Livin' With It: The Dating Game
Ken was recovering from choking on his omelet and our waitress at the Montrose Diner, Jenny, was helping Gary wipe his spilled coffee from the table. Miguel and Jerome were staring in disbelief with their mouths open. Finally Joey was able to speak, "What did you say?"
I repeated, "I've been thinking about starting to date again."
You see, I have been thinking a lot about trying the dating world again and quite frankly I'm frightened. My exile from the world of one-on-one relations has been self-imposed. The relationships I have with my friends and family have been enough to satisfy my social needs. I haven't been on a real date in nearly nine years.
Dating for a 45-year-old gay man is tough enough but for a 45-year-old gay man living with AIDS it's downright complicated. That's why I've been avoiding it. Jerome and Miguel have each been in a committed relationship for a few years now but the other men at the table date regularly. I was just hoping to get some help and advice dealing with the new rules of the game.
"Man, I thought you were campaigning to be the poster boy for the George Bush Abstinence Program," Jerome joked.
"I didn't think that sex and dating were necessarily one and the same," I said. "I'm not just looking for a quickie. Been there, done that and that's still somewhat easy to find if I want it. Sex is not the only thing on my mind anymore. What I want is friendship, commitment, and intimacy, the things I had in my last long-term relationship after the immediate excitement of the sex ended. I just don't know where to find it anymore. Is it selfish to want to meet someone who has just a little less baggage to deal with than I do? I figured you guys could give me a few tips for dating in the new millennium.
"And I think the rules have changed. At first I thought it wouldn't matter if the other person was positive or negative but now I'm not so sure," I added.
"You're so right," Gary said. "I've been dating this guy who is HIV negative and it just doesn't feel right. Everything is good but there is that one big issue that he just doesn't get. We both understand that protection is mandatory. And yes, we are having sex."
"I know a lot of couples that are serodiscordant, that's what it's called," Ken jumped in. "They are very happy, they just know their limits when it comes to sex. You shouldn't look at only positive guys to date, there are negative men who don't use status as a barrier for dating."
"I just think that since I am so out of practice, at dating and I guess sex too, I really should stick with positive men though. That would probably keep things less complicated. But where do I find them?"
"There's always the Internet," Joey answered. "I've had some great time with guys I met online or through personals."
"That's exactly what I'm trying to say," I answered. "Everywhere I look it seems to be all about the sex. Where are all the guys who want to get to know someone before hopping in the sack? Remember, that's how most of us got to this point in the first place.
"Don't bother suggesting the bars either. You guys know I'm not real big on bars anymore. I still go now and then but I don't feel as comfortable in clubs as when I was more of a party boy. Plus now that I feel like I have the 'look of HIV' there are times that I don't feel very attractive and that others can tell right away what my status is."
"Does that really matter to you?" Jerome asked. "You said that you preferred a positive guy so that will make things easier."
"That brings up another problem," I interrupted. "When do you tell someone? How do you all deal with it?"
Ken answered right away, "I think you should say something as quickly as possible. Don't force it like, 'Nice weather we're having. By the way I have AIDS' but do it as quickly as you can, especially since it is important to you."
"You know sometimes I wait. I almost always tell before we have sex, but there have been times when I haven't. I'm not perfect, but I try," Gary said.
"The whole sex thing has me worried. It's been awhile. I have no problem talking about it. It's been so long I don't know what I like anymore. I guess it should be fun finding out. I can't believe it's been so long. When I got really sick I didn't feel like it, when I got KS I didn't think anyone would want me, when I started the meds I lost the desire. All of a sudden it was like seven years and was just easier to go without."
"And now you're ready to jump back in, literally," Miguel laughed. "You know once you start you aren't going to quit. And if you need help you can always use the little blue pill. It's supposed to be helpful for guys your age," he said jokingly.
"That's another thing, I'm not over the hill but I am on the other side of middle age. It was much easier way back when. All you had to do is hook up and find a dark corner. Miguel, you and Jerome never really got to experience the free love of the seventies. AIDS has been around almost all of your adult lives. It sure has complicated things, to put it lightly."
"And not just for gay men either," Miguel added. "In one of my support groups we were talking about this very thing. A woman in the group was complaining that it is so hard to find men. Being HIV-positive for a woman, she said, really limits her choices. For her to find a heterosexual man living with HIV who is not just looking for easy sex is next to impossible."
"I hope in my case that's not the issue. We'll see. There's so much for me to absorb, so much to learn. I'll keep you posted."
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