Being a Single Person With HIV or AIDS
Spirituality Column #6
February 15, 1996
It's such a relief to be past another Valentine's Day, an observance that I dread each year, as much as some people dread a visit to the dentist or the doctor. I am chronically single, romantically challenged, and dating impaired. So Valentine's Day just reminds me that another year has gone by without finding that one special guy whom I keep believing God has in store for me.
I've run into a number of people in my journey with HIV/AIDS who honestly believe that a person with HIV or AIDS has to have a spouse in order to cope most effectively. I remember attending a workshop for people living with AIDS in the spring of 1984, shortly after my diagnosis of lymphoma and Kaposi's Sarcoma. The seminar featured a gay man who had had Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions all over his body and face, and now he was in total remission.
I had thought I was going to find some answers. But in describing his recovery, he gave most of the credit to his devoted lover of many years. The two men stated, both directly and indirectly, that a person needs a spouse to experience healing with AIDS. During the question and answer session, I challenged the two men about this, out of my own fear that they might be right. I was single, and in 1984 the chances of a person with AIDS finding a lover seemed terribly remote. So, according to their philosophy, I was even more doomed than my friends with AIDS who had lovers.
Michael Callen, who literally wrote the book on Surviving AIDS, claimed his survival was based on "luck, classic coke, and the love of a good man." I saw a medical presentation on HIV recently which quoted Callen's formula, and which went on to describe how indispensable a spouse is for battling AIDS.
Well, sorry to ruin the curve, but I'm still single and I've survived AIDS well over a decade beyond anyone's expectations. It is possible!
As a matter of fact, sometimes I think that if I'd had a lover when I was sick, I may not have made it. Because I was single, I had to keep going. I had no one to become dependent upon. I had to clean up my own vomit and diarrhea. If the doorbell rang and I really wanted a visitor, I had to climb, and sometimes crawl, up the stairs to let the visitor in myself. If I had no appetite, I had to motivate myself to get some food down to keep up my energy.
I would have loved to have had a spouse to care for me, to motivate me, to love me even unto death, the way Paul Monette describes his relationship with Roger in Borrowed Time. But the reality of my life has been different.
I like to think that even if I were to die tomorrow, without a lover, my life would still be of value, that my life would still have meaning, and that I wouldn't feel as if I'd failed somehow. Our society has a way of making single people feel inadequate or incomplete. How many times have I cringed when someone introduces their spouse as "their other half." (What? So all of us singles are half a person? I don't think so!) Then there's that old song, "You're nobody 'til somebody loves you!"
I'm somebody, and nobody loves me in the way the song talks about!
But wait! Somebody does love me! God loves me! God loves you! My faith says that God made us complete, just the way we are: no one needs a spouse to experience love and wholeness and joy. For Christians, Jesus can be our lover. (See column #2).
Even though I don't have a life-partner, there are a number of people in my life who love me. One of the coping mechanisms I developed after diagnosis was to see many different people in my life as a "lover in mosaic." With one friend, I can enjoy emotional intimacy. With another, I can experience playfulness and fun. I may share sexually and make love with someone else. And yet another person is my favorite partner for dinner and theater. One person may not embody all these qualities of a spouse, but through a number of different people, I do know what it's like to be loved.
And that's the ingredient we all need to survive: not necessarily a spouse, but simply love. We need to love ourselves enough to do the work of healing. We need to surround ourselves with the love of our friends and family, so that we do not feel alone in facing the challenges of HIV and AIDS. And we need to open ourselves to God's love, through which we have everything we need to face life's difficulties.
But still, as I see all the sentiment expressed between lovers on Valentine's Day, I feel that old yearning, that sense that there's someone out there waiting... why can't I find him? Sometimes I feel like Scarlett O'Hara, shaking my fist at the sky, vowing "I'll never spend another holiday alone again!"
Somehow, I keep finding hope that I will have a spouse someday. I believe that hope comes from God, and that's one of the major rewards of faith. Even though all the evidence would seem to indicate that I'm meant to be single, I still believe that God has someone special in mind for me. And I no longer believe that living with HIV or AIDS needs to be a stumbling block in finding that lover. I've certainly seen a lot of persons diagnosed with AIDS find spouses since that seminar 12 years ago.
Just because we're single doesn't mean we're alone. Just because we're single doesn't mean we're incomplete. Just because we're single doesn't mean we'll always be single.
With God in our lives, we are not alone. With God in our lives, we are whole people, just the way we are. With God in our lives, we have hope that we can and will know love.
While those two men in 1984 were convinced that it was their partnership that produced the miracle of remission, I believe now that the essential ingredient in the one man's healing was love. And love is not restricted to those with a life-partner. Love is available to all of us through our faith in God.