Dating can be exciting as well as exhausting, and being HIV-positive can add a whole new layer. I have been positive for almost three years and have been on many dates -- before and after my diagnosis. In fact, if your dates have been anything like mine, they can be likened to a job interview that ends with a root canal instead of a goodnight kiss. Yet I endure them in the hopes that the next one will be the last one and I will find my soul mate. Dates are all about selling ourselves and trying to find out if the person across the table from us is a good match. We laugh, flirt, and tell them our good qualities, while keeping our snoring and other bad habits out of the picture until the move-in date -- surprise! In those first few meetings we leave out the big stuff, our political and religious differences, our incomes as well as our views on Paris Hilton. But, when should we disclose our status?
Dating when you are HIV-positive is an entirely separate ball game. There is the inevitable, difficult and possibly awkward conversation when you have to tell them your status. Being positive is nothing to be ashamed about, but there is a very real possibility that the person with the perfect laugh and similar interests as your own might reject you. I made a promise to myself that I would tell them by the third date -- or earlier if it looks like he's making a break to steal third base. Sounds like a good plan, right? Maybe. The third date rule worked in the past, twice. Then recently after a third dinner with someone I was really beginning to care about, I disclosed my status and was rejected. Not for being positive, but for not being honest and upfront about my status.
So what do we do? Only date positive people? I know there are thousands of serodiscordant couples (couples where one is positive and the other negative) who are living happily ever after. Should we tell them on the first date, the second or the third? There is no easy answer, if there even is one. It is a highly personal and touchy decision to make. But it must be made.
If you decide to go the route of meeting people in a similar position, one alternative is a dating website for HIV-positive individuals. Gay or straight you can register, log in and find that perfect someone, complete with a hundred great qualities and about the same number of T-cells. This can take the guesswork out of when to reveal your status. With everything we know about how HIV is transmitted, there should be little fear when having sex. Positive or negative, everyone should keep themselves and their partners protected. I once heard some great advice -- always assume the person you are having sex with is HIV-positive, even if they say they otherwise.
In the past I have dated HIV-negative people, who after some time were just too afraid to let go of their fear (or ignorance) to have a normal sex life. I have also dated negative people who understand the reality and risks and were okay to have a great, and creative, sex life. In my opinion, I think dating would be easier if our status was on the table from moment one. If nothing else we already have something in common -- and could possibly learn something new.
I now tell potential partners before or on date number one. Being HIV-positive has taught me more about myself than I cared to know at first, but I now relish in all the new knowledge. I used to be afraid of things that I now face head-on. Rejection still hurts, of course, but I find I am rejected less when I keep my head held high and speak the truth -- proud of who I am and how far I have come.
Living with HIV means we have to make some changes and that our lives will inevitably become different from before. I see my diagnosis date as a new birthday, and I've been lucky enough to have been able to celebrate my continued health every year with a ski trip -- although if you've ever seen me ski, the phrase "continued health" could be a thing of the past. But yes, dating can be hard and I don't see it becoming easier for anyone in the near future. We can only take care of ourselves, be proud of who we are and what we can do, and hope that the next root canal -- or date -- will be the last one.
Matthew Carter is a freelance writer originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts, now living in Chicago. He has been HIV-positive for three years.