February 3, 2010
I've spent most of my adult life alone. Not literally alone, of course, but single, unattached, unpartnered, unmarried, or whatever you want to call someone who lacks a significant romantic relationship. I'm now a 49-year-old, HIV-positive, gay man with lipodystrophy. Having reached this point, I often wonder what, if any, prospect I have for finding love.
I can't blame HIV for this situation. Singlehood was a feature of my life long before my diagnosis, and I'm sure there's any number of explanations I could offer for it. For starters, there's my lifelong struggle with clinical depression, a disease that saps one's energy and increases social isolation. There's also my rather introverted personality, which makes it hard to meet guys and often leaves me reluctant to place myself in the kinds of social situations where I might meet a potential mate.
You could add to this what I'd call the lingering effects of homophobia. Like most gay men of my generation, I grew up in an environment hostile to gay people. As a child, I endured the incessant taunting, name-calling and abuse that were the fate of "sensitive" boys who weren't good at sports. My survival depended on not speaking the truth, on concealing who I was, and on keeping my real feelings completely hidden. However useful all of this may have been as a childhood survival strategy, it's not exactly helpful in any kind of emotional relationship in which honesty, sincerity and open communication are essential.
So while HIV obviously didn't cause this situation, I still think it's complicated it. And it's done so in a number of ways. First of all, it's reduced the already small pool of available men. Why do I say small pool? Simple. I'm 49, and at my age, lots of guys have already settled down. They're in longstanding relationships. As for the ones who aren't, well, let's just say there's usually a good reason they aren't partnered. So, I'm fishing in a really small pond to begin with. And of the fish in that really small pond, a lot of them don't want to date a guy with HIV. For many, my serostatus is a deal-breaker. And you know what? I can't really say I blame them. Sure, I wish they weren't so closed-minded, but can I really fault someone for not wanting to buy into having to deal with this disease?
Which leads me to the second point -- HIV is pretty emotionally consuming all by itself. Anyone who's positive has at least one significant relationship in his life -- his relationship with HIV. Just dealing with the emotional impact of the disease, with the stigma it still carries, and with all of the various medical conditions it may cause can be a full-time job. How much emotional energy do I have left after dealing with work, my depression and my disease?
Finally, living in a subculture that places such emphasis on youth and good looks, how realistic is it for someone like me to expect to find a partner? Don't misunderstand me, I think I've got a lot of really appealing qualities, but how much of a market is there for a short, balding, nearsighted guy with a chronic disease and a body altered by lipodystrophy? Sometimes I wonder if I'm just kidding myself. Is my continued quest for a relationship the ultimate triumph of hope over experience?
But despite all this, I still feel a strong need for companionship. I had someone I called my partner for a few years (I don't think he'd like the term), and my time with him was the most fulfilling of my life. I think the best part of it was being able to love someone, to have the chance to try to make another human being happy. He left me, but I will always be grateful to him for giving me the chance to love.
So nowadays I wonder, will it ever happen? Will any man ever hold this withered, bony hand with the tenderness I crave? Will I ever fall asleep at night, knowing that the guy snoring gently next to me loves me for exactly who I am, pathogens and all? Will I ever know the joy of giving someone all the love I have and receiving his love in return?
When I'm honest with myself, I realize that, realistically, the prospects are probably pretty slim. Somehow, though, that doesn't keep me from hoping. I've been going solo for so long that I'm quite used to walking life's path alone. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to have someone to walk it with me.
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Outlier: My Unusual Journey With HIV
My name's John. I'm 49 years old. I'm a lawyer by profession. I now live in beautiful San Francisco, California, after spending a long time on the east coast. I was diagnosed in 2004, so I've been positive for something like five years.
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