My name is David, and I’ve probably been right where you are. Whether you’re living with HIV or know someone who is, I know what it’s like to disclose my HIV status to someone else. I also know what it’s like to have someone disclose their status to me.
After being diagnosed with HIV, I faced several challenges, especially when it came to dating. One person I dated felt he had to drink alcohol to be intimate. Someone else said he was OK with my status, but it turned out he was living with HIV and never disclosed to me. Shocking, right?
Eventually, I met my supportive partner, Johnny, but I faced many obstacles along the way. If you’re living with HIV and dealing with stigma, here’s my advice for you.
Dating when you don’t have a chronic illness is challenging enough. There are so many ways you can meet people, whether through social media, matchmaking websites, or at the gym.
Finding someone willing to date me after my diagnosis was difficult for me because I didn’t know who to trust with this sensitive information. Not to mention, it was difficult having to disclose my HIV status at all.
When I was on the dating scene after my diagnosis, I was particular about who I told about my HIV status. As a public health professional, it was a little easier for me to bring up the topic, but I still listened for subtle clues in the conversation.
After talking about my profession, I’d say, “I was recently tested for STDs, including HIV. When was the last time you were tested?” And things like, “I know it’s not a death sentence like it used to be, but do you think you could date or have a relationship with someone living with HIV?”
Answers to those important questions would let me know if the person was interested in knowing more about the topic. Plus, it’d help me see if they were interested in beginning a relationship with me that could get serious.
I disclosed my HIV status to my current partner during our first face-to-face meeting. Once I told him and he saw how knowledgeable I was about my own health, he took the information and talked to his healthcare provider. Johnny’s physician told him that we’ve made huge advancements in treatments for HIV, but he must ask himself if he’s willing to be a caretaker should the need arise.
I’d encourage others to have the same type of confidence in the person they want to enter a meaningful long-term relationship with. Encourage them to do some research on their own and seek out information from reputable sources.
Of course, we want to assume the best for the future. But your partner must be prepared to be there for you should things take unexpected turns due to complications or side effects of new medications. Other times, you might just need their emotional support.
Johnny’s reaction was very different from my sister’s reaction, which consisted of her hyperventilating over the phone when I told her. While we laugh about it now — almost 10 years later — her reaction was rooted in fear and misinformation.
My partner Johnny has been supportive since the day we met, but I can’t leave you with just that. We spent hours sharing information about our lives and our personal goals for the future. Talking to him in person the day I finally met him was effortless, but I still had reservations about disclosing.
When I got up the nerve to share my diagnosis with Johnny, I was terrified. I thought, “Who could blame me?” The one person I felt I’d grown close to and could talk to about anything could very well stop talking to me after I disclosed.
But the exact opposite happened. He thanked me for disclosing and immediately asked me how I felt. I could tell by the look on his face that he was concerned about my well-being. Meanwhile, my only thought was, “I think you’re great and I hope you stick around!”
Dating is complicated, especially when you live with HIV. But you can get through it, just like me and so many others before me. Face your fears head on, ask the hard questions, and listen for the answers you need to feel comfortable moving forward with someone. Remember, you may be the only education the other person has about HIV and what it means to live with the virus.
David L. Massey is a motivational speaker who travels sharing his story of “Life Beyond the Diagnosis.” He is a public health professional in Atlanta, Georgia. David launched a national speaking platform through strategic partnerships and truly believes in the power of relationship building and sharing best practices when dealing with matters of the heart. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram or his website www.davidandjohnny.org.