I wasn’t looking to meet anyone new, but there he was.
Since it wasn’t that long ago since a difficult break-up, I was guarded to the point of avoidant. I’ve been so happy – no, relieved – to be single again, that the idea of so much as giving out my phone number intimidated me.
I figured, too, that I had time. The only reason I met him in the first place was because I was observing a two-day ministry event that he was working at. I knew that first morning that I had time to notice him from an emotionally comfortable distance.
And notice I did: I noticed he was reading C.S. Lewis (one of my favorites). I noticed what others said about him as a person (including my Team Redeemed partner Shelley, who was there, too, and already better acquainted with him than I was). I even noticed how well he carried on a conversation with me.
(Okay, okay – and yes, I noticed he was handsome.)
During lunch that first day, I decided to eat with some of the volunteers and staff – including him. I enjoyed meeting them all that morning but I confess, I was curious about him in particular.
It usually doesn’t take me long to tire of small talk, so I pretty quickly asked him: “So – what’s your story?” I knew the people involved with this ministry tended to have testimonies with surprising twists – but I wasn’t expecting the part of his story that included:
“…tested positive for HIV....”
It caught me off guard, partly because he looked so…normal – and healthy.
And for a second I wondered if I had heard him correctly in the first place.
Plus, now that I’m 30, I thought I’d “seen it all,” during my first decade of dating. I’ve dated my share of guys “with pasts,” including a couple of guys who were divorced with at least one kid already.
And for six difficult months in my early 20s, I even dated a man who was married.
But HIV – could I date someone with HIV, especially since I don’t believe in dating without considering the possibility of marriage? And because, let’s be honest: dating someone with a sexually transmittable disease has real implications for sex within marriage.
I didn’t know if I could, but by the end of the two-day event, I did know that I wanted to continue getting to know him. I’d observed him interacting with people, and asked Shelley for her counsel. And I could tell he wanted to continue getting to know me, too – partly because he outright said so (which was refreshingly direct).
So, after two days, and more mental notes than I could count, he asked for my phone number.
And I gave it to him.
But how strange it is to me, that in all my years of dating (or waiting), I’d never considered the possibility of meeting an eligible Christian man – with HIV. As a redeemed adulteress myself, I personally know the power of redemption. I believe God can work great things from our worst mistakes.
It’s been a sobering realization to recognize how weakly we as the Church discuss HIV and come alongside our brothers and sisters living with it. (And I don’t mean “come alongside,” in the kind of way that neatly reserves HIV for a day of the week when we “do” HIV ministry – with people outside of our churches.)
I also know there’s a lot I don’t know about HIV – and more specifically, about dating (or marrying) someone with the virus. What happens when the sin is done, but the effects of our consequences go on? What happens when the effects pose physical risks to me?
Should I continue getting to know him if I knew I wouldn’t consider dating him because of his status? Then again, it’s only fair to anyone we may date to be honest with ourselves (and them) about what we’re willing to consider, confront or accept.
In the face of all that I don’t know at this point, I’m grateful for one thing I do know: Rick & Barb Wise are living proof of life – and love – after an HIV-positive diagnosis.Barb was 27 – and talking marriage with then-boyfriend Rick – when she heard it, too:
They’re not alone: there are other “serodiscordant” or “mixed status” couples – yes, within the Church! These are couples that are navigating life and love when one spouse is HIV-positive. Barb and Rick, for example, have been married for more than a decade now (despite an early prognosis that she only had two weeks to a year to live).
Sure, there’s medication and wisdom involved. There are adjustments – and sacrifices – to be made, as with any relationship. And there are unique possibilities that couples accept, when HIV is a present reality for at least one of them.
But Rick and Barb are an example of how couples can face them together. Furthermore, Rick and Barb powerfully remind us that a health condition doesn’t have to stop us from learning to love unconditionally.
Including (not except) when that condition is HIV.
In my case, I don’t know yet what the future holds for this guy and me, but I do know that the fear of what I don’t know will inhibit my willingness to find out. So I’ll continue to learn, ask questions – and pray.
Because if he and I decide to not move forward dating, then I want it to be because I’m following God – not fearing HIV.
Rebecca Halton is the author of Words from the Other Woman: The True Account of a Redeemed Adulteress. She’s currently enjoying Nashville, where she works as a professional writer and wishfully daydreams down aisles of cowgirl boots. But as a former military kid Rebecca’s learned to make the most of wherever God leads her – and not just geographically. She’d love to personally connect with you, through www.rebeccahalton.com.