Love in the Time of Long-Term Surviving

Someday He’ll Come Along
Love, if it happens, would be the cherry on the cake; if not, i still have cake!
by John Francis Leonard

So much can limit us, hold us back from true happiness—our own and other people’s doubts, people’s mistrust, our shame, people’s fear, and people’s ignorance. When you’re HIV-positive, the sword of judgment is particularly sharp and often cuts deep—it goes with the territory. You can grow very sensitive, develop a real chip on your shoulder, or you can find yourself more and more immune. None of the options is ideal and you find yourself longing for someone who understands, who gets it. You’ll meet a guy who rejects you out of hand or even worse, he says he’s fine with your status, but gradually loses touch. He stops calling, stops texting, and makes nothing but excuses. That fear, that ignorance, slowly overwhelms him and it’s on to the next one. You doubt you’ll have the strength again. You’re down for the count, dead in the water.

Recently I met a special guy online. He was in another state, of course, but there was something different about him. Handsome, a bit older than I am, but I like that. We began chatting and really seemed to hit it off. We had so much in common, but were different enough to make it interesting. Roger ticked a lot of boxes; he was accomplished, creative, engaging. We began to chat daily. Soon, I knew that I had better fill him in on my status. I typed the words and anxiously awaited his reply. To my relief he told me that he was positive, too, a long-term survivor in fact. While not happy about someone going through what I’d been through myself, I was thrilled nonetheless. It’s the gold standard for many of us who are positive. Suddenly, there’s no need to explain, no reason to placate, no one to reassure. Someone you hope to care about understands; they get it. There’s no fear of rejection, at least not for that reason.

Roger and I talked every day. We would text in the morning before he went to work, often text or email during the day when not busy, and talk for hours at night. Conversations were hard to end; one of us would think of just one more thing to say. We’d often talk by phone, as well. What I liked most about him was the way he would always make me laugh with his silly, yet sharp, sense of humor. When it came to talking about sex, we were manly and masculine but, when we weren’t, we weren’t afraid to camp it up and laugh uproariously. It was natural and organic; it was easy. Nothing felt forced or artificial. There have been a lot of false starts over the last eight years I’ve been single, but this just felt right. Could I finally have met the one? Like I said, I’ve been through this before, gotten my hopes up only to have them dashed. Something bothered me though, gave me pause. At sixty years of age, he had never had a relationship. It set off some alarms for me, but I ignored them—brushed them aside. I’ve had three serious relationships myself, two of whom I’ve lived with, but they were hardly a success. Who was I to judge? I told myself that I would bring my concern up, and I did, but details were vague on his end. But, more than anything, I want a relationship and I’m cognizant of the fact that no one’s perfect. I carried on regardless.

After a few weeks of communication, wonderful weeks of discovering each other as thoroughly as we could while at such a physical distance, he brought up the idea of coming to my town and meeting. We were both enthralled with the idea and a positive outcome seemed certain. We already were in deep, perhaps too deep, given the circumstances; this step seemed as organic as the rest, however. What did I have to lose, I thought, this could really be the one. It was all or nothing at this point. He booked his flight and sent me his itinerary. I must have looked at that saved email a hundred times. I’d been through this before—remember that guy in Canada? He had promised he was coming to spend the weekend countless times; it was a two-hour drive but he never showed. He strung me along for more than a year. This was different, I told myself. But that man was HIV-positive too; all the pieces seemed to fit, but it only ended in disappointment.

Well, Roger showed, and we had a wonderful four-day weekend together. I cooked up some beautiful dinners and a brunch, wanting to show off my domestic skills. We saw much of my city that I don’t usually see; I tend to discount it and assume there’s nothing to do. We had a beautiful, romantic evening out at a terrific restaurant downtown and also ate out with both my parents and my brother and his new girlfriend. Everyone loved him. His job requires a large amount of people skills and he can engage and charm anyone.
Everything was fine until the morning before his departure when I sensed a change. The change continued after his arrival home. Communication that was once natural and filled with affectionate words and sentiment became forced and stilted. When I inquired what was wrong in an email, he told me that he had had second thoughts and had decided not to pursue things further. I was back where I started, alone.

I beat myself up for a few days wondering if something was wrong with me. Had I done something amiss? Would I always be alone? Then, I stopped that nonsense. I’ve come too far in my life and overcome too much to doubt myself now. Are there some things that still need work? Yes, but I’m happy for the first time in years. I won’t lose sight of that now. Maybe it’s he who has the issues. Come on, at sixty he’s never had a relationship? That should have given me more pause, made me ask more questions. Me? I’ll be fine. There’s a lot ahead for me and maybe, just maybe, there will be a relationship with the right guy, positive or not.

John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he writes reviews for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.