Imagine if you will. You walk into a crowded restaurant. The buzz of conversation and laughter fill the air. The greeter asks you to share a table with a handsome stranger. You agree without hesitation. Over a delicious meal and pleasant conversation, you discover that you have a lot in common and would like to see one another again. After two or three successful dates you and the man of your dreams mutually decide that you would like to begin dating exclusively. Your happily ever after is right at your fingertips but you are suddenly reminded by the small voice in the back of your head that you have to tell him your secret. Excitement turns to uncertainty and uncertainty suddenly morphs to fear. Questions of doubt swirl through your mind like a whirlwind. Will he still like me? Will he leave? Will he stay? Will he tell my secret to others? Although this scenario sounds more like the opening scene of a romantic chick flick, it is the reality of thousands of HIV+ women. On the outside, many of us are strong, vibrant, intelligent women who desire to be in healthy, positive, romantic relationships but negative attitudes about the virus that infects our insides often hinder those relationships from becoming a reality.
As if dating wasn’t complicated enough, dating after a positive diagnosis can be quite complex. I’ve been a part of many group discussions with other HIV+ women about when to disclose to a potential mate. Most of us agree that the timing of disclosure depends on the situation. However, experience has taught me the sooner I disclose, the better. I’ll be the first to admit that disclosing to a potential partner is not easy. It’s almost like preparing for a Category 4 hurricane--you pray for the best but prepare for the worst. The best case scenario is that you disclose to a person who is very knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS and therefore reacts with compassion and understanding. The worst case scenario is that you disclose to someone who ascribes to the negative stereotypes that propel stigma and therefore reacts by being judgmental and distant. I have experienced both extremes of these two possible outcomes and a few reactions in between.
I am personal friends with several, happily married HIV+ women whose husbands are supportive, caring, and because of knowing the facts, remain HIV free. Many of their husbands are their greatest ally in the fight to end AIDS and are their biggest fans and cheerleaders when they speak publicly about their experiences of living positively. Because of these men, I know there are others out there who are willing to look past the infection that flows through my veins to see the true beauty of my heart that radiates through my smile. I wait patiently for the day when that unexpected lunch companion or fellow train passenger crosses my path. I will tell him my secret and he will happily stay. I will cry on his shoulder, and he’ll wipe the tears away. I will fight till AIDS ends and he’ll stand by my side. He will read whenever I write about what I’m feeling inside. In return, I will love him with everything I have to give and healthily ever after we will LIVE.