The Valentine Void

Love starts with the self

by George M. Johnson

I’m at a very interesting stage in my life. At the young age of thirty-three I am watching things starting to take shape for me, professionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. 2018 brought a lot of these things into a full perspective for me, and really challenged me to figure out just how I was going to navigate these aspects of my life over the next few years. Especially in the romance department, which I can’t say I’ve ever been able to fully figure out.

I’m a publicly HIV-positive Black Queer man. I have nearly 30,000 followers on Twitter and have written thousands of articles for over forty magazines in my career. I now have two book deals and am preparing for the release of my debut novel. Suffice it to say, being this person has not made it easy in the dating department. A lot of people aspire to be like me or are inspired by me but never ready to walk side by side with me. There is a lot of attention that can be drawn onto a relationship, especially when dating a person who is known as HIV-positive.

I’ve had my fair share of rejection because of my status. If one of my articles, tweets or memes goes viral, one of the first things that people will attack me for is my serostatus. I’ve been called every kind of “AIDS-infested faggot” one could imagine. In the past it used to break my spirit some, but now I am able to brush it off. As for dating, I’ve had people tell me that they can’t sleep with someone who is HIV-positive. Or that they like me but can’t see themselves ever dating someone who is HIV-positive, especially one who is public about their status.

It was much harder to shake the rejection from dating, though. It really stings anytime a person says that to me— “I can’t date someone HIV-positive.” It makes me feel so devalued, like I’m damaged goods. It is hard when you see so many in love and dating and getting engaged and married—all things that I want for myself someday that I’m not sure if I will ever have. But I’m also aware that part of this has been my own doing. Not having the capacity to let anyone in or be close to me because I’ve been rejected before. It was something that I had been holding on to for a very long time, until 2018 when some major changes in my life put everything in perspective.

My grandmother was diagnosed with brain cancer back in July. That news really shook me up, a reminder that you have to do things while you are here because you never know when your time may be up. The following month, my younger brother and his girlfriend had their first child. Holding my new nephew, on the day he was born, was life-changing. For the first time I had to really start thinking about setting myself up for the possibility of having kids and, even more so, a relationship.

I’ve learned over time that there is nothing wrong with being single. The world isn’t too kind on single people, as it is often looked at as a negative thing, rather than an option that could work for many. There were definitely times when I truly wanted to be single and I thrived in it. Especially with the types of sexual encounters and experiences that I was able to fully enjoy. But now, at the age of thirty-three, my spirit has shifted some and I’m recognizing the importance of taking this journey into the next stage of public life with someone by my side.

The Valentine void for me isn’t just about not having a partner. It was more about the fact that anytime I was serious about dating, I was using men to fix voids I was unwilling to take care of myself. The work I should have been doing on myself I was pushing to the side. I wasn’t working through my own traumas. I didn’t love myself. I wouldn’t want to date me. I was more willing to use other people to fill those voids—thinking that outside validation was more important than self-validation. I no longer think that.

I have done the work on myself over the past couple of years to now open myself up to proactively dating. As someone who is Black and queer, there was no roadmap. I didn’t date in my teens and young adulthood as I was still struggling with coming out. So, because of that, I got a late start in the dating department. I used that as an excuse though. As a crutch because regardless of when I started dating or being ready to date, I didn’t want to do the work.

So, for this Valentine’s Day, I will no longer feel any void. Even if I am not dating someone, I always have me. Sometimes, it is necessary to invest in self-love. It might be time for me to be my own Valentine for a change.

George M. Johnson is a journalist and activist. He has written for Entertainment Tonight, Ebony, TheGrio, TeenVogue, NBC News, and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram @iamgmjohnson.