(Warning: this is not a self-help article. It’s not based on any medical research. And it is definitely not a guide to finding love. Now that we have cleared this up, let me talk about what it is…)
I wanted to share with you another vulnerable side of my life that many don’t see or even know about. It is something I disguise well every day and if you ever met me, you would think I was okay.
It isn't easy living with HIV+. There is so much to consider and take into account let alone try to date or find love. I have been single for the best part of two years and sexually not active for about the same time.
I joke about it with friends these days and they don’t really know how much it affects me deep down. I fight fear with humour. I fight loneliness with banter. I fight isolation with lies.
My mind works on two parallels - the one that tells my body all is okay and you will be fine, and the other that says you are a sad lonely man and this it.
When I was diagnosed with HIV in 2008, I was okay with my sexual and intimate life. I dated and had a few relationships. Yes, it took a while to get over the initial diagnosis, but then I was okay. I was careful with whom I dated and aware of what I needed to do in any situation. This may have been due to the idea that I pushed HIV out of my mind even though I was always very careful
It was late last year that reality hit with the realisation that HIV did actually affect my life for the worse and I was forced to really deal with what it meant to live my this positive life.
“Our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts.”
Since then I have found it extremely difficult to get close to anyone intimately and sexually. I just don’t know how to act now that I’m on HIV treatment or how to get close to anyone. There are a few reasons (excuses);
(Don’t get me wrong, it’s a mind game that plays in my head often and one I’m dealing with. I know for a fact the above is false.)
Mostly I’m okay with my life, but there are days when I just want to hold someone close to me without any judgement or fear. Not always to be sexually intimate with someone, but just to hold someone close. Being in a relationship involves trusting someone, being vulnerable and being compatible.
My mind tells me often that people make the assumption, if you have HIV or an STI, that you can’t find love or be intimate with anyone, or that you are dirty, a sleaze and probably deserve to be infected. What makes this even less true is the same exaggerated assumptions I often put on myself.
Stigma is real on so many different levels, but self-inflicted stigma is actually doing you more harm than anything the world will throw at you.
Everyone deserves love, and everyone deserves respect. My turn will come. It’s not just going to knock on my door. I need to get out there and stop being so down on myself and allow people to see me for who I am and what I am.
I have been looking online to see what sites are available to people who are in the same situation and “looking for love”. There is plenty to choose from and I commend the developers who start these sites with all good intentions. Sadly though nine out of ten guys who are on these sites are there for one thing - that usually means quick random anonymous unprotected sexual encounters. I haven’t met (or hooked up) with any of these guys. It’s just not my thing or who I am.
The same can be said for many sites that don’t seem to encourage love, but thrive on the idea of ‘hooking-up’ for a one nighter. Please don’t get me wrong. We all have needs and desires these sites cater to. I have nothing against them; just don’t advertise love if you are really just advertising sex. It makes the whole process even more difficult for people like me who genuinely want to find love.
Then you have the groups for singles and HIV men. This is great, but again some of the guys who attend these are there for quick sexual satisfaction.
Again, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be judgemental or have an issue with this. I have actually made some effort to try to connect to people using these services. Unfortunately, out of the few people I have connected with, it has always been the same want on their behalf, “I’m just here to hook-up”.
Being HIV doesn't mean you can't date or have a meaningful sexual relationship any more, it simply means you have to be more aware. Just remember there is a difference between awareness and self-inflicted rejection.
I am normal; I just carry some baggage, limitations not road blocks. We all need to allow life to happen to us. Time waits for no-one, so the more isolated you become, the MORE isolated you become. I have lived an isolated life from fear, and it’s time to get my head out of the slum and into the light.
Recently I made the conscious decision to get out of my dark comfort zone. Although they are baby steps, they are steps. I have recently connected with someone who seems to be on the same page as me. He is a little older than me, which is fine. We seem to share the same desires with the same limitations life throws at us. It has only been now that I have started to truly see that I am not alone in this quest to find that someone (and neither are you!).
We have chatted on the phone and via text message over the last little while (we haven’t actually met face to face yet); who knows where this may lead. But I have felt more comfortable talking to him as the days have gone by. At no stage has there been any request to hook-up. Actually we have talked about meeting up for lunch or even a coffee to just chat and meet face to face. WOW, people like this do exist.
For me to make face to face contact will be a huge hurdle, especially with someone who has shown some interest in me already and is also HIV. As I mentioned at the start, I don’t feel like I deserve to meet him or anyone like this most days. But I will get past this and face this fear of rejection and meet him. Who knows, maybe in the near future I will be writing about love in a different way?
Finally…Don't let HIV hold you back. It's time to love and be loved.
I think it’s time to start dating again...
“If you're looking for love, try to discover your own gifts. They shine in your joys and strengths, but they also live-and hide-right in the heart of your greatest insecurities and heartbreaks. If you learn to lead with them in your dating life, you will find-almost without trying-- that you're experiencing mutual attractions with people who love and treasure the very gifts you're discovering.” © 2011 Ken Page,LCSW. All Rights Reserved'.