Relationship Advice: Dating And Disclosing That You Are HIV Positive
Dating is hard for anyone, but dating while positive can pose some unique challenges
By Adam Segal
About six months ago, I was diagnosed as HIV positive. I knew there was a chance of becoming positive because I’d had a few higher-risk slip-ups so wasn’t totally shocked, but I was definitely overwhelmed at first. I have a great GP and started treatment right away, and I quickly became and remained undetectable. I’m only now thinking about dating, and this has me pretty stressed out. I’m terrified that someone will berate me for not disclosing it up front, but also feel like there’s no way to casually drop my status into the conversation without it seeming dramatic or ending up with me getting rejected before they even know me. I’m also aware of the laws around disclosure, and shudder at the horror stories of people being charged for not disclosing. How can I do the “right thing” without freaking guys out or being super awkward? —Evan
I’m so glad to hear that you’re getting good health care and support, and that you’re feeling ready to check back into the dating matrix. Your question highlights a very complex and contentious issue regarding criminalization of HIV-positive folks and the related fears they face about being prosecuted for not revealing their HIV status prior to having sex. I could write pages about how homophobia has
informed laws in ways both oppressive and unhelpful. You may want to look into the nuances of the current laws in your area, to make sure you are fully informed and ready to consider all your options around disclosure.
Beyond those legal factors, my hope is to offer some support about the stress connected with disclosing, and how you can take care of yourself as you start to date. It is clear that you feel a need to be up front with potential sexual partners about your status, and your anxiety makes so much sense. Despite great advances in the treatment and management of HIV, there is still an abundance of fear and judgment that makes disclosure a real drag (criminalization laws really don’t help here!), and the possibility of rejection is all too real. That said, there’s a lot of mixed-status and same-status coupling going on in a relatively breezy way when people are willing to be real with one another and sidestep outdated hysteria or unexamined ignorance.
Most importantly, consider all your options in terms of how and when to disclose. If you feel the need to tell people right away, that is absolutely an option. For some, getting to know someone first and taking the time to see if there is relationship potential before disclosing is what feels most comfortable and practical. How you go about this has to feel right to you, but remember: you certainly don’t have to apologize for having a virus.
There’s no doubt that you will meet guys who welcome your disclosure and won’t feel this to be a barrier to moving things along. Others might initially have a fearful reaction, but with time could adapt to a more current and realistic understanding of hooking up with an undetectable partner. And then there are those dudes who, for a whole host of reasons, are utterly closed to being with an HIV-positive person. (Interestingly, a lot of those guys will hook up with folks whose status is unknown, which intrinsically comes with greater risk.)
Dating, for anyone, can be hard on ye olde self-esteem—all the excitement and lust is usually peppered with moments of rejection and disappointment.Navigating all of that with the additional disclosure piece may not always be simple, but it will certainly get easier as you rack up more experiences—good and bad. Putting your esteem in the hands of another isn’t a good idea for anyone, so remember that
you have every right to hot sex and deep love, and that guys who don’t give you the time of day solely because you’re poz have no business sustaining your attention anyway.
ADAM SEGAL, writer and therapist, works in private practice in downtown Toronto. Ask him your
relationship or mental-health questions at @firstname.lastname@example.org.