HIV and Online Dating: Am I More Than My Status?
Online dating has changed the way we meet people, how we interact, even how we have sex. The electronic personals allow people with HIV/AIDS to find one another and bypass the often-painful process of meeting someone, disclosing and being rejected. Now they can be rejected for a whole host of other things since HIV is the common denominator. But I had a difficult time with the concept that a disease is what brings us together. It is not that I have any issues dating a positive person, but I have spent the last 22 years trying to see myself as more than a disease. So it goes against every grain in my body to seek out people as a potential mate on the grounds that we share a virus.
On the other hand, the stigma of being HIV-positive is still in full force when it comes to electronic hookups. I have tried online dating that was not HIV/AIDS specific and found it daunting. I always felt at a disadvantage. Every time I saw an ad that said, "I am disease free and looking for the same." It felt demeaning, insensitive and ignorant. I am not the only one. I asked my friend Gregg, who has been positive forever and has spent some time online looking for a partner.
"It shows such a lack of knowledge. On occasion I have written back to some of these ads saying something like, picture yourself and what that feels like to read that," said Gregg. "They usually reply, ’no insult intended, just not my thing.’ I know it is really hard to include everyone when you put an ad online but there is no need to be insulting. It was shocking to me that people would put out these messages with their faces attached to it, wow."
I do understand that people truly have no idea what it feels like to be discounted for a physical condition they do not have but it goes along with saying things like, no fatties, no Asians, no Jews. It is unnecessary, and it makes your world a smaller place. You have no idea what it is you are missing when you make your own limits. But that is the world we live in. It is not only disease status, but also looks, age, what we do. You do not get the same chance to charm someone as you would in person. There are these criteria people have in mind, and if those boxes are not checked off: next!
My friend told me about his girlfriend who was shy, but really wanted to meet someone, so she decided she would follow the online rulebook. She had a realistic photo of herself, would just meet for coffee in a neutral place and be direct. She knew after these mini dates if they worth pursuing. She tried to be open and in total met with over two dozen guys.
There was this one guy who she was really attracted to online, he had no photo up but he seemed to fit all her criteria but when they met he had a skin condition where every square inch of his body was covered in bumps. It was too much for her to overcome. We all have our levels of comfort in the physical world unfortunately HIV/AIDS in so many peoples minds is a definite no from the start.
I remember meeting this one guy online in the beginning before I had my AIDS esteem. We spoke on the phone regularly, laughed and had a lot in common. He finally disclosed to me he had colostomy bag. I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought, okay, that levels the playing field, poop in a bag-AIDS, no problem. Funny thing was when I disclosed, I never heard from him again.
I know if we met in person that would not have happened. Most of my relationships have been with HIV-negative people, the good the bad and the ugly. Disclosing was always a shock but they had already met me, laughed with me, felt my spirit and so after the shock they could balance the weight of HIV with the real person it inhabited.
When we are our bodies we are the most disconnected. When we see ourselves through the heart and spirit is when we feel most connected. The physical usually becomes a far second to the person. The personals are initially about the superficial; they have to be, because there is no body language, no eyes to look into, no pheromones or chemical connection.
I spoke to several people and heard wonderful stories, like two positive people meeting on an HIV-specific site, talking for over a year, getting married and having a kid. I have heard this same story several times with both, positive, negative, straight and gay. So the possibility is always there. The one thing I have heard from all of them is you have to really put the effort in and weed through a lot of mismatches before you hit pay dirt. And there can be horror shows along the way.
A friend told me he thought he had met the man of his dreams. They had a long-term relationship for over a year. The potential partner lived in Germany and was HIV-negative. My friend lived in San Francisco and was positive. They met a couple of time for a week here or there and were smitten with one another. The German man decided to move to the U.S. to be closer.
After a few week of being in close proximity, (they were not living together, just dating), he realized the guy was a lunatic. It became apparent one day when they were walking in the Castro and he turned to my friend and hissed, "Why were you making eyes with that Puerto Rican body builder." My friend was so confused, he replied, "What body builder?"
Trying to laugh it off, he jokingly wanted to know where this hot guy was. The German man went on crazy rant. That was the beginning of the realization he had made a terrible mistake and slowly tried to extricate himself from the relationship with a person who eventually became a stalker nightmare.
All of us are on our best behavior when it is a weekend or a couple weeks, but when it comes to actually seeing each other on a regular basis that’s when we learn who our partners are. It is just too hard to really know someone online, or when your are in a hotel room or visiting for a couple weeks with a vacation vibe going on.
Online dating is just another option to possibly meeting a partner. It can be the place you dip your toe into after a long-term relationships ends or if you just found out you are HIV-positive. It works better for some than others and especially well if you are not ready to be rejected on the basis of simply being HIV-positive.
Here a sample selection of HIV/AIDS specific social sites:
• Social group for heterosexuals with HIV in NYC
• HIV/AIDS chat room and personals http://www.hivpoz.net/
• HIV/AIDS chat room and personal ads http://positivesdating.com/
• HIV/AIDS personal ads for gays or straights http://www.positivepersonals.com/
This article is part of our "World AIDS Day 2012" series. Want to read more?
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