DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a heterosexual male who is about to turn 26 in a few days. I’m an average guy on good days (I don’t pass the Grimes Test with flying colors) who has never been in a relationship. I consider my social skills to be below par than a lot of people, especially when you consider the fact that I haven’t even had a single friend from the opposite sex in my entire life.
Up until this point, this might sound like any other letter that you receive but this is where it gets interesting.
I have had type-1 diabetes for over a decade and a half now. To add to that, just before I turned 20, I was diagnosed with AIDS (not sexually transmitted).
I know that you repeatedly mention that you are not an actual doctor and I acknowledge and completely respect that. Moreover, you have covered some extremely complex issues, including stuff like living with STDs and chronic illnesses in some of your articles. But this letter is about something else. This is about the practicality of pursuing a relationship while living with such issues.
As I mentioned before, I am an average guy living with 2 chronic illnesses (3, if you consider the psychological issues that come with them). Whenever I look online for advice on whether someone with chronic illnesses should pursue love, relationships, a social life and all of that, the standard answer is that we deserve to be as happy as anyone else and therefore, we should go for it. But the fact that you have a tendency to delve deeper into such issues beyond the obvious, here is what I’d like to know from you:
How fair is it for the person living with something like AIDS to pursue a relationship with a person who may not have it? Consider the number of single guys out there who are looking to be in a relationship with any given girl (I know about oneitis but generally speaking). Out of all those guys, there must be some who are at least comparable to what I am and what I can provide in the relationship. But they do not come with the 2 chronic illnesses, one of which can threaten the life and well-being of the partner. So, why should a girl choose me over someone else who does not have my illnesses, considering that I do not bring anything special to the table? Now, add to that the issues like stigma that the disease brings with it, the other person will be made to go through troubles that they will never know when being with a healthy person.
More importantly, how right is it for someone like me, morally speaking, to even try to look for someone to be in a relationship with when I cannot ensure the health and well-being of myself, let alone my partner?
So in a nutshell, is it even practical for me to try to pursue a relationship?
Thank you for all your help,
DEAR PATIENT ZERO: Right, so I’ve got a lot of questions right now – not the least of which being why you’re talking to me and not a real doctor, because Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor. But let’s focus on the big ol’ elephant in the room here: the fact that you’re HIV+. This is an area where you really need to talk to your primary-care physician because… well, I think you’re missing some information, PZ. Like, really important information.
To start with: people who are HIV+ do, in fact, date, have sex and marry. Quite regularly, in fact. There are even dating sites out there specifically for people with HIV to do what’s known as serosorting or dating other people who are also HIV+. So that’s one option available to you. But here’s something you don’t seem to have heard: the guidelines surrounding sex and HIV transmission have actually changed. To start with, people who are at high-risk of exposure to the HIV virus can go on what’s known as PrEP or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis. When taken consistently, PrEP reduces the chances of transmission of the virus by up to 92%. When PrEP is combined with other safe-sex practices, including the correct use of condoms, the chances of exposure become minimal.
Moreover, scientists and doctors have been agreeing that people who have maintained undetectable viral loads – fewer than 200 copies of the virus per milliliter of blood – for six months or more don’t transmit the virus during sex. (https://nrdlv.co/2I4jdiC)
Now of course, this requires strict maintenance of one’s drug regimen in order to keep the virus suppressed in one’s system and getting careless with the meds can cause the viral load to rebound. But we are at a point where not only is HIV not a death-sentence, but the odds of transmission have also been radically reduced.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s not still a lot of stigma out there when it comes to STIs in general and HIV in particular. Many states criminalize not disclosing your status to your sexual partners if you’re HIV+. And, quite frankly, you’re going to have a lot of people who are going to opt out of dating someone who’s HIV+. That’s not fun, but it’s reasonable; folks have a right to decide if even a managed risk is one they don’t want to take. But the fact that someone is HIV+ is just one piece of who they are, and as I’ve said, people with HIV have and are dating and marrying. It’s not a condemnation to a life of celibacy or becoming a social pariah.
Now getting to you, specifically PZ. You say that you don’t pass The Grimes Test. Which, hey, that happens. Now the question becomes: what are you going to do about it? Because just as I’ve talked about how dating is a skill that can be learned and not an essentialist binary, so too is The Grimes Test. If you don’t pass The Grimes Test (https://nrdlv.co/2D16zwO), then you have two options. You can throw your hands up and decide that life has cursed you and there’s nothing you can do… or you can take control of things and start becoming somebody worth dating.
This isn’t to say that you don’t have disadvantages. It doesn’t mean that things can’t be difficult. But difficult isn’t the same as “impossible”. It all depends on how badly you want it. You can accept your life as it currently stands or you can build the life you want, find things that you bring to the table and give yourself the opportunities to find that special someone, someone who’s not going to be put off by the fact that you have a chronic condition.
It’s not easy… but nobody promised you easy. But it is worth it.
The choice is yours.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m in a long distance relationship with a poly girl back home, and I am not poly. This is the first open relationship I’ve ever been in, and we kinda moved into this when I moved away about a month ago. I met her at the start of this year and we immediately had the best chemistry I’ve ever experienced with any person. In terms of interests we were pretty much exactly aligned. We had an amazing 8 months of exclusivity together, but being fully monogamous was clearly taking its toll on her, so we agreed to go our separate ways (at least relationship-wise) following my departure from the country. At that time I never thought that I’d be able to deal with her seeing other people whilst we were together, because no matter how hard I tried to believe that her loving other people did not detract from her experience with me, I just couldn’t.
