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An Honest, Open Reaction to Learning That My Partner was HIV+


I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, think that I had the perfect reaction, and this is certainly not a ‘How to…’ sort of post. Rather, as the title explains, it is the unedited diary entry that I wrote the day that an ex boyfriend told me that he is HIV positive.

This incident happened a long time ago, and I have deliberated since about whether to post my entry, often asking what good it will achieve. I do not propose that this will show others how to behave, or try to suggest that this is how other people will react when faced with the same situation. However, perhaps by sharing my own experiences, it will elucidate on the thoughts that went through at least one person’s mind. Hopefully it will help either member of serodiscordant couples to see the mentality that others have travelled through.

I do not keep a diary, but I have often felt that writing things down helps form my thoughts properly and coherently. He told me was positive one morning, a few weeks into our relationship. I wrote these thoughts down that evening.

“What to do?

‘I’ve got something to tell you, but I don’t know how to…’

I lifted my head from the pillow and showed him that he had my full attention.

‘I’m positive.’

The words “are you joking?” almost escaped my mouth before I had the sense to stop them – who would joke about that? I stared him in the eye – there was no joking here. Yet there was also no sign of weakness – I quickly realised that this was a man who had been forced to deal with his reality and was trying to do it in the most appropriate, self-respecting way. He didn’t look away; if he was ashamed then he wasn’t showing it.

If you’d asked me before how I would react in this situation I probably would’ve told you some cliché about how I’d expect my mind to race with a hundred thoughts and questions. But it didn’t. My mind went numb. My thoughts were wiped and replaced with a single, unanswerable “What…?” The confusion and shock echoed inside my brain, behind my slightly wide-eyed face.

I’m writing this today, the day I’ve just learnt that the guy I’m dating (maybe even “going out with” – damn we haven’t actually had that conversation yet… would that make this easier? Or harder? Is it even relevant?) told me one of the biggest news that someone you care about can ever tell you. And so the “what…” questions have swarmed and swamped my mind all day. What am I meant to say? To do? What does this mean – for him, for me, for us? Can I deal with this?

I needed to get out of the house, I knew that much, but I was worried about looking like I wanted to run away. So when he suggested we went for a walk it was very welcome. I took what was probably the longest shower of my life, then took a long look at myself in the mirror, raised an eyebrow and thought “right…let’s see how you deal with this one. Because it’s happening; and you’ve got to deal with it.”

We walked. We stopped for coffee. Walked more. More to avoid standing still and force a conversation and less because we had somewhere to go. I saw a fair amount of London today.

All day I’ve wanted to both walk away – to get space, to allow myself to think, to physically remove myself from the difficult reality I was faced with – and to hug and hold him like I’ve never hugged someone before.

We’ve spent almost the whole day together, and I’m really pleased about that. There were times of silence, there were moments where he said I was staring at him a lot and he wasn’t sure if I wanted to hug him or punch him, and there were moments when we laughed and joked about completely unrelated things, just like any other day so far in this relationship. That was important.

And of course, more detail emerged. I should be clear: he is very fit and healthy, his medications are working well, and his viral load is virtually undetectable. For those of you who know a bit about HIV (which frankly should be all of you) will know that this means he is basically not contagious.

This is, ironically, part of the problem. All day I have been feeling like I’ve just been presented with this massive, life-altering news that should change everything, yet I’m actually struggling to work out how this is going to change anything
Yes, we need to [continue] to be very careful.
Yes, there is a chance that his meds will fail to keep being effective and he could become ill.
Yes, he has to take meds everyday and sometimes they have side-effects.
But none of these come close to being a reason to break up with someone.

Yet there has been this sadness that has hung over me today. The number of times he has apologised suggests that it’s something wrong. When, at towards the end of the day, I asked ‘What now? What’s changed?’ He replied with ‘For me, nothing. I’m the same. I really like you. I’m just a young, healthy HIV positive man’. And for some reason that last part hit me like a hot, stinging slap to the face; a lump swelled instantly in my throat – a lump that told me that even though I couldn’t put my finger on why, this did makes things different.

