After the first few rounds of failed relationships, it can take some positive affirmations and a few Sex and the City reruns not to become disillusioned with the prospect of finding love. Unfortunately, Tylenol doesn’t cure heartache, and a breakup can seem to break you altogether. Still, we keep trying and hope the next one will love us for all the reasons the last one didn’t.
The good news: As we get older, the image of the man we see standing beside us at the altar starts to take shape. We curb dating wildly inappropriate people and become more discerning when choosing our Friday night dinner guests. The bad news: With every potential love comes a series of risks. As the years start to tick by, every bet we make on love seems to be a little more weighted. What if his mother is horrible? What if his friends don’t like me? Or… What if he rejects me for my HIV-positive status?
Learning which risks are unavoidable and which are optional is something crucial for us to do when swimming in the dating pool. Protection from possible disease, including HIV, should be on the mind of every single gay man. However, the risk of dating someone who is HIV-positive is severely misunderstood. As for the actual risk of dating a man who doesn’t know his status—a human question mark—that’s when you should hold on to your chips.
You may think that dating an HIV-positive man increases your risk of infection. In fact, it likely does the opposite. If your prospective mate has the gumption to disclose his positive status before the first round of cocktails, you can be certain that he has taken steps to protect your negative status.
A common misconception is that once a man learns he’s HIV-positive, he’ll behave in an unsafe, reckless way—that the damage is done and he no longer has to worry about protecting himself. In fact, the positive man must protect himself even more, to safeguard his health from pesky ancillary viruses. For him, that means avoiding those question marks at all costs. For you, well…an HIV-positive man who is in treatment and is determined by his physician to have an undetectable viral load has reduced your risk to the smallest statistical possibility. Of course, condom use should be nonnegotiable in any dating scenario. But a man who is up front with his status should put you at ease. After all, he showed you his cards.
So who is the risky bet?
So often you will hear a gay man prematurely divulge his negative HIV status as soon as one of his friends brings up the topic. Be wary—he may just be the guy who convinces himself he is negative just because he doesn’t know whether he is positive. Truth is, if he has had even one sexual encounter since his last test, he is a question mark.
Of course, we would all like for those who don’t know their status to be up front about it. We would also like to believe that we are smarter or better protected than those who bear the plus sign. But the persuasion of romance, compounded by several months of exclusivity, can sometimes get the best of us. I know. I was suckered into a bad gamble by sweet talk and pretty brown eyes once before.
Yet the romance faded, those brown eyes now sparkle for someone else, and I am left with this damn positive sign that I can’t seem to scrub off. It’s not the bet I thought I was making, but life is far from over. Now I approach every pair of pretty eyes with my truth, because the gamble of transmitting this stigma is far worse than any pill the doctor may prescribe.
So if you need to, take some time with Carrie Bradshaw and the girls and collect yourself. Dating is exciting, and anything exciting involves risk. But as long as you are honest with yourself and safe with each other, one thing you won’t be gambling with is your health.
As for his bratty friends and snob of a mother, you’ll just have to roll the dice.
TYLER CURRY is a freelance writer and the creator of the Needle Prick Project, a editorial and visual campaign to elicit a new conversation about HIV. Follow him on Twitter @iamtylercurry.