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How Can I Find Mr. Right With So Many Mr. Wrongs Out There on the Internet?

July/August 2003


Help! I went out on a date with someone that I met through the Internet who appeared in his photo to be a very sexy young guy. He stated he was only interested in a long-term relationship (LTR) and HIV status did not matter -- he seemed perfect.

The whole thing turned out to be a nightmare. From his photograph he looked like a movie star hunk but in real life he looked nothing like his photo. For our date we went for a drive in the country in his car "to see the beautiful mountain scenery and get to know each other." But it turned out he just wanted to have sex in the back seat; out in the middle of nowhere and feeling pressured, I went ahead with it.

Afterwards we both drove home in silence. When I finally got home I regretted the whole thing. Looking back when I re-read his personal statement and saw that he clearly lied about his life. He really wasn't looking for a long-term relationship -- only sex. I'm HIV-positive and I wonder if I should be stating that up front with my photo. Am I attracting the wrong people and turning off the right ones? What should I do -- I'm lonely and really looking for a long-term relationship! I need some guidelines.


A Response to This Case Study

There are a number of good reasons for using the Internet for dating, but the bottom line is to take a number of different avenues in meeting people that suit you. Always use your voice of reason, and don't let your fantasy and sexual needs rule your behavior. People in general have a need to belong and to search for companionship and intimate relations throughout a lifetime. If you truly are looking for a long-term relationship, you always must remember first and foremost that you can't have everything in a relationship you want. There are always going to be positives and negatives to any person and with any kind of relationship, friendship or romantic, you must be able to see it in a realistic light with true pay-offs but also with additional trade-offs. Nothing is going to be perfect, and there needs to be a lot of give and take. The core of any good relationship is respect, compromise and the quality of pleasure-time together.

That stated let's move on to the Internet dating scene and being HIV-positive. To go out with anyone based on their photograph with the expectation of developing a long-term relationship would be rather unrealistic. Even if this person were handsome or beautiful, with a knock-out body, attempting to build a relationship on just a physical attraction would naturally be very limited. In time, after reaching sexual satiation, the relationship would end if there were no other common interest between the two of you. As with most things, good relationships take time so that people can assess the person and get to know him or her in total -- not just as an object of sexual lust. A first date where one feels pressure to have sexual contact is a very poor start to any kind of relationship. This man did not take your feelings into consideration at all. He was out for selfish gain. Before going out with any stranger, personal limit-setting ground rules must be in place. You must consider your own safety physically as well as emotionally.

HIV-Positive Cyberdating

The decision to list your personal with your HIV status is always a choice. I would first see if there was any chemistry between the two of you before any discussion of personal health issues such as your HIV status were declared. My reasons are simple. It would allow others to get to know you as a person before being told of your HIV status. It may be better to just get to know the overall person without any sexual contact and without discussion of HIV on the first date -- keep things easy.

However, some feel that one should let people know right from the get go so that they know what they may be getting themselves into. However, being that in the real world first impressions are so superficial, I would keep such personal information to yourself and give people more of a chance to overcome any pre-judgments by spending quality time with the person. This way, when faced with a person's HIV status, the other person has a clearer sense of whether there is relationship potential. Naturally, there is always a fear of rejection, but the regret would be less if both parties were given a certain amount of time to give a good overall impression.

If for any reason you sense that your Internet date presumes that you are HIV-positive and you feel compelled to address that, then do so. It really depends on how much information you wish to give anyone on a first date. People may wish for honesty but they also don't wish to be overwhelmed either on a first date. Attempt to redirect yourself from just looking for a long-term relationship in favor of more general looking for possible friendship relationships also. This may lower your stress level in how you present yourself as well as how you perceive them.

Below are some basic thoughts and suggestions I have laid out based on your situation.

Request more photographs: Request to have possible "matches" send you more photographs. Many Internet online dating services only offer one photograph of the individual -- and photographs can be very misleading. Ask to have several photographs sent to you so that you can get a better "picture" of your possible match and request information on when the photos were taken. A good photograph may be a number of years old and often capture the individual in the best possible pose and light. Anyone going on online is going to want to present him or herself very well. You can't really blame people for showing you their very best photograph. However, viewing five additional photographs including a full body shot, should give the viewer a reasonable idea of how this person looks. Some things that a photograph doesn't indicate are body smell, breath, possibly damaged teeth, body tone, actual weight, or height -- much less qualities such as intelligence or sense of humor.

Remember you can't have a relationship with an image -- although people sometimes attempt to do just that. Although you have access to thousands if not millions of personals, try to not get caught up in a romantic fantasy. Some photographs are very impressive and if you want a sexual contact, that's one thing -- but that's not great groundwork for a long-term relationship. What is good groundwork for a LTR? Living in the same city. Having similar values and goals, and often, although many people don't like to hear this, similar backgrounds.

Speak by telephone as soon as possible: Remember that you are only going by a photograph and a short description of the individual. If you are interested, speak as soon as possible directly by phone and discuss your interests and long and short-term goals. Many times, a phone call can give the seeker better insights into who this person is and if an in-person meeting should be considered. Naturally, people are going to again present themselves in the best possible light, but qualities and viewpoints can still come across. Always attempt to lengthen the phone conversation. Don't be so quick to hang up and be afraid to "ruin" anything by asking too many questions -- many times it is worth it to engage in a long phone conversation rather than go out and waste time with someone totally unsuitable to you.

Keep the first meeting short: Instead of setting aside a whole day or evening for a date, consider meeting "just for coffee" after work. Meet the individual in a crowded, safe environment for roughly 30 minutes, not for dinner and preferably when you have somewhere else planned to go -- alone. If there is mutual interest, you will make another date by phone call. If there is no connection, it's best to make it short and painless. Many times these meetings are fueled by fantasy and motivation for a sexual contact which for many is a normal and natural process. However, this is not the way to proceed if you are really seeking a long-term relationship, which should begin on solid ground.

Listen to what the person says: Many times people embellish or just plain lie on their description or in person. Don't get caught up in anyone else's fantasy and remind yourself to stay put in a realistic connection. Often times we also don't want to really see and hear what the other person is telling us. If you are looking for a fantasy, maybe you should consider other Web sites that are more specifically sexual in nature. If you clearly are looking for a long-term relationship, be more sensible in your conversations and approach.

Never trust a stranger: Never give out too much personal information to a total stranger, for example, your home address, your employment address, where your family lives or, perhaps, your HIV status. Remember that what may appear to be a romantic adventure could turn into a tragic event. Be safe and guarded, since sharing too much personal information is never a good thing first off. Let things take their course and develop, if it's the real thing trust and compassion will show themselves. When meeting for the first time, write down the person's Internet e-mail, their phone number, their full name and possible address. Leave this taped on your refrigerator and on your office desk. Tell a friend where you are going to meet this person.

In conclusion, the basic sense should be to meet to see if there is chemistry in real life, rather than living in an Internet fantasy. Limit the amount of personal information you give to the match, in the first few dates. There can be too much personal information and your HIV status need not be stated up front if you both do not engage in any sexual contact. While it is true you maybe rejected because of your HIV status, give people the benefit of the doubt and allow them to see all your good points over a series of dates, Good Luck!

J. Buzz von OrnsteinerJ. Buzz von Ornsteiner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and behavioral consultant in New York City and writes the "Psychologically Speaking" column.

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.
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