Later I realised. The bad feelings to learning this news all came down to one thing: fear.
Fear for catching HIV myself of course. But this is not really a threat.
Fear of telling my friends, my family, my mum.
and fear of how strangers will react. Every medical form. Every job offer. Every trip to the doctor. I could feel the judging eyes already; other peoples’ ignorance burning into us; making us feel ashamed for something that isn’t even our fault.

But I guess most of all I feel sad. I feel very sad for him. He has HIV, and all because an ex-boyfriend of his was unfaithful. There were times today where I forgot about it – we laughed, really laughed, and joked. Other than this massive weirdness, we’ve had a really lovely day. But there were also moments where the doubt swamped my brain and my emotions took an inexplicable dive. I found myself with welling eyes and that lump in my throat becoming all too familiar. No matter how well the meds work, and how healthy he is, he is always going to have HIV.

With all confusion in my head, I was desperate to prove to him that this doesn’t change anything. I wanted to hug him. I wanted to have sex with him, to show I wasn’t concerned. I wanted to tell him I love him. Yet I was too scared. Scared that tomorrow I’ll wake up and realise I’m not OK with this, that I can’t deal with it, and that having pretended that I can just makes it worse.”

Having emptied a little bit of my swirling mind onto paper, I fell asleep, exhausted. The next day, and the days after were also tough. But as the shock faded, my mind became clearer. Gradually I realised that this was a man that I was developing very strong feelings for, and that this was not something that was going to come between us. In essence: the fear dissolved. Not completely, of course, but enough that it was not overpowering my feelings towards him.

The other thing that gave me courage and strength to calm my fears was realising that my situation was pale in comparison to his. If he could be so brave and self-respecting about this, then I certainly could get on and deal with it.



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7 thoughts on “An Honest, Open Reaction to Learning That My Partner was HIV+”

  1. Wanna hear the flip side? Twenty some years back, I had just taken up residence in LA, after a tragically messy marriage and heartbreaking divorce from a woman I once loved. Short version, I was no longer a closet case, and freedom enthralled me, like a drug I had never tried. I played it safe with any sex partner, probably overly so. Brought the sero-status issue up, usually on the way from the bar to the car. And trusted all responses, after all, who would lie about such a critical matter. Within weeks, I met a charming, very appealing, age appropriate man. Job, car, apt, check check check. I told him my status, he averted his eyes, and confirmed his negative status. Why I doubted him, I can’t say. I tried to trust. We dated, confirmed our mutual interest in the holy grail of monogamy. But kept the sex sane. 7 weeks into it, on my birthday of all days, he jumped out of bed impossibly early, and said he wanted to hit the mall before the crowds. To pick out my gift. I was encouraged to lay around in his bed, get up at my will, and we would touch base soon. The front door had just clicked when his phone rang. It went to voice mail, and the caller id’d herself as Nurse so and so form Dr whozit’s office. Just confirming this morning’s arrival, less than an hour later. I knew I was in no danger, except emotionally. When I confronted him that day, he responded as cool as a breeze… If I would have been up front with you day one, you would have kicked me to the curb.

    How he knew that about me, a virtual stranger, burned. I had and have been in casual and one long term relationship with a poz man since, and certainly one nighters.

    And I had feelings now, for this man. But the lying, so blatant, ended it. Me, I would have tried, kept the dialogue open. But he, after being caught, shut me right out.

    Nice, eh?

  2. I am a little amused with this essay and at the same time very angry. I appreciate your honesty. I appreciate you concern. I appreciate you taking time to write about your feelings. But right now I can barely breathe. My heart is thumping. I won’t go into a rant but insteadI want to give you two pieces of advice.

    1. Do your friend a favor. Dump his ass. He will be better off and so will you.

    2. You are in a safer relationship with an undetectable HIV+ man then you will ever be with a negative man in a monogamous relationship. I cannot tell you how many people I have met that got infected with an “monogamous negative” bf that was cheating and having unsafe sex.

    Bottomline? NEVER EVER EVER EVER have unsafe sex. Even with a loving monogamous negative boyfriend. (And I am sure that is what you really want).

    You are lucky to have found love but I am not sure I can say the same thing about your boyfriend.

    Sorry for the harsh response. You were thoughtful and apologetic but you are still immature and not worthy of this great guy. He is the one living with HIV. Not you. With today’s medications he is likely to live til a ripe old age. I hope you are as lucky. If you stay together he may very well attend your funeral.

