Dating While Living with HIV
Life with HIV can be challenging at times, especially when learning to navigate treatment, other co-occurring medical conditions, stigma, mental health impacts, and all of the many other factors that can come along with an HIV diagnosis. One aspect of life with HIV that can be especially challenging is dating. In certain cases, you may find yourself in a situation in which you consider disclosing your status to a potential partner. Several common issues that may arise during this time and tips on how to handle these are below.
Make sure you’re ready to date
Everyone deals with an HIV diagnosis differently. Some may feel anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, or a lack of self-confidence. These feelings are completely normal every once in a while, but if they start to interfere with your daily life and wellbeing, it may be time to seek support from a counselor or other mental health professional. Feeling ready to date and confident in yourself is important when it comes to putting your best self forward.
A natural part of dating is finding a compatible partner. Deciding when to disclose your HIV status can be a challenge as it can put you in a vulnerable place if your new partner decides not to pursue a relationship. Setting yourself up with a strong support network consisting of friends, loved ones, or HIV support group members may help you be best prepared to deal with things when they don’t go the way you hoped.
Consider the kind of partner you want
Some individuals living with HIV may choose to exclusively date other individuals who are HIV positive to avoid issues of disclosure and HIV-related rejection (called serosorting). If this is something that interests you, there are ways to pursue it. There are HIV-positive dating websites and apps, as well as support groups and other HIV-related events where you can meet others. As always, practice good judgment and safety precautions while using online dating sites and apps.
When you begin dating, it’s important to have an idea of the kind of partner you want. Creating a list of character traits or behaviors that are important to you, and deal-breakers that would prevent you from forming a strong bond may be helpful. It may be easy to jump at the chance to date someone who is alright with you being HIV-positive regardless of their personal characteristics, especially if relationships were not successful with previous partners. However, it’s important to not lose sight of the things that are important to you in favor of finding the first person who will accept your status.
Make a plan for disclosing your status
There is no right or wrong way to disclose your status to a potential partner. While it’s important to share your status before sex to prevent transmitting the virus, it’s also illegal not to disclose before having sex in many states, and sharing your status may protect you from legal action. Some individuals prefer to disclose before the relationship progresses too far, such as before the first kiss, while others tend to wait longer, and will disclose when things become more serious. There are positives and negatives to both. By waiting longer, you decrease the number of people you ultimately share your status with. However, by not disclosing early on, you may run the risk of your partner feeling betrayed or like you kept a secret from them. You will know your situation and partner the best and can make the decisions you think are most appropriate.
Regardless of when you tell a potential partner though, it’s important to do so in a safe and focused environment, and when you have plenty of time to talk. Roleplaying with a friend, family member, therapist, or other mental health professionals ahead of time may be helpful in preparing you to disclose to a potential partner. It’s also important to be ready to share as much information as possible with your potential partner about HIV, how it is transmitted, treatment, and methods of reducing their risk. Sharing information on effective antiretroviral treatment (ART), pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may help facilitate open dialogue around HIV and your relationship.1-6
However, no matter what, if you are ever physically threatened or hurt by another individual, especially when disclosing your HIV status, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233).
Seek outside support
In some cases, people who are HIV-positive may experience challenges with dating. These feelings can be overwhelming, impacting self-esteem and self-worth. Seeking additional support from a therapist or other mental health professional may be helpful in navigating dating and the overwhelming feelings that can come along with it.
Seeking support to maintain mental health is never a bad idea, no matter what you’re going through, but is especially important if you are feeling low on motivation and confidence. It can also help provide you with real-life coping strategies for managing challenges, stigma, and complicated emotions.