to be.

You sound like a very bitter person, one who--unlike the writer--has allowed HIV to define and adversely color the entirety of his life. I have to wonder if your attitude has as much to do with your lack of dating success as does your HIV status.
Comment by: Mark (NYC) Thu., Jul. 7, 2011 at 2:28 pm EDT
Sorry to hear about your experiences and feelings.

Mine have been very different. I've had HIV for 30 years, and have always actively dated - usually guys who are negative (not sure why that is, but that's what happened).

While I have experienced rejection from casual sex partners, only one guy I dated had a bad reaction, and that was back in 1988. Everyone else was surprised when I told them (before we had sex) but got over it.

Why would someone date me even though I have HIV? Because I'm smart, funny, compassionate, caring, and handsome. My current boyfriend of 9 years says that having a positive boyfriend is the safest kind - you're never tempted to take off the condom (as two of his HIV negative friends did - they're now both positive).

HIV is not contagious - it's infectious, very difficult to catch, and very easy to prevent. We just use a condom every time - it's not rocket science. They don't break if you use them correctly, and the sex is great.

Having HIV has not been an insurmountable barrier to dating for me - you just have to learn how to adjust to it, as with any life-altering situation.
Comment by: Al (Jacksonville,Fl) Fri., Aug. 5, 2011 at 1:46 am EDT
You are first a person then someone who happens to be HIVpositive. Mature people could and would fall in love with you because of who you are and not because of what you have. Don't lose hope...there are many HIV positive people out there who have learned, through their illness, to love and embrace life, a quality you might not often see in many of those who take life for granted. I am an older guy whose younger partner has been diagnosed as HIV positive ( I am not) and although the struggles are not easy it has never even crossed my mind to be anywhere except right here. Be optimistic and keep trying...one day you just might be pleasantly surprised


Comment by: TRENCLOC (CALI) Thu., Jun. 30, 2011 at 12:22 pm EDT
TRY POSITIVE SINGLES ITS A GREAT SITE FOR HIV,etc!
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