I’ve often wondered the effect herpes has had on my dating life as anyone would. Specifically I’ve spent a fair portion of my time debating what exactly having herpes does change and is it necessarily a bad thing. In my relationships before having herpes I was quite immature, so using them to compare and contrast my current issues wouldn’t be too reliable. But it helps to think back to some extent. Before having herpes, dating was complicated, messy and frustrating, but it definitely wasn’t as serious as it feels now. By serious I don’t mean serious commitments per say, but more like the general serious feeling that starts to well up inside of you when you meet someone you like. Basically before herpes: I’d meet someone I was attracted to and pursue the idea of dating them by getting to know them and spending time with them; very carefree. After herpes: I’d meet someone I’m attracted to and immediately think – does this have serious potential because I’m going to have to drop a serious bomb on him pretty quickly; – does he seem mature enough to handle something like herpes; – what if he’s really judgmental and I end up telling him and he hurts me; – am I deceiving him by not telling him right away that I have herpes; – how long should I wait; – what if I don’t pursue him simply because I’m afraid of all of these “what if’s” in my brain; – ahhh.
You can see where now things spiral much faster than they did beforehand. I really wish I could go back in time and bonk my young pre-herpes self on top of the head and tell her to relax because there really weren’t many things that required serious thought during those dating days. Now it feels like I not only have to go through the usual bullet points that I have in my mind when meeting someone new, but I’ve added about a gazillion more. What’s especially silly is that all of these thoughts occur before anything has even happened. So, in that sense I can say dating with and without herpes in one way can be similar: you over-think things because you’re facing up to a person you don’t know yet and that can be scary. The difference lies in what you’re over-thinking, not the action of doing it, I think.
Aside from spiraling mentally, dating with herpes has shown me that I’m forced to confront a serious topic with a potential partner a bit sooner than I’d like to. I’ve written previously about how to go about telling a potential partner you have herpes, including timing and delivery. But let’s say you wait a long time or a small amount of time, eventually if you decide to become serious with another person you’ll have to tell them. I’ve always felt that having to tell someone tests my communication skills and maturity and shows me theirs as well. It also makes you skip a bit of the carefree smitten stages and get straight to the heavy things. But the heavy things, like telling someone something as personal as you having herpes, are what really show you someones true colors. It will show you if they’re worth your time as quickly as it shows you if you’re worth theirs.
Everyone is entitled to the decision of wanting or not wanting to be with you once you tell them, but let’s say they do decide to stick with it. If they do, then you now have opened up a fairly serious topic to a person I’d imagine you don’t know too well yet (if you do already know each other quite well it definitely makes things easier), and it will show you how the two of you will be able to communicate about difficult topics. Which is a great eye opener because life is full of complicated situations that arise and you need to be with a partner that you can feel comfortable communicating with. In this sense I think dating with herpes is harder but almost like dating without it, because if it isn’t herpes it will be another difficult conversation down the road. We’ve all had to have hard conversations with the people we care about, and herpes has simply taught me to learn better communication skills and deeper patience in my relationships as I grow older.
I think the question “Is dating with herpes actually more difficult than dating without it?” is absolutely silly to anyone living with herpes because I think we’ve all come up against many new obstacles in the process that we wish we didn’t have to deal with. But I also think if you spin your outlook on these new obstacles it can be a blessing in disguise. Herpes has taught me patience. I no longer hop right into bed with people I don’t know as well as I should, and I avoid potentially confusing lust and love a bit more. (There’s also nothing wrong with hopping right into bed with someone, so I say you do your thing! (safely)). Herpes has taught me to grow up. It has forced me to ask some important questions of what I expect out of myself and my future partner in a relationship. Herpes has taught me compassion. Before I had herpes I was quick to judge and quick to insult (even if just mentally) those people around me living with sexually transmitted diseases because I was ignorant to what life with them really meant. Herpes taught me self-respect. It took time but through some difficult confrontations with people that hurt me by insulting me for having herpes I was able to really re-evalutate my self-worth and realize I am still worthy of all the love in the world that everyone is worthy of. Herpes taught me to open up and be vulnerable. When I was first diagnosed, I shut down and felt angry, lost and that it was unjust what happened to me. Slowly I let the anger go and opened up to people about what I was going through. Through being vulnerable I was able to cultivate deeper relationships with those around me (not always, but usually) and I learned there is no shame in needing help from others while going through this.
I’m not the most optimistic person in the world and I can be quite cynical, but with a little deeper understanding and some adjusting on my perception of things, I’ve learned some positive sides to having herpes. Dating is definitely not easier exactly, but it has a much deeper meaning to me than it did when I was living without herpes. But, we might be able to chalk that up to (hopefully) maturing, as well. The way we allow herpes to change our lives depends deeply on how we see ourselves in this new kind of life. Are we a victim or are we finding new ways to be victorious in our pursuits of happiness and love? I hope the latter for everyone living with herpes, and if that isn’t true for some people yet, I hope that they find ways to move forward in a healthy manner and that they are able to find people that care about helping them move forward in a positive manner.