February 12, 2014
Valentine's Day is an emotional day for many people, whether HIV negative or HIV positive, single or in a relationship. Whatever your status in the dating or relationship scene, TheBody.com's community has a lot of advice regarding love, acceptance, stigma and how they relate to one's heart.
Taken from interviews for TheBody.com's This Positive Life series, these short clips are samples of the larger stories each of the interviewees has to tell. Aside from love and relationships, they discuss their diagnosis, first disclosure and the state of their health since receiving the news that they are HIV positive.
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I don't date. I haven't gone out on a date in a long time. I don't think about it too much, sometimes I do. I'm sort of comfortable right now where I'm at with myself. I'm happy about where I've come, but to the point I've come because of where I've been. I certainly have seen worse times in my life to date and so I'm not content, I'm actually happy. I'm in control of my health. I'm in control of my income, you know I'm working my way out of disability and back in the work force. That's very important to me, because I've always been independent. And then to have that not work for you for a while, you know it's something to be happy about. And I found that I have these two incredible pets that they're just so loving and I like that. I like that relationship I have with them and while I know it doesn't replace a person, it certainly helps. It makes me okay with not being with someone. Beforehand, I was a relationship oriented person. I was most of my life in monogamous relationships, long term monogamous relationships. And I'm grateful to have had them; a few of them have passed away from AIDS already. But I'm grateful to have had them and at the very least you can look back and say well it's better to have loved than never loved at all. And so that's kind of where I'm at right now.
Do you see yourself in the future being open to love? Open to dating?
Oh yeah, sure, sure. I am, always. It's just that it's not a priority and again, I'm grateful to have already experienced and I guess I look at younger people and what they're going through and what I've been through that, and say yeah I remember that, that was fun, that was interesting. Now, I think I would have to, it's so different. It's a different world. You know, and in looking at who could possibly be a match for me, well they have to be open to being HIV positive or be HIV positive themselves. I have some standards that I go by, like health is important, you need to take care of yourself. Looks, you know, that's not that important to me, so much as health is, and independence to some point.
I work with a lot of individuals from time to time who are newly diagnosed. Some of the things that I hear them say are that they feel tainted, or dirty, that "no one will ever want to be with me," that "I'm going to be alone forever."
What I like to tell them is that you don't know that. You can have a loving relationship. This is one thing that was told to me; because I used to push people away. For many years after I was infected, I wouldn't let people get close to me because of the fear of being hurt. I had a friend tell me, "You don't have the right to tell people whether they can love you or not." And that sunk in, somehow.
So I want people to know that you're valuable. Just because you have HIV doesn't make you a monster. You have something to contribute to this community. You have something to contribute to the world. Maybe you haven't found that yet, but it's there. And this is a wake-up call to find that, and use this as something to change your life in a positive way.
You can let this destroy you, or you can let it lead you down a path and on a journey that will take some struggle; but nothing worthwhile ever happens without struggle. So embrace it. Take the journey. Do what you have to do to live a strong life. And don't let it defeat you.
When it comes to relationships, I think that HIV plays a big role in it, as far as the acceptance of someone as a partner. At first, I was reluctant to tell people my status right away -- like, "Hi. I'm Marco Benjamin. I have HIV." Because, with some people that I encountered, it was like they were closing the door on me and they didn't want to know who Marco was. The only thing they saw when I met them and I disclosed my status was HIV. Which was kind of messed up, because they weren't allowing themselves to get to know me for who I am. So, I started to find a way to tell people from the door, straight-up: "I have HIV. There's nothing I can do about it. If you want to talk to me or if you want to date me, that's fine; if not, I can still move on."
I even, sometimes, didn't tell people right away. There was a phase that I went through where I would wait six months. Like, "Why do I have to tell you my status?" But the person felt like I was lying to them; by the time I disclosed my status, they felt that everything I had said before was a lie or that I had something to hide. And I didn't want to be portrayed like that. I wanted to be very upfront with everyone. As of today, if I feel like I'm going to be in a relationship with somebody or have something better than dating, I disclose my status 100 percent.