Dating and Daring to Love Again
One Woman's Journey After Becoming a Young Widow
Today I am 37. I am living and loving again. If anyone tells you that dreams do not come true, then please read on. I am going to share my experiences with dating, disclosure and relationships from one HIV-positive woman's point of view.
First, let me tell you how it all began for me. It was the spring of 1990. I was happy, healthy and had my shit together. I had just graduated from college, gotten an awesome job (21 thou a year), and dumped an asshole of a boyfriend. I was certain that I had an excellent future ahead of me. When you are that age you feel like nothing can stop you. But then, who ever expected as a woman that I would get HIV?
Soul MatesI was just starting to grow up and realize that my destiny was in my hands. I met Bill while out one night with some friends, listening to a band. It was right before Saint Patrick's Day and I am handing out leprechaun coasters, gummy bears and plastic monster women. (I loved giving out gag gifts from random yard sales.) This dude who resembles John Lennon approaches me. I hand him a coaster and he gives me his keys. At the time I did not realize that these were the keys to his heart. I proceed to ignore him for the remainder of the evening. He approaches me for his keys and I agree to return them along with my number. The next day Bill calls me. This is where it all starts.
I remember that summer as a growing experience. Here I am a little Catholic girl from Ohio who really had not been too many places outside of Ohio. Bill, a chef, was 10 years older and introduced me to so many things: French food, romance, culture and travel. A year later, we decide to be married.
We were just returning from a vacation in California. I was driving us home from the airport when Bill says to me: Diane (Bill's ex) called and she told me that she is positive; I got tested and I am positive too. He did not even use the word HIV or AIDS, but I knew.
I tested positive for HIV in August 1991. I remember sitting at the health department with a friend and the test counselor who gave me my results and crying, crying, crying. I cried because I would never have children, a future or a life.
When I told Bill that my test had come back positive, he was angry. He was so angry that although normally a very quiet person, he went into the basement and broke everything he could get his hands on. My status -- what Bill believed he had done to me -- was something he struggled with. Bill felt that he had robbed me of life, of travel -- of all the wonderful experiences he had already enjoyed.
The truth is, I never blamed Bill. If I blamed anyone, I blamed myself. I made a choice to have sex without using a condom. Before Bill died, I whispered in his ear, "It is okay for you to go. I will be okay and I promise that I will take care of myself."
Putting Love on HoldFinding out that you are HIV-positive makes you think about what you want for your future. For many years after Bill's death, I did not think that I had one. I only thought about when I would die. I think I was actually expecting and looking forward to death. I was unhappy with life, myself and angry that this had happened to me. I did not feel attractive, interesting or fun. I felt stuck in a town and a job because of HIV. I was afraid that I would be unable to get medical insurance, so I had to stay in the same job, which I did for 13 years.
I never expected to meet anyone else I could love as much as I loved Bill. And even if I did, I never wanted to go through the experience of losing someone again.
I was just bitter and angry. I would go out with friends and basically scare all of the men away with my angry attitude and looks. Any guy who would dare talk to me, I would be like, "What the hell do you want? Get away from me." I was not the most pleasant person to be around. And my girlfriends were not so pleased by my "cross to vampires" attitude.
But after a while without sex or intimacy with another person, a young girl's mind begins to wander beyond the toy in her drawer.
I still had it in my head that I did not need or want a relationship. Maybe in some ways I did not think that I was worth having a good person in my life. At times in my life, HIV really made me feel dirty, ugly and just unhappy with who I was. I also had it in my head that I would never ever again watch someone I love die.
This reflected in my life and my choices. I dated men who would never be relationship choices for me if I were "healthy." I chose men who were still struggling with addiction, were unemployed or were "players." My friends had a running joke that none of the guys I dated had a car, 'cause most of them were jerks.
Starting OverEventually I began to hope for more. I was not dead and I was still young. If I live, will I be living this life alone? Is that what I want? Is this really a death sentence? What about those hopes of a future and a family?
So if I date, then what do I do? I am positive! Do I tell the person? Will he run? What about meeting other HIV-positive men? What about having a child? All of these thoughts were in my head.
I was fortunate to have a good first dating experience about two years after the death of my husband. I met a guy who I thought was gay, so I was nice to him (as he posed no threat of possible date potential). Turns out that my "gaydar" must have been down that night. He asked me out and I felt that I needed to tell him. I just came out and said it, "I am HIV-positive." He looked at me and said, "Okay, what do we need to do?" Now, I will tell you his response is not the usual straight boy response, but I was lucky to have it, because if I had not, I wonder if I would have had the courage or self-esteem to continue my dating ventures.
