Let’s start in the middle: my first disclosure.
It’s 1:30 AM. I’m supposed to be waking up in 4.5 hours for work, for the penultimate day of a job I’ve had for over three years.
Somehow this seems like the perfect time to write my first blog post.
It’s been a hell of a week. Fuck, it’s been a hell of a three months. Within the last three months, I left my partner of 9 years (and the man I thought I was going to marry), secured a new job, started dating again, and caught genital herpes.
That last part is an exciting new development. Part of the problem with my ex was that he never made me feel attractive or desired, and it was thrilling to enter a world of dating where it felt like I was surrounded by men who wanted me. I loved seeing the desire in their eyes when they leaned in for the kiss. In my whole life, I’d never felt that way before.
And then, boom, herpes.
There’s a dark humor in this. I enter the dating scene, eyes wide like a kid in a candy store, enticed by all the possibilities at my fingertips, and immediately get herpes. And not even the HSV-1 that everyone has, but the naughty genital kind. Fabulous.
My diagnosis was a week ago. The story of my diagnosis and the week that followed is a story for another blog post, but let me sum it up by saying that it’s been the most tumultuous week of my life. No exaggeration. Being out of the dating scene for 9 years, I’ve been uneducated and inexperienced with herpes, and to me the word “herpes” was nearly equivocal to “HIV.” I had no idea what herpes actually was, but I knew that the social stigma was overwhelming, and I was certain that my diagnosis was a death blow to my love life. I’d spent my whole life looking forward to marriage and kids, and now I could kiss that good-bye. I couldn’t imagine why anybody would ever want to touch me again. Why take that risk?
Flash forward to a week (and many, many hours of research) later. I realize that herpes, as a disease, is actually just a skin condition and super manageable. I confide in a few close friends, who clue me in on the years of dating that I’ve missed out on - apparently by the time you reach your 30s, it’s common to have multiple encounters with the herp. It’s actually not a big deal. And as my friends pointed out, I’ll probably be surprised by the number of men who will shrug their shoulders at my diagnosis and still want to sleep with me. A week ago, that concept was unfathomable. A week ago, my body felt diseased and disgusting. And now here I am, feeling…normal again.
All of this is a preamble to the story I want to tell right now: my first disclosure. I’m currently dating two men. Let’s call them Amir and Dov. They’re both immigrants from the same part of the world. It might actually be a stretch to say I’m ‘dating’ Dov, since we’ve only known each other for a week and been on two dates, but it’s going well so far, and I really like him, so I’m going to give myself that latitude.
As for Amir - we’ve been seeing each other for a month and a half. I’m fairly certain I’m the only person he’s dating, and he checks in by text almost every morning with a brief “Good Morning!” or “Happy Friday!”, but the conversations don’t often go much further than that, and we’ve only actually had five dates. Just two of those dates included sex (which was unprotected–I know, I know). In a way, it still feels very casual. Which has been fine for me. He’s tall, dark and handsome, and the sex is good, we share common interests, and our in-person conversations are easy and pleasant.
Amir hasn’t been to my place yet, and we arranged a date for him to come visit this Friday. I’d cook dinner, we’d hang out, have sex, and then he’d spend the night and we’d have Saturday together. This date has been a looming deadline in the wake of my diagnosis. I knew I needed to disclose to him before he came over, and although it terrified me I still desperately wanted to do it in person. We made tentative plans to meet up this week twice, and both times they fell through. And so today I decided to do it by phone.
I texted him around 4pm, “Can I give you a call, I want to check in with you about something!”
“Sure!” he replied. “You know what, I’m on my way from work. I’ll call you as soon as I get home.”
I had no idea how long it took him to get home from work, but just to be safe, I immediately went to my liquor cabinet and had two shots of the first bottle I could grab–tequila. It took him an hour to finally call me, during which I tried to distract/calm myself by focusing on a work project. And also more tequila shots. I had just enough booze to chase away the butterflies in my stomach, without actually feeling drunk.
Finally, he calls. The nerves I had so diligently tampered with tequila suddenly spring back up. I let it ring twice, take a breath, then answer.
“Hey, you! How’s it going?”
I almost sound normal. Amazing.
We chit-chat a bit about our respective days, and after a few minutes he quiets down, clearly waiting for me to get on with whatever I have to say. I take another breath.
“So I wanted to share something with you. I took an STD test and I tested positive for herpes type 2. This was a surprise to me, since I haven’t had any outbreaks at all. Do you know anything about it?”
And it turns out, he did. He actually has HSV-1 and occasional cold sores, and he’s well aware of how commonplace herpes is. I ask how much he knows about type 2 specifically, and he says not much. I tell him 1 in 4 women carry it, and he doesn’t sound surprised. He does admit that he’s a little worried about having caught it from me, and that he plans to call his doctor tomorrow, but if it turns out that he has it now, “it’s not the end of the world.” All in all, he seems pretty chill about it. I tell him that it’s extremely possible he hasn’t caught it, since I haven’t had symptoms and the risk of transmission is already low. I also tell him that I’ve started suppressive medication, and we can use condoms moving forward. He says that that sounds like a good idea.
I can hear in his voice that he seems pretty calm, but obviously slightly concerned.
“I wanted to tell you this in advance of our date, to make sure you’re comfortable with everything,” I tell him.
“I appreciate that,” he says.
There’s a part of me that wants to say, “If you want to cancel on Friday, then I’d totally understand” or “Are you sure you still want to do Friday?” Is that a people-pleasing thing? A need for reassurance? I’m not sure. But wherever it comes from, I tamp those impulses back into place, because giving him too easy of an out sends the wrong message. And so I start to talk about Friday. He likes pudding, right? I can make that for dessert. We talk about our plans for Saturday, and things we can possibly do with our time together, and end the call with a “see you soon.”
The whole phone call lasted 20 minutes. I hang up, feeling kind of like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ve read too many stories on Reddit about disclosures that go well, only for the partner to back out later. I hold the phone in my hand and think, “Well, he might still cancel on me tomorrow, once he’s had time to think about it and freak out.”
But then I call my friends and tell them about the call, and they say, “Chill out. From what you said, the conversation actually went great. The likelihood that he’ll cancel, based on what you said, seems very, very low.”
And at last, I breathe a sigh of relief.
And then I eat A LOT of chocolate.
That was it. My first disclosure. And it was calm, and mature, and we had a conversation, and it went well. He still wants to see me on Friday. I’m not untouchable.