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Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Way!

Don't Ask, Don't Tell? No Way!


No one could have come up with a more frigid $10 word to describe the good loving that can occur between a couple made up of an HIV-positive and an HIV-negative person: serodiscordance. But who says romance between magnets with opposite charges has to be so, well, discordant? It just might be that, for many people, not only can 'opposites' attract, but they also can come together in a way that is truly harmonious. Which is not to say that, as in any relationship, there will not be peaks and valleys on the quest to finally have, to quote When Harry Met Sally', 'a date on national holidays.' So we at HIV Plus have cooked up a few pointers that might bring you closer to that mushy, happy ending to your own romantic comedy, replete with fireworks. First of all, if you meet someone and you are hoping he or she will become more than just a fly-by-night lay, you are going to have to break the big news to this object of your affection. In his book Love in the Time of HIV psychotherapist Michael Mancilla suggests a four-date strategy. He says to start with simple coffee and work your way toward the final, day-long date in the park. Then disclose the information. Then jump into the sack (should the mood strike). This allows some time for intimacy and trust to build but not so much time that your love interest feels trapped or lied to when you break the news. Get rejected? Get over it, says Manhattan shrink Michael Shernoff; otherwise, you are just reinforcing an unhealthy victim status. 'The amount of energy people put into rejection is nuts,' he says. 'It's just rejection, not the end of the world.' Doing the Deed OK, so you have told your future husband, and happily for Marcya Owens, 34, an HIV-positive Illinois resident, the man in your life says the bug is not a good enough reason not to be with you. Now get ready to talk, talk, talk about what place the virus has in the broader scope of your relationship. Robert H. Remien, Ph.D., an expert on serodiscordance in relationships and a research scientist at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies in New York City, says, 'Don't ignore [HIV]. Don't make it the elephant in the room, but also don't make it the elephant you have to talk about all the time.' Ron Lovejoy, a 42-year-old Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, says his HIV-negative boyfriend of 18 months is loath to discuss his feelings about Lovejoy's life with HIV. 'We're not talking about anything openly,' Lovejoy says. 'We're not even talking about the relationship.' His boyfriend pressures him to have unsafe sex, a phenomenon that is common for negative partners in serodiscordant relationships, according to experts. 'Taking unwanted sexual risks can be an attempt to prove one's love or express anger at the virus,' Remien explains. He further points out that Lovejoy might be surprised by what he would hear if his boyfriend opened up. 'When I work with couples one of the points I think they're always reassured to hear is that in reality, they typically have very similar things on their minds: fear of illness, fear of what's going to happen in the future, fear of death.' When it comes to negotiating safer sex, 34-year-old Kevin Carson of Seattle, positive for 14 years, says, 'You just have to work with them and talk about it. There's a whole lot you can do that's safe sex. And the more you're around them, the more you do and the better the sex gets.' Watch out for falling into codependent roles, though, in which you are assigned the role of the helpless sick person and she is the full-time nurse'a dynamic that can arise even if you're feeling perfectly healthy. Clayton Siem, 34, who lives in Atlanta with his HIV-negative wife of six years, says he cannot help but resent being coddled by her. 'She just does it without thinking, and she does it out of love,' he says. As a man who has not only HIV but hepatitis B and C as well, he says, 'I always remind her that I'm not handicapped.' Not Tonight, Dear Be prepared for fluctuations in sex drive. But remember, there are plenty of reasons why people are not feeling sexy, and a lot of them have nothing to do with HIV'which is a reminder of the many issues that HIV can complicate in a relationship. As Shernoff puts it, 'If it wasn't HIV, two people would be doing it over your glaucoma or your whatever.' In other words, everyone has problems, and there is nothing that says that HIV cannot be just as manageable as the money issues that your friends struggle over. Finally, who is to say that HIV is all gloom and doom? In the same way that many people who seroconvert report that getting the virus helped them refocus their lives and better understand what is most important to them, HIV can make two people take a relationship much more seriously. '[HIV] does bring us closer together,' says Owens, who has been married for six years and has spent much of that time feeling unwell. 'It strengthens our relationship. We have been back and forth'to hell and back again'but we hold on because we love each other.'

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