A New Love

“You know, I’ve been thinking about opening up my dating pool to people who are HIV-positive.”

In the middle of my living room, at the tail end of a long, winding discussion of nothing and everything all at once, I said it—something I had always thought about but never really had the opportunity to say. My friends looked at each other to confirm their mutual astonishment. It was a silent shock, padded respectfully with a generous attempt at empathy that remained just that: an attempt. It was obvious that my comment had hit multiple walls of disagreement.

“Wouldn’t you get it too?”

“I’d be too scared of getting it.”

“What if you wanted to have children?”

“I don’t know—it would have to depend on the person.”

“If you loved someone that deeply, wouldn’t you want to share that physical bond with them?”

“I wouldn’t want to go into a relationship knowing that I was going to lose my lover, partner, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend—whoever.”

One of my friends likened my hypothetical to dating someone with genital herpes, and I replied that I would much sooner dump someone with genital herpes than HIV; though I’m not an expert epidemiologist, I haven’t heard many alternative causes to herpes other than sex. At least with HIV, you can’t make the same assumptions: that someone’s lack of protection or promiscuity necessarily infected them with a cursed disease.

At the root of my reasoning is this: It seems to me that most arguments against dating people with HIV involve its sexual inconveniences. Yet if I am truly committed to following the beating of my heart in my search for The One, I have to distance myself not only from the cerebral rulers of my life, but also from any insistent impulses below my belt. I need to believe in and desire the metaphysical manifestation of attraction, the pleasure of connection rather than erection. Indeed, given this mindset, it makes sense to even refigure my statement: Why say I’m opening up my dating pool to HIV-positive men when I haven’t really closed it to them?

I’ve come to realize that, for better or worse, I separate love from sex, making it more possible to be with people with whom I can’t have sex. My roommate—a horn-dog and wannabe sexpert—would never get into a relationship with someone for whom he had to abstain. For him, intercourse is the physical expression of deep, bonded intimacy; for me, it’s a bonus. Oh? You want to sleep together? Okay, let’s make out too. For me, sex adds to—but is not a prerequisite component of—a deeply loving relationship.

He suggests that I have a negative view of sex. Maybe. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had good, full-blown intercourse. Perhaps that lack of positive experiences has shifted my attention from satisfying my penis to actually trying to feel.

But what if the connection that my friends tell me exists between love and sex is a result of their being heterosexual? If, one day, I want to reproduce by combining my sperm with a woman’s egg and begin a family with someone, then yes: I would want that same woman to parent my child, and I would hope that woman is someone I love incredibly because I would devote as much of my life with her as I would with my child. Love and sex, in that case, bond by convenience.

I don’t want to suggest that the beating of one’s heart should be the sole arbiter of mate selection; I’m sure it’s possible—though some may say perverted—to feel love for someone much younger or for multiple people or for other species. I can’t speak for those experiences, and I can’t imagine how different the beating may be—or how not different it may be. My point, then, is that when we evaluate love and sex as a singular entity, choices we have in partners and relationships become harder to decide, and the focus we can dedicate to simply finding love leaves itself to unintentional pollution. Sex—in my naive, hell-bent on being hopelessly romantic point of view—confuses love.

Back in the living room, I tried fruitlessly to defend my position, my rationale unorganized in the face of opposition stated so strongly and appealingly: Sex is too important a part of what I know about relationships; the revelation of an HIV positive status is definitely a dealbreaker. I wanted so badly to rattle off a list of counterexamples. I wanted to prove my friends wrong. I wanted to rally behind capital-L Love, an ideal in which I believe and for which I strive. I couldn’t, in the face of the material evidence I had at hand, make my point. Their ideas about love had been bogged down in the reality of the physical. Sex, it seemed, had conquered all.

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