Once you fall in love, you realize how beautiful being in love actually is, especially for anyone who is HIV-positive. It’s critical to have someone who loves you for you and can see past your illness. After years of thinking I would never marry, in part because I am HIV-positive, I found a loving and caring partner. The longer we were together, the more I realized she is a key element in my health, because when you are loved and cared for, your heart and soul fill up inside. You are happier and feel complete, all things that strengthen your immune system.
This benefit comes not just from the love of your partner, wife, or husband. It actually comes from anyone who shows you love and cares for you, including friends and family members. Often people who are HIV-positive just don’t know how important it is for us to love and be loved.
I’ve learned a lot from my relationship with my partner, Lisa. Almost all my adult life I have been with serodiscordant partners. I’ve only had one partner who was also positive, and that was actually my worst relationship. I learned early on that HIV status doesn’t tell you much about a person. What does is open communication.
It has never been easy to disclose my positive status. My method for handling disclosure, which I recommend for anyone in a new relationship or on the dating market, is always to first get to know the person and feel them out before you come out about your status. If things are getting deep, spiritually and mentally deep, you must disclose and give them the opportunity to choose the relationship. It is not an easy thing to do. I would get so scared. I would fear rejection by this person who I had connected with on so many levels, and I knew that they could tell me they couldn’t deal with the situation.
Loving someone with HIV is loving someone with a communicable chronic medical condition that requires regular care, protection, and medication. While Lisa and I were dating, I realized, Wow, I found my soul mate after all these years. I feel so much for her, and now I have to tell her about me.
I realized I had to tell her everything about my life, including my HIV, and risk the rejection I so feared. I said to myself, You are a strong woman. Tell her, but make her feel comfortable either way. I actually disclosed through our Internet chats. And, I have to be honest, I beat around the bush for an hour before I came out with it.
“Lisa, I have something very serious to say about me before we move forward.” She wrote back, “Tell me! I don’t care what it is!”
I answered, “Well, it is something very, very serious.” I just couldn’t say it, even though I kept urging myself to get it over with. Finally, I wrote, “I am HIV-positive.” After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, I clicked and hit “send,” and anxiously anticipated the response.
There was a momentary pause. I worried I would throw up. Then, a blip on my computer screen:
“OK. And?” she had written.
“So,” I quickly wrote back, “That is my secret.”
She responded, “I don’t care. I already love you.”
I was relieved but at the same time worried that I had put her on the spot. I wrote back, “You know, if you need time to think or just want to be friends, I am OK with that also.”
She responded quickly: “No! I love you!” Those were the sweetest words to my ears. All my fears were gone. Finally, my soul mate knew everything about me, and it was such a wonderful moment. I felt so free.
That was five years ago. Today, we are happily married, and Lisa has supported my work as an HIV-positive Latina activist. My work requires me to be out and visible and to educate people, and that exposes Lisa to stigma as well, as an HIV-negative person married to a positive person. But she doesn’t care what people think. She is supportive, compassionate, and loving, and I am blessed to be a part of her life.
I have told her that if being cured of HIV meant having to leave her, I would choose living with her because that is my happiness, which is ultimately what we are all looking for. We all need to love and be loved, and when you’re HIV-positive, it’s good for your health.
MARIA MEJIA is a Miami-based social media activist who blogs for TheBody, the Well Project, and Until There’s a Cure. A part of Gilead’s Advocate Network and a founder of English and Spanish international HIV support groups on Facebook, Mejia has many bilingual vlogs that can be found on YouTube.