The Disclosure Dilemma

"I'm Afraid My Friends and Family Will Be Judgemental Because My Boyfriend Has HIV"

My boyfriend and I have been dating around three months and we have decided to move in with each other. He told me he was HIV-positive right from the start, and has been on disability for a while now. My boyfriend indicates no signs of getting sick and has placed his drug problems and sexual promiscuity behind him. He goes to the gym regularly and looks fine, but my friends and family have begun to ask questions about why he is not employed and why we wish to move in together so soon. I am thinking about telling people, including my parents, that he is HIV-positive so they will understand why he is not working and why he needs me. But I'm afraid that they will be judgemental and I am not sure what to do. Help!

The decision to disclose any serious illness, not just HIV, to family and friends should always be considered thoroughly before any action is taken. The world can be unpredictable, and people are not always judged fairly or with sound logical reasoning. Allowing an illness to remain private may be considered the best solution -- as long as no one is emotionally or physically damaged by that decision. Often times, honest straightforward discussion of very sensitive issues, such has HIV status, can at a later time, be used against a person in a harmful way. Prejudice and limited insight are more often than not the real issues here. To hope that all people will be accepted and viewed justly is not always a given, and for this reason, one should move slowly when discussing any emotionally laden issues.

Also, not everyone is very understanding when someone is unemployed and thus has become dependent on his or her mate or government funding because they are ill. We would expect people in general to have sympathy but this is not always the case, especially when it comes to a disease as stigmatized as HIV. The statement to your parents that your boyfriend has HIV would bring fourth a natural sense of protection for their child's health, based on a normal fear that you would become infected. This would add great stress and concern to them and possible resentment toward your boyfriend.

This statement would also raise questions as to why your boyfriend has HIV. It would not be surprising for your parents to begin wondering about this man's past drug use and sexual behavior. This would again raise issues of concern for your parents, as a person's past behavior is usually indicative of their future behavior. And, of course, your friends and family may worry that you will be at heightened risk of becoming infected with HIV yourself.

Speaking to your friends and family on this issue may make them worry that have become involved with someone who may be an emotional and financial burden, to speak frankly, and someone who in their eyes would not be a very "good catch." The very fact that your boyfriend has no indication of illness and is healthy enough to attend a gym would make anyone question why he is not fully employed -- and maybe it should make you wonder too.

Regardless of illness, people need to have a sense that they are productive in life. Employment plays a very important role in most people's lives, providing the structure and the economic independence we need to help in our sense of self. Your boyfriend, who has the strength and discipline to work out in a gym, probably has the ability to "work out his brain" at a form of employment that suits his personality. Aside from his HIV status, why is your boyfriend unemployed? For his own mental (and financial) health, employment should strongly be encouraged.

Taking Stock of the Relationship

The beginning of any intimate relationship is usually a very passionate time, when many core issues can be overlooked by the strong controlling drives of sexual attraction. As psychological research continues to point out, the people in whom we develop a strong interest are usually those we find physically attractive, which speaks little to our long-term social compatibility with this person. Thus, to decide to live together after knowing someone only three months would again raise a great many "red flags" to anyone, not just your concerned parents.

People need to feel in control of their own lives and your boyfriend, who has a history of drug abuse and sexual promiscuity coupled with an unemployed status, does not sound as if he has fully adjusted to living independently. Are you his provider after knowing him only three months? Any courtship should last a while before people move in together, and certainly the relationship should be as equal as possible right from the start, financially as well as emotionally. Financial or emotional concerns should always be discussed before any living arrangement is completed, as they can be overlooked in the rush to set up a home together. Once the passion of lust has settled down, often the emotional and financial burdens take center stage in the couple's discussions, whereas they should have been placed first before living arrangements were already set. No relationship is easy, and HIV certainly doesn't make things any easier. Communication is always the key in any relationship in addition to independent emotional stability!

Giving it Time

For all of these reasons, I would consider holding off telling your family or friends any information on your boyfriend's HIV status. This information will only bring concern to your parents and friends for your safety and possibly bring resentment toward your boyfriend. Further, that he is unemployed cannot be justified by his HIV status unless he is truly disabled. In consultation with his doctor, your boyfriend should consider finding some employment -- not just for financial independence, but also for the structure and emotional balance that employment usually provides.

Further, you should ask yourself why you are motivated to move in with someone after only knowing them three months? Infatuation, coupled with financial needs, is not a sound basis for a long-term, live-in relationship. Time is a good indicator about whether a relationship is the "real thing," and there are good reasons for long "engagements"! Giving things more time will allow two people to get to know each other more fully. After at least a year, you will know if it's really a good idea to move in together, and by then you will be in a better position to discuss with your family and friends your boyfriend's health concerns. Until that time, please be sexually safe and encourage your boyfriend to seek employment and develop his independent living skills.

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. He is also the host of "Ask Dr. Buzz," a Body Positive-sponsored weekly call-in radio show about HIV/AIDS issues on WWRL 1600 AM at 2:30 on Wednesdays.