When I met my husband in 2000, I was entranced. He was 14 years younger, looked like he walked out of a Calvin Klein underwear ad, and he was infatuated with me. It was flattering and I should have left it at that, but instead of listening to my heart I listened to my head, which told me, He's nice, handsome, and he loved me'isn't that enough? That's not settling, is it?
Yes, it is. It took me 12 years to realize that. A sign that it was not meant to be was that when he proposed, I sought out a therapist to help me decide if I should marry him. Everyone around me, including my mother, told me, 'You are so lucky someone wants to be with you.' That's because I was already HIV-positive. I ignored my instincts because I believed them.
I am writing this for the people out there slowly and quietly withering away in relationships that just do not work and cannot figure out a way to leave because they feel too old, unattractive, HIV-positive, or anything else on your so-called undesirable list.
It took me 12 years to make a leap because it was never that bad. But it also was never that good. I think that is the first question you need to ask yourself is, 'When it was good, was it great?' If the answer is 'No,' you then might want to ask why you are there. At the top of my list of reasons for staying was being HIV-positive. Who else is going to want to be with me? This reasoning was so ingrained in me by friends, family, and society that deep down I bought into it. This reasoning was followed by the laments of all my HIV-negative girlfriends in their 50s on how limited my options would be and how I would probably spend the last part of my life alone.
Even if that were true, it is better for me to be alone, pursue my dreams, and feel the freedom of my life rather than constantly trying to make something work that never really worked to begin with.
Next was guilt. I stayed an extra four years when I knew it was over because he held my hand through eight miserable years of sickness, and for that I will always be grateful. But he chose to do that. I chose to stay through his failed business and emotional breakdown. We went through bankruptcy and foreclosure, but he never recovered. Sometimes staying is the selfish thing. It might seem cruel but people often have to work harder to heal when they are alone. Because I stayed and took care of everything, my husband could spend 10 hours a day in front of the computer as a way of coping. After I left, he had to pull his life together.
I have often thought I should have tried harder to make my relationship work, but there are some things you just can't make better. When I realized I might live another 20 years with the help of medication, I looked at my life and my relationship and realized there was no way I could live that way for two or more decades'at least not without drugs, alcohol, and massive amounts of chocolate cake. We had nothing in common. We could not find one activity that both of us enjoyed. We lived our separate lives, which translated into separate beds. The sex ended about the time the guilt kicked in.
I did an exercise where I wrote down what I wanted in a sexual partner. I used to say sex was not that important. I satisfied myself on a regular basis and really like masturbation, but once I put pen to paper I realized how much I wanted to have sex with someone who I could be emotionally intimate with, feel interested in, and love. It hurt to realize I was nowhere close to that ideal in my current relationship.
Maybe there is no ideal partner out there for me, but as long as I stay in a non-functioning relationship there will never be room for that person to show up. I needed to do one of the most painful things I have ever done and end my marriage with divorce. It is too fresh to give you a progress report, but I can say that in my heart I did the right thing even if my head is still screaming.