Of course the problem was that in these 8 months this girl had also become my best and closest friend, so once I left we still talked pretty much daily. This meant that neither of us moved on much at all from one another, but this, of course, manifested in different ways for the mono in me and the poly in her. For me, this meant that I was (and am) completely disinterested in pursuing females over here, whether it be for a fully fledged relationship or just for a casual sort of arrangement). By contrast, for her she moved onto new hookups within a week. I was quite torn apart by this but we talked about it and she explained that she had “moved on” so quickly because she didn’t really consider me to have disappeared from her life.
Fast forward a bit, and after a few more hookups (which she always told me about because she said she wanted to be able to talk about these sorts of things with her best friend) I was slowly becoming more and more okay with her seeing other people. At this point, the whole her being poly thing had been marinating for quite a while, and I’d done a lot of research as to whether a mono person could work within a relationship with a poly person. We’d been talking every day since I’d left, and one night she said that she really wanted to be dating me again because that’s what it felt like we were doing. At first I was a bit reluctant: what changes would being “together” actually enact? We would just be able to call each other by different names, and I would feel even more reluctant to explore other options in terms of dating. I also didn’t want to enter into anything formal, because the lack of rigid formality had allowed me to relax a bit: she could do what she wanted with her body, because we weren’t a thing, and I could afford to not care sometimes. Nonetheless, I really love this girl, and I agreed that we’d been treating each other just like we were together, so I agreed to an open relationship with some restrictions (mostly to make me feel better): she could explore other people sexually, but she was not to enter into parallel relationships. I felt like since I wasn’t there to satisfy her sexually, it would be too much for me to say that she couldn’t have repeat experiences with particular people.
Two weeks later and I feel like she’s only following rules that she wants to follow. She talks to me about a person she met a week ago like she wants to date them (they talk all the time, have talked about sexual stuff they wanna do). I kinda feel terrible asking her to slow down with all that and remember the conditions of our arrangement because I don’t want her to feel like her being poly is ruining our relationship. But at the same time I am suffering. How can I trust her to follow the rules when she’s already ignoring them? Also the ease with which she is able to hook up with people around her is beginning to take a toll on me because of my own lack of success thereof since I’ve been here (it feels like she’s shoving it in my face).
On top of all that my friends are beginning to lose patience with me because they have always counselled me to escape from the relationship as fast as I could. Because this was also the perspective of my parents, I mostly decided to ignore it because I thought if I was happy that was the only thing that mattered. It just takes its toll when everyone around you is unsupportive of my situation.
So what do I do? When entering into this open relationship, I said I’d try my best for a month, and if I couldn’t make it happen, it was never going to happen. I’ve thought about expressing my desire to downgrade the nature of our relationship to purely casual (whilst I’m away at least) but if that happens I don’t know if I’ll be able to avoid staying connected to her. Do I just bite the bullet and completely tear her out of my life? Whilst I’ve been here she’s been one of my only connections back home and has helped me through the hard new city experience.
I’m just beginning to feel like I’m losing my own sense of self value the longer this goes on; like I’m not deserving of a relationship where I’m as happy as my partner.
Lost in My Own Head
DEAR LOST IN MY OWN HEAD: Hoo boy.
Hey, LIMOH, I’m here from the future and I have news for you: this relationship is only going to get worse. Here’s why.
First: you’re really bad at establishing boundaries with your partner. It’s great that she wants to be able to share everything with her bestie. However, her best friend also gets a say in how much gets shared. Just because ya’ll are BFF’s doesn’t mean that you’re both automatically cool with 100% radical sharing – especially in your case, when you’re still dealing with having just broken up with her and the wounds are still raw. If her talking about the dudes she’s sleeping with is bothering you, you are fully within your right to ask her to stop telling you about it. This doesn’t mean that you’re not friends or that you’re Doing Poly Wrong or what-have-you, it just means that you, LIMOH, don’t like hearing about your partner’s sexual adventures.
Second: she’s not following the guidelines you’ve set up for your relationship. And it’s not even “you’ve been doing this for a while and she’s starting to realize that maybe these restrictions don’t work for her” but “it’s been two weeks and she’s already breaking the rules”. That is less of a red flag and more of a seaof red flags at the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. And the fact that you don’t feel like you can call her out on this? Bad. Bad. Sign.
Look my dude, I’m all in favor of whatever flavor of non-monogamy that people want to negotiate between themselves and enter into. But frankly, I think you did what a lot of people do: you agreed to something you don’t actually want because you saw it as your way of holding onto a relationship that, frankly, wasn’t meant to last. Not every relationship is going to end with one of you dying in the saddle, nor should it be. It’s ok to have had a relationship that was just for a little while. Trying to stick the electrodes on it to keep it alive past it’s natural span is just a recipe for heartbreak and misery. And that’s where you are with this. You’re not the first dude I’ve seen dragged into being poly kicking and screaming and you won’t be the last, but the fact is that I don’t think non-monogamy is for you. Certainly not like this and definitely not with her.
Straight talk: she seems… very careless with other people’s feelings. That alone isn’t good. But the fact that she see’s oblivious to your pain, ignores the rules you two had agreed to and doesn’t seem to give much of a damn about how what she does makes you feel? That’s a sign that you should be running from this relationship like all of Hell and half of Hoboken is after you.
Break up with her, dude. This isn’t a good scene and it’s only going to get worse for you. And start working on establishing and enforcing your boundaries while you’re at it.
And for future reference: if you’re ever in a position where you’re contemplating doing a non-monogamous relationship again, I highly suggest you do your research first. I recommend you check out Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino and More Than Two: A Guide To Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert. These’ll help give you some structure and vocabulary if you ever want to negotiate an open relationship in the future.Good luck.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com)