When I was diagnosed with herpes on my 23rd birthday (happy birthday to me!), I was devastated and thought no one would ever want to have sex with me or date me ever again. Six years later, here is a chronological list of what each of the people I’ve dated have had to say when I told them.
“What,” my upstairs neighbor said when I pulled his hands out of my underwear, “I’m clean.” It felt like someone had put an icicle through my stomach. I slid out of bed to cry in the bathroom. The next day I knocked on his back door and crawled into his bed. “Was it what I said?” he asked. I told him slowly and hid my face when the words left my mouth. “It’s okay,” he said, several times, but he never tried to touch me again.
“I still I want to have sex with you,” my beautiful coworker said after telling me about his open relationship. The sex never happened because it turned out to be less of the “bite in if you see a really nice piece of fruit” type of open relationship and something more akin to a supermarket sweep.
“I’m cute and have a full-time job and like riding bikes and also have herpes: I can’t be the only one,” my Craiglist ad read. He was in the same situation. We met at a bar and talked for hours, went on an awkward dinner date and kissed by the train. We finally got around to talking about it on the third date, drunk off two-dollar High Lifes. He pushed me up against the wall in a move that felt comical with lack of chemistry. I noticed the other day that we're still connected on LinkedIn.
It was the fourth date. He had a smile that made my stomach dip. The night before had ended in a fully clothed sleepover and I knew it was time to tell him. It took a half hour, and his forehead got more and more creased with worry as he wondered what it could be. When I finally said it, a look of relief crossed his face. “It’s 2009,” he said. Three days later we broke his bed.
“Here’s the thing,” I said to my high school boyfriend over the telephone, drunk and heartbroken and sitting on my kitchen floor. I don’t remember what he said then, exactly, but I recall a feeling of relief that didn’t last through the awkward sex we had on his roommate’s futon when I was home at Christmas.
“We aren’t going to have sex,” I told the second-round OkCupid date who wanted to sleep over. I put on a vintage muumuu and pulled my hair up, but we were all over each other anyway. I cried after I came from his fingers because I knew I needed to tell him. He touched my hair and we kept kissing. He had a long, skinny penis that didn’t feel as good inside of me as I wanted it to. I never saw him again.
Fourth date. I’d refused to let him touch me in the early morning a few days before. “Let’s talk,” I said, and pulled him around to the back stoop of the bar we were at. It was quick but not entirely painless. He was on the step below me and cocked his head up. “That is not even a thing,” he said, and I believe him because despite never making it to the stage of sleeping together we’ve been friends for years now.
Fourth date. I didn’t cry, for once, and felt strangely proud. We were sitting on the steps of a church on the boulevard. “So here is a reason it probably won’t work,” I said. He had a rare autoimmune skin disease. “Let’s talk to our doctors,” he said. Both our doctors came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a great idea. We both cried when we admitted it to each other because it is hard for your body to make decisions for you.
Fourth date. No crying. We were in my bed. “Okay,” he said, and his mouth was all over me moments later. We dated for a year, stopped using condoms after we got HIV tests, and never had a problem.
Winter got to us and turned our few years of friendship into something more. It started slowly: a college-style sleepover, roaming hands. When we kept breaking the boundaries we set I knew it was time. He was quiet. “Let me think about it,” he said, and returned the next day after talking with a friend of his who teaches sex ed. The sex was just as awkward as the rest of our year-long relationship.
He was feeling bold and pinned me to the bed at a friend’s party. I was feeling bold and told him that night, hours later in his bed. He was a friend; I was intoxicated. “It sounds like you feel ashamed,” he said, indicating that I shouldn’t. He held me as I passed out, and I felt vaguely embarrassed the next morning.
It took four hours. He was the first boy I ever kissed, and all these years later I found myself in both his bed and his life. He’d known me for so many years and I didn’t want him to think of me differently. I cried twice, and when I finally spit it out I have no idea what he said. He may not have said anything. I was laying on top of him. He was gentle. He understands everything. We’re getting married next summer.
An Anonymous Lady is feeling good.