Dating Via the InternetFrom my other HIV-positive female friends, I began to hear about the HIV heterosexual Internet dating scene. I had just gotten my first computer for a birthday present and thought that I would check some of the sites out. Today, the straight dating scene for a positive/positive relationship is much like Internet dating for HIV-negative individuals.
Many of these dating sites have great information and links. Some offer social activities for HIV-positive straight people to meet and get to know each other. But beware, and remember that HIV-positive men or women can still be the same as the jerks you may have dated in the HIV-negative scene.
I went to a "conference" held by one of the Web sites. I found it to be not really a conference, but rather a "hook up" social event, not what I had expected or wanted. I left there feeling like I had been placed back in the horrible years of adolescence where the boys only spoke to the prom queens and the cheerleaders. I did, however make some great new friends.
A big tip to folks using the Internet dating Web sites: please try to be honest about what you want and what you are looking for. If you do not have the same desires or expectations, then let it be known. And if all you really want is a piece of ass, then say it. There are men and women out there looking for just that.
A word of caution, before you meet someone, remember, safety first. Meet in a public place, perhaps with a friend. One of the ways I checked on people before I met them was to ask the other women who I knew from the Internet site if they knew of the guy. It is a small community and most people seem to know others or know of them.
But at the same time, take what you hear about folks with a grain of salt. Not everything you hear is the truth and you really need to form your own opinion. Take your time getting to know a person before you decide to meet and certainly before you decide to jump into a relationship.
It is particularly difficult to get to know someone who lives in another state. You need to spend time talking about interests, ideas and expectations. Meeting at a social event for HIV-positive heterosexuals is usually a safer venue. There are cruises, dances, conferences and social events all over the U.S. Many local AIDS service organizations hold support groups or educational programs which also give you an opportunity to meet others with HIV. Some have specific heterosexual support services or events.
Sink or SwimI started speaking with a young man from Chicago whom I met through an Internet dating site in 1999. We became friends, we had a lot in common: music, food, laughter and strong wills. I met Steve after speaking with him for about six months. When I met him, I was a bit shocked and scared. He did not look healthy. He was thin, pale and had little energy. This was a memory that brought me back to one of my main reasons for not dating in the first place. I knew that Steve was a guy I could really care about, but I was determined to not allow myself to do this. You see, I could not, would not, should not, let myself do this again. I could not love someone so deeply again that they would leave me and take a part of me with them. I had done that once -- hadn't I learned from the first time?
After meeting Steve, I tried not to stay in touch with him. I thought that would just be easier. But he would call and invite me to Chicago and we would go out to wonderful romantic restaurants and he would treat me like I was so special. HIV was not something I thought of with Steve. He was a guy I would be attracted to even if we were not positive. Laughter and mischief were always part of our times together. For the first time in my life, when I was with Steve, I felt like I was living again. And he had a car.
I did not tell my family or most of my friends about Steve in the beginning, because I was sure they would see how I felt about him and then it would make it more difficult for me to avoid those feelings.
Then he got sick, really sick. I talked to him while he was in the hospital. He was dying. I hung the phone up and screamed in my lonely, empty house. I vowed never to call him again. Then I called his father to see how he was doing and if I could do anything for him.
A few weeks later, Steve called. He was getting out of the hospital. I thought this just could not be true, but still he was too much of a risk. We spoke over the next few months and Steve's voice sounded stronger each time. I started to think more about my life and what I wanted in my future (since I now realized I was going to be here). I became stronger by making a decision to start caring about myself physically and mentally. Maybe it was Steve who made me realize that if he was going to live, then I guess that I could too.
It was the summer of 2002. Steve asked if I wanted to go on a positive heterosexual camping trip planned in Ohio. It was close to my home and he thought that it would be fun. I was reluctant, but agreed.
When he arrived on my front porch, I was in shock. He had gained weight and he looked so healthy. I could see that his energy, vibrancy and health were returning. That was the weekend that my wall seemed to come crumbling down. When I took Steve to the airport, he left me with these words, "I would really like it if you could be more a part of my life." I got in the car and cried all the way home. How could he do this to me? He ruined my gloom and doom outlook on my life. I knew it.
Life changes, and so do dreams and goals. I believe that I am a stronger and a better person because of HIV. I am blessed because of the people I have met during my journey with HIV.
Thirteen years after Bill's death, I realize that my life can go on. I told Bill that I would go on with life, and I think he would be happy with what I have been able to accomplish.
I know now that it is possible to love again. Each love will be different, but wonderful. I realize that even if people come into your life for just a short time, that time -- no matter how long or short -- is all worth it. I hope that others reading this article make a decision to take a chance on loving, because if we don't, we take the risk of losing out on something wonderful -- living.
Barb Marcotte is Director of Programs at TPAN.
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