When it comes to relationships, some HIV positive people have a clear cut policy on the serostatus of potential partners. Some will only be with another HIV positive person, some will only be with an HIV negative partner and for some, it’s not even part of the “Should I get involved with this person?” decision. Of the four relationships I’ve had since the person I became positive from, only one was HIV positive. I’m one of the “It has no bearing on my decision.” people. Nonetheless, being HIV positive with an HIV negative parter does come with some challenges, but what relationship doesn’t?
For me, the positive partner, it’s rare that my HIV status is an issue in our life together, although it has come up a few times.
As for my husband, he has been amazing and from the beginning, has had few concerns with me being positive. In fact, his reaction to me telling him I had HIV made me fall in love with him immediately. (This is my favorite part of the “how we met” story). The first night we met, after it became obvious that something was on my mind and after several inquiries on his behalf as to what was wrong, I told him that there was something that I had to tell him. He said “Okay” as I saw him almost physically brace himself for what I was about to say. I blurted out “I’m HIV positive,” He let out a big sigh as if he was holding his breath and with a look of relief he said “Is that it? I thought you were going to tell me that you didn’t like me and you’re leaving.” I mean really, how could I not love this man?
Over the course of our almost 3 year relationship and year and a half marriage, I can think of only two issues that have evolved from our HIV sero-discordant relationship. In the beginning, I was concerned about how his family would react to me being positive. We discussed it and decided, mostly upon my urging, to wait for a while to tell them. Being British, and with England having such a low rate of HIV, I assumed they probably didn’t know much about HIV. It was likely, with only 120,000 cases in the UK, that they had never known anyone who was HIV positive, at least not to their knowledge. I wanted my future mother and father-in-law to get to know me first before I told them. I thought that if they knew my status first that HIV would be all they saw when they looked at me. I’d be their son’s fiancée with HIV and not their son’s fiancée Jeannie, and American writer who loves animals, has a good sense of humor and is crazy about their son. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Someone else told them before I could get a chance to know them very well. They weren’t upset that I was HIV positive but they were upset that we didn’t tell them. Although it probably marred our relationship early on, I still feel it was the right decision.
It took me several months to get past the anger I felt towards the person who we believed told them. The last year Martyn was in England, waiting for his U.S. Visa to be issued, we’d stay at his parents’ house when I’d come to visit. This was the justification given for this person needing to tell his parents that I had HIV. As if they were in some kind of danger from being around me and needed to be protected by having the knowledge that I was HIV positive. It’s one of the few times that I ever really felt stigmatized. I felt as if I were being looked at as a lesser woman, diseased, judged and as if I was trying to hide my status because I was ashamed of it. I’ve never been ashamed that I was HIV positive. If I don’t disclose to someone it’s either because I have a reason not to or it’s just none of their business.
The only other issue I have with him being negative is the fear that I might transmit HIV to him. This comes up mainly when he gets tested even though I know that the likelihood is extremely small due to my very low viral load. I try to keep it in perspective but when he gets tested for HIV, it’s hard not to think about it and the possibility scares the hell out of me. What if? What if he tests HIV positive? Of course my first concern is for him, his health and helping him deal with it but after that, even if he’s okay with it, how would I live with that guilt? My rational mind tells me the same things he tells me. That it is both of our decisions. He wants to be with me and that comes with some level of risk. He agreed to and accepts that risk and so do I. My head knows these things but my heart wonders if I could ever forgive myself. As I’m sure it is for many positive halves of a positive/negative couple, there is always that fear in the back of my mind. That guilt that it’s never 100% safe, however, I plan to spend the rest of my life with this person. We will deal with anything and everything that comes up throughout the course of our life together. If a little bit of stigma and fear is what we have to face to be together, then so be it.
Every HIV positive and HIV negative person has to decide if even the most minute risk of transmission is worth it for them. We made our decision and live with it. Sure there are the now-and-then worries I spoke of, but in the end, the worry is a small price to pay for having such a wonderful person in my life. And for him, I guess being with me outweighs the risk of HIV infection. For us, if me being HIV positive is the worst thing that we have to deal with in our marriage, then we know we’re in for a very happy and fulfilling life together.