    1. Bob,
      Let me me clarify right now: I do not wish to enter into an argument with you, but I must respond to your comments which are unfounded and inaccurate.
      While it is clear you wrote your message in anger, I am little confused as to why. I can only assume from the comments that you wrote that you did not fully read my article.
      Thank you for the advice, but
      1. The relationship is already over, as noted quite clearly in the article. This was nothing to do with his status, but even still, thanks for the support.
      2. I stated quite clearly in my article that I knew that him being undetectable meant that his status was therefore irrelevant.
      While I completely understand (and actually tend to agree with) the point you were making in stating that that you are “safer” in this relationship, it is a wild generalisation. I am also fully aware that many “monogamous negative” relationships can be dangerous – I have my own personal experience of this, but do not wish to disclose the details.
      I never once suggested I wanted to have unprotected sex, in fact I advocated the opposite.

      Next time you comment on someone’s personal and honest account of a sensitive subject matter, perhaps you should be sure to read the article fully. I thought long and hard about whether to post this, but friends of mine encouraged me to in the hope that it may help others. The content is unedited, but that is explained at the beginning.
      You have assumed that my EX boyfriend (rather than current, as you continually call him) is a great guy, despite knowing nothing about him other than his HIV status. This speaks volumes of your bias.
      Just because I dared to share the thoughts and emotions that I went through when I first learnt, you have to shoot me down because it is not as serious as what others have been through? I am not so naive as to assume that my plight even pales in comparison to what my ex boyfriend has dealt with, but the point of the article was to help those in sero-discordant relationships and to understand the lesser voiced reaction. You have proven the need for such an article.

      1. Frankly I found your ramblings a bit difficult to follow. It may be cultural. That said my opinion is just as valuable as yours. Just because you are published in a blog it does not make you right. Your HIV bigotry was more what I was responding to rather than the details of whether you are still with the guy you were writing about. Your response was full of many contradictions to your original post. It doesn’t matter that you stated “clearly in my article that I knew that him being undetectable meant that his status was therefore irrelevant”. As odd as that directly lifted quote is, it did matter to the point of your essay. Your response to his admitting he had HIV was the whole point of your essay. You went to great length explaining that you were unsure of whether you should even write the article. I could go on and on but just don’t care what you think. I think you are young and immature and need to be careful addressing a subject that you have not had over 30 years of personal experience dealing with. Your article offended me and all the people in the world telling you you are wonderful and sensitive will not change how your posted came across to me. I am entitled to my opinion. I am not interested in pursuing this further. Good luck. Good bye. Your intent was good but poorly conveyed. Stay safe, play safe and be careful writing about things that may offend people with HIV. And yes, your article offended me and there may be a need for an article like the one you wrote but it did not deliver.

        1. I did not state your opinion was invalid, I said your statements were inaccurate and suggested that you hadn’t even actually read the article properly. You made big assumptions, and you filled in all the gaps about me and my ex-boyfriend based on very little facts. I certainly never said your opinion was less valuable than mine simply because I write on a blog. Again, you have put words into my mouth. On the contrary, you have told me that you don’t care what I think.
          I would like to remind what this article actually was: a[n unedited] initial reaction. I prefaced the content with an explanation about how this was an account of the thoughts that went through my mind the day I found out. This is how I reacted to the shock; it is certainly not how I feel now. Forgive me for not having the perfect immediate reaction – but the point of sharing this article was to illuminate the initial reactions that ONE person went through. One person who learnt a lot along the way and who quickly overcame his initials fears (as I explained in the article). I laid out my experience and admitted my errors and flaws and how I have learnt from them. I am sorry that my immediate reaction offended you – I am not entirely proud of all the thoughts that went through my head that day, but I was trying to process everything and act in the best way possible. I may be young, and relatively inexperienced, but I have never once claimed to know it all, and was careful to state that I was not preaching. This was never meant to be a post of someone with 30 years experience of living with HIV. It was simply exactly what it said it was.

  3. Thanks for posting. As ever my brain went off on a totally different tangent after reading this. I began to wonder about traveling with HIV/AIDS meds and if there is a resource to check which countries allow you in and with what particular meds?

What do you think?