Dear Dr. Gary, I had been dating this guy for a month or so, and we decided it was time to get intimate. So I disclosed my HIV status. He said it didn’t bother him, but he made this excuse about wanting to wait a little longer to really get to know each other. He hasn’t returned any of my texts since then. I don’t want to go through life alone, but sometimes I think maybe I will be. Signed, Lonely in Long Island
The road can feel pretty lonely when you don’t have that one special person walking along beside you. Probably every week that a client a client tells me how much they want to be in love. How sad they feel about being alone and how hard it is to meet someone to have a life with.
Let’s face it. Whether you’re in your 20s and maybe just starting to look for a life partner, or you’re further along in life, it’s not easy to find the right person. Living with HIV can add an extra wrinkle to the process of connecting with people who might have dating potential: Disclosing your diagnosis to someone who may or may not be very understanding. And if they are HIV-negative and not very well educated, that can leave you feeling like HIV is a pretty lonely road.
The simple truth is that your HIV diagnosis affects the people in your life. It’s not something that you, or your partner, can pretend doesn’t need to be acknowledged and discussed, as you attempted to do with this guy you were dating. But as you learned (or maybe relearned) not everybody you meet is going to be willing to step up to the plate. As a result, it’s only human that you are feeling a little hesitant to take the risk of meeting new people. And if you’ve had a few disappointments along the way, you might also be wondering if having a partner is even in your future.
In my experience, when you are living with HIV, getting connected with the right person is an inside job. By that, I mean it starts with working on your own attitude toward dating and having a relationship. And the important work you do on yourself is a whole lot more important than the dating tips you might be reading about, or your well-meaning friends may be passing on to you.
To have a healthy relationship, I think it’s important to be comfortable with yourself, and confident in your ability to meet your own needs. Even to be able to face the future on your own and to not only be okay with that, but to feel like you have a quality life even if that means being single. After all, we all have to be able to make ourselves happy first. Nobody else can do that for us.
Here are some ways to do that:
Build a strong friendship network. We need people in our life who care about us, and whom we care about, to be with during the good times and the hard times. Friendships help you to maintain a solid foundation. And when your foundation is solid, you are in a better position to be open to a relationship because it will enhance your life rather than out of neediness or desperation to have someone to make you feel complete. After all, you’re already complete.
Build yourself up. If you are caught up in reminding yourself how unlovable you are, then your dating life will be all about proving to yourself that you’re right. Stop labeling yourself. Especially with labels you don’t want – or need – to live up to. Sure, living with HIV presents some challenges. But you are the same person lovable and caring person you have always been. Always keep in mind: you are not your diagnosis.
Take your eye off the ball. By focusing too hard on something, we can end up getting in our own way. And sending other people running for the hills. Instead of making finding a life partner your mission in life, make it your mission to have a quality life — quality in all areas of your life — right now and not sometime in the future (like when you have a partner).
Just be your best you. Think of it this way: you is what you got. Your interests, your talents, your unique personality, your compassion for others. Let your light shine! When you’re happy with your life, and living it on your own terms, you are going to be that much more attractive to others. Who isn’t attracted to confidence?
Plus's mental health editor Gary McClain, Ph.D., is a counselor in New York City with a specialty in coping with HIV and other chronic health conditions. His books include The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life With Joy.