One of the saddest things in today's society is that as adults, rumors and preconceptions often keep us from taking risks in our careers and personal lives. For most HIV-positive people, disclosing our status in a new relationship is met with anxiety and panic as we ask ourselves questions like, "are they going to accept me the minute they know I’m HIV- positive?" or worse, "will they stop loving me?"
I am HIV-Positive and have dated guys who are negative. My first boyfriend and I got to know each other through Facebook, Messenger to be specific. At that time, I was immature and not really looking for a long-term relationship. Besides, due to my status, I didn’t think a relationship, long or short, was an option.
At the time, I also thought that the only people capable of finding me attractive would be someone who was HIV positive themselves. That did not turn out to be true. Though it took courage for me to disclose my status, that disclosure made me realise that not everyone is hesitant to date someone living with the virus.
Quite often people would assume that my partner is positive and I would have to correct their ignorance. In fact, my partner and I often fought about it. Being positive, I was hung up on what my friends and others would say about me and about us. As time went on, we used these challenges as opportunities to educate them and ourselves. This happened by coming to the realisation that the anxiety we held over the relationship had nothing to do with us or HIV. It was the self-stigma that he and I carried. Once we got over that, the process of self-care and monitoring followed.
HIV prejudice runs deep in our culture. I think it’s one of the only health conditions that welcome judgment from a larger population. It is not like dating someone with diabetes because there is added social pressure.
As a result of this kind of judgement, many sero-discordant couples choose to keep their status private, which means people in similar situations are less likely to be informed on how to deal with HIV’s unique challenges. We usually have to figure this out on our own.
The truth is that HIV does not ruin the perfect relationship but rather the stigma both parties attach to it. The world we live in today is not the same as the world of yesterday due to the number of technological and medical advances. This includes easier HIV regimens (requiring less pills), more prevention options such as PrEP (a daily HIV pill negative people at high risk take - when taken properly it lowers their chances of getting infected) and more media visibility of those sharing their HIV status, both celebrities and the common people like me. The biggest change is the advent of U=U, which means that an undetectable viral load is untransmittable sexually.
The question you must be asking is "how does one thrive in a sero-discordant relationship?" (a relationship where one partner is positive and the other is negative). Despite all the medical advances and breakthroughs I can't say that HIV will never be a factor in the relationship. The same goes for any condition you or your partner may have, be it diabetes, cancer or resting bitch face.
The reality is that many people are still illiterate on proper education. When most people hear the word “HIV”, they automatically assume that sex will never be safe, therefore the relationship will never work out.
Well, I’m here to call that nonsense.
In this spirit, here are some of my thoughts of being in a discordant relationship with advice for negative individuals who have recently started or are considering a relationship with someone positive.
§ You can still have a healthy sexual relationship
It is and was once thought that being in a sexually active relationship with someone positive carried the risk that their partner would pass the virus to them. I'm not sure if you're aware of this but even before PrEP there was little risk of passing the virus as long as couples were practicing safe sex by using condoms.
These days we have what we call due protection, this simply means one’s risk of getting HIV from sex can be even lower if you combine PrEP with condoms and other prevention methods (seek doctors’ advice on the preventive methods). Please note that PrEP is only effective against HIV and not other sexually transmitted disease such as STIs. So if either partners are having unprotected sex outside the relationship, whether negative or positive, you're both at risk of possible exposure to STIs.
§ Don’t be scared when your partner gets a cold or other ailment
Just because we get a cold or exposed to the flu does not mean you have to come at us like mothers ready to send us to the hospital. As people living with HIV we get sick just like every other person. Yes, it might take a little longer to clear up but other times it might be so brief you wonder if we were faking it. When we get a cold or ailment, a simple blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and a couple of movies makes a difference depending on your partners preference.
§ Don’t take it personally if they don’t want you accompany them to a medical review
There is some value in taking our partner to an appointment only to introduce the doctor to our new amour, but as a warning. If you go, you will discover that our visits are boring. You’ll learn that we can sometimes arrive on time to our appointment only to be seen late by the doctor and when we finally speak to the doctor, the visit itself may last less than 20 minutes. There may also be more waiting time to have blood drawn, of which results are provided two weeks after the appointment. So if we say no, it's probably for the best.
§ Don’t watch them take their pills everyday
This is my own annoyance. Whenever I took daily my medicine which is like twice everyday someone would be watching me with sympathy as if I was swallowing knives and would ask whether it was bitter or not and/or if it choked me at any point, followed by the are you okay question. When this happened I was often tempted to sit the everyone down and given them a lecture on HIV. The annoyance stems from being reminded of your status through the increasing attention, not the medicine.
§ Don’t love them any different
This last one is very simple. When entering a relationship with someone who is HIV positive don’t enter thinking you’re doing us a favor. Relationships are built on an equal playing ground and not of one feeling as though they're either settling or someone coming into it as a savior. I'd rather be alone if I knew that my partner had such intentions. The number one rule in any relationship is accountability. When dating someone of opposite status, this rule becomes crucial. Never neglect the aspects of the relationship as a whole like listening, validating, affirming and laughing. Knowing that someone loves me for me, regardless of my HIV status and all is beautiful. Just be ready for mutual affection.
Never introduce your partner as someone living with HIV, simply DON’T!!!
This rule is one of the most important rules. For many of us positives, it is normal to be overly cautious about our partner's health and be worrisome about transmitting the virus to them but let us not internalize it into shame, fear, guilt, regret and self-stigma by going the above (title).
When the person is worth it, health conditions become another obstacle that slowly disappears in the grand scheme of things.
Until next time its goodbye from me. Don't forget to keeping loving :)