Finally Fearless: On Overcoming My HIV+ Dating Mistakes

I’m no longer afraid to be exactly who I was born to be.

It was the summer before I was moving to Germany and conveniently I meet a great guy. Classic. We were both falling for each other when he told me, “If our situation were different, I would definitely ask you to be my girlfriend”. No way! I was so giddy but at the same time I was secretly dying on the inside. I didn’t tell him yet that I was born with HIV… even though we’ve already been quite intimate. 

I was digging myself into a very deep grave of guilt. There never seemed to be the “right” moment.

He flew over to Germany and I finally mustered up the courage, “I should’ve told you this earlier but I’m HIV positive”. I briefly explained the whole “undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U)” which ensures I can’t sexually transmit it to my partners. Nowadays, when someone is on effective treatment, the medication lowers the level of HIV (the viral load) in the blood to a point where it can no longer be spread. 

I waited for his reaction. He just kept eating his müsli and simply responded with “Thanks for letting me know, I trust you”. That’s it!?

You’re telling me, I was trapped in a box full of anxiety the whole time trying to figure how to share this bomb of a secret and that’s all he had to say!? He wasn’t angry that I chose not to tell him earlier nor did he get scared off by the HIV itself. Instead he was still happy to be with me. I was lucky that I found such an understanding guy because *spoiler* this hasn’t always been the case!

In fact, dating with HIV has been… colorful, to say the very least. No two disclosures are ever the same. However, over time I realized the anxiety that consumed me when it came to disclosing my status and now recognize the mistakes I’ve overcome when it comes to dating while HIV+.

Dating Mistake #1: Feeling Inadequate Because Of My Status

Because I was born with HIV, I don’t know a life without it. That’s what I identified with.

For the longest time, the stigma got to me and I allowed HIV to define me. Why would someone choose me over the girl without HIV? How could anyone ever possibly fall in love with me? Let alone, why would anyone even think of sleeping with someone with HIV? I was constantly bringing myself down a spiral of negative thoughts and convincing myself no one would want me. Ironically, I knew how much I had going for myself, but the moment I was reminded of my HIV status, all of that seemed to just suddenly disappear.

*I was letting HIV overshadow the wonderful person I actually was.*

Dating Mistake #2: Avoiding Disclosures Due To Fear Of Rejection

I was more hard on myself and scared to be rejected that I avoided the disclosure when possible. This meant either not telling the partner or running away from a potentially good thing, surely hurting them in the process. The “what if they reject me” closed me off to being open and vulnerable. I would rather avoid the rejection by rejecting them first. It was so much easier. 

It was so fixed in my head that 90% of my partners would reject me and only 10% would be OK with it. Little did I know, it actually turned out to be completely the opposite. After putting myself out there and just seeing what would happen, things were actually working out – much to my surprise.

My reality was clearly not matching my perception. Was I creating the stigma in my head? Was I then the one that was actually making it a big deal? What did my partners see in me that I couldn’t? I realized this was a me problem.

*It took me a good 10+ years to fully accept my HIV status.*

Overcoming My Fears & Growing Past My Mistakes

I’m forever grateful for the role my partners played in my life when it comes to HIV. Interestingly enough, none of them knew so much about HIV (never even heard of U=U) nor asked me to prove I’m actually undetectable. There was so much trust involved. Their reactions and how they handled the news gave me reassurance and the confirmation that it did not matter. Funny enough, it was often seen as a positive thing.

*HIV wasn’t a big deal to my partners.*

So I needed to stop making HIV a big deal, because apparently it really wasn’t. Stop putting more attention on the thing that didn’t need any more attention. Instead, put the focus on what makes you you.

I finally understood that my HIV status didn’t play any role in determining whether I’d be a good partner or not. I was indeed good enough. My partners fell for me because I was genuine, kind, intelligent, and could offer a feeling of home (their words, not mine). HIV was just something on the side. And slowly, I was starting to fall in love with the person my partners were always seeing.

I finally was able to reach the point of, “I’m Diana and I just happen to be HIV positive”. HIV no longer defined me, I was defining what it means to be HIV positive. This was the most powerful shift in accepting my status and myself. I don’t even consider it anymore as a reason people would reject me.

“HIV no longer defined me, I was defining what it means to be HIV positive.”

                      —Diana Koss

And wow, what a ride it has been! I never thought I’d have the experiences I have. A mix of fun nights, summer flings, serious commitments, and even finding someone who I thought was “the One”. I get to live life and have stories for the books – and in the meantime, the fact that I’m HIV positive plays such an insignificant role.

It was a struggle, but I’m glad I eventually made it to the other side.

Food For Thought

For anyone who is struggling with the “what if they reject me?”, I dare you to ask yourself, “what if you never put yourself out there and get to experience love?”

Now, which one do you think is more scary?