The Breakthrough
Finding the answers you didn’t even know you were looking for
by John Francis Leonard

It was just another day at my psychologist’s office. I hadn’t even thought of anything to talk about other than the fact that I didn’t know what I’d be talking about. I had been texting with my best friend a few hours before my session and had posed him a question. If I’d already disclosed my HIV status to a potential mate online—since he lived a few hours away—would it be appropriate to let him know that I’ve gained a few pounds recently? My friend’s answer was an emphatic no, but I wasn’t convinced. I’ve been thinking lately that the reason I haven’t gotten past a first date with a guy I had met online was just that—that I wasn’t looking my best. That thought had been plaguing me. My friend said that it was time to let go of the expectation of looking exactly as I did when I was younger; I’ll be fifty in November and I look great. I’m not going to look like I did twenty years ago; no one does.

So I continued in the same vein and posed this question to Taki, my psychologist of the past ten years. Another emphatic no! It wasn’t my weight, or my looks, but he could tell me what he thought it was. This time, since it came from a highly compensated practitioner who knows me as well as anyone, I was ready to listen. Taki observed that he often noticed in me an underlying current of tension. Noticed it even in his office when I ought to be at my most relaxed. Well, I’ve always been a little high-strung, so it wasn’t a complete surprise, I replied. He said that my past history as well as my psychiatric issues might cause it, it was certainly partly due to childhood trauma. When you coupled this with all the other issues at play; a build-up to the first encounter, worrying about my HIV status, thinking about the possibility of relocating for the relationship—it’s no wonder I was tense.
The issue of HIV I deal with early and head on. I need to know how prospective mates feel about my status before I become too invested. Honestly though, I told Taki, I still worry that it’s at the back of their minds as a concern even when they assure me they’re fine with it. Yes, he replied, more tension. I’m just not relaxed, regardless of how confident I think I feel on that first date. How could I be? And they can read that, even though it might be very subtle, they pick up on it and it reads badly. They feel that I might be a lot of work, that I might be high maintenance just when guys of our age are looking for a relationship to relax into, to bring comfort and support, not tension.

Even sitting on the couch in Taki’s office I could feel myself exhale. The wheels were turning in my head, but I felt relaxed. This was a lesson I’d learned in other areas of my life, especially business. I’ve long held to the theory that you get back from others a lot of what you put out there. It was time to apply it to my personal life.

There can be a comfortable silence between my psychologist and me. Taki let me ruminate, offering affirmation to my thoughts occasionally, but allowing me to grow comfortable with what he had explained to me. The man can read my mind sometimes. What I was thinking is that here is some hope, hope just as a great guy has come along. Taki, speaking in his dulcet tones, added that before, maybe it hadn’t mattered because from what I had told him, the others weren’t right for me anyway. Maybe I was waiting for the right one. Maybe the guy I’ve just met could be the right one. I could at least give it my best shot. What should I do differently? Just relax into it, Taki told me. Let go of my expectations and fears and just enjoy meeting someone new.

I can do this. I can give this my best shot. The guy I just met is nothing if not relaxing. We had both already talked about meeting plenty of the wrong men lately, that things just didn’t seem to work out. I took a risk and shared with him a bit of what I had worked on in my session, what Taki had told me. He said that it made sense, and that he would consider it his job to relax me. To get me to enjoy the first meeting and let go of my fears. He was partly joking, of course, it’ll still be down to me. The opportunity to do something differently, to take a different approach is a blessing, a blessing to be given another chance. I won’t waste it.

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 fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.