"It just goes to show ya. It's always something. If it's not one thing, it's another."
Turns out the fellow I'm dating, Don, I really do not think he has herpes. He has this skin condition at the base of his spine that showed up about the same time his ex-wife told him he'd given her herpes, so he just believed her, and has actively owned his herpes shame for six years. Spending that entire six years despising himself for having this disease that makes him an untouchable.
Over the months, we have discussed herpes, how it affects our lives, and we've talked about symptoms. Herpes outbreaks generally occur on or near the genitals, last about seven days then clear up. His issue never resolves, it is constantly present. He also has never had an outbreak on his genitals. Which isn't definitive, because up to 90% of people with HSV-2 never have an outbreak. I gave him a course of Valacyclovir, 500 mg two times a day for three days, and there was no change in his condition. The whole thing has not set right with me from the get. And we've had unprotected sex all along.
I've asked him to get tested a few times, but I was totally consumed, for many months, with desperately trying to connect and read him and feeling like I was flailing and failing, trying to wrap my head and my heart around dealing with his Asperger's. For many of those first months, I vacillated constantly, and ruminated hours and days, about whether or not this was a healthy relationship for me.
About a month back, I bought an audiobook, 22 Things a Woman Must Know If She Loves a Man with Asperger's Syndrome. Within the first four minutes, the author covered the entire range of emotions I'd experienced during the short time we'd dated. I learned I'm a neurotypical woman having a NORMAL reaction to dating a man with Asperger's for the first time. What do ya know. I don't have to own this anymore. There is no fault, not on me, not on him. I don't have to react like I have in the past because it feels like how I have been treated in previous dysfunctional relationships by some serious neurotypical motherfuckers. It's never been about me. It's about Don being his Asperger self, Don. He's never intentionally abusive. He's not capable of it. It's just not in him.
I flipped from being hurt and confused and fighting the urge to walk, to recognizing every time I'm triggered, I have the opportunity to react differently, or not react at all. Don's intention is never to trigger. I'm the one that's getting triggered. I'm the one that gets to determine how I deal with being triggered. That's on me, not on him. Incredibly freeing stuff. Life changing.
It made it simple to make the commitment to stick with him, to remain in the friendship. I knew it would be invaluable, for both of us, to walk this out together. And it has been.
All along, I've recognized he is just as invested in working to make me happy as I am him. He proves to me, time and again, he values me. He pushes himself to do things he wouldn't do normally. Perhaps he believes words of affirmation and affection are his kryptonite, but they're not.
He calls when I know he'd rather not talk. He texts consistently because he knows how important it is to me. He lays his hand on my hand without prompting. Not often, but sometimes. He's invested, and he shows me in every way he can. Mostly it's on me to ask for what I want. But he is capable of doing what I want without prompting. He gets all the grace I have to give. I love the guy. What can I say.
So now that we're about seven months in, I've gotten through all my manic panic freaking out about whether or not I'm able to read someone with Asperger's, I've calmed down considerably. The last month, we've fallen into a comfortable (more comfortable) communication exchange.
Because I'm over the hump of my anxiety, all manifestations of my anxious avoidant attachment style, I'm way cool and relaxing to be around. Well not entirely, I'm intense sometimes. But that's about me and my personality, and has nothing to do with him.
Because I've chilled, he can rest a bit in me, in the friendship. He can lean in and trust me, because I've proven myself trustworthy. For the first time, he's open to acknowledging my instincts he's not got HSV, and he's going to get tested. And he's going to test negative, I just know it.
I spent the afternoon with him yesterday. I was nauseous the whole time, in the morning from too many martinis the night before, and it didn't get better throughout the day. It's likely stress, and the diet I'm on (the scared shitless about my health so I'm going starve myself diet). I've lost 56 pounds. Smile.
There was nothing but hand holding and it was quite lovely. It was relaxing, for both of us, and I felt completely connected to him. I wish I'd figured out this shit sooner, how to just be with him, just rest in the moment. I've got hold of it now, and I'm calmer and more confident about our connection. As a result, he can rest in my confidence in us and in him. Nice to finally arrive here. I anticipate things will continue to improve as we build this friendship out.
We talked some more about herpes, and I said, "Once you get that negative test, you won't have to feel like SHIT about yourself anymore. For SIX YEARS, you've felt like shit about this! Won't it be awesome to be free of that?"
He stared at me blankly, I think because he doesn't know what to think. Isn't it interesting that when we embrace something like herpes, we condition ourselves to feel so shamed and so horrible about it, we don't know what to do with the prospect we might not have herpes?
Don has allowed herpes to define him, and he's hammered the pain of shame and disgust he feels about being tainted into his mind and heart for six years. Unrelenting shame and self-disgust. I only get glimpses of it when he says something negative about having herpes. I know the number of times he internally self-condemns is a thousand times more often, and a thousand times more powerful and destructive. He has allowed herpes to take over his identify in many ways. Sometimes his entire identity.
He continued to stare at me blankly. After a few seconds, I looked away, pondered on what I'm certain will be his negative diagnosis, and said, almost under my breath, "Of course, once you find out you're negative, you won't want to have sex with me anymore, either..."
Now, that sounds sad, and I was sad, for a bit. And a bit of me will always be sad that I'm not first choice because I have herpes. But I'm also not first choice because I'm old, overweight, I talk too much, oh goodness, I could go on about all the negative things I think about myself, still.
The difference is now, that sadness gives way to the realization I get to decide how I'm going to feel about not being first choice because I have herpes (and am old and fat). And goddamn it, I am first choice. I'm my first choice! And I'm a lot of other people's first choice, too. I'm prime pickin's by my friends, first and foremost, and there will be men. There will always be men.
Don continued to stare at me blankly, and said nothing. I'm choosing not to draw any conclusions about what he was thinking about what I said. HA! Not true. It makes me a anxious to think about not having a sexual relationship with him. I like him. A lot. We're not a couple, never will be, but I love him as a friend and he's way fun to have sex with.
But, as I would have done before my diagnosis, and have admitted openly in my writing since, I would have been very unlikely to have sex with someone with herpes before I knew I had herpes. Regardless of how low the rate of transmission when taking appropriate precautions.
If he tests negative, and I would bet quite a bit on the odds he will, his options for potential long-term partners will increase exponentially. Maybe he'll like himself more without herpes. Maybe he'll open up his schedule, carve out time and put forth the effort to finding someone with whom he's compatible. Someone age appropriate. Someone in the same phase of life he is, with young children. Someone that will hike and camp with him, instead of want to hang out at Duke's on the waterfront, drinking blueberry lemon drops. (We have never done that, by the way. Just not his thing. But we have also never hiked, thank the lord above.)
So, what have I taken from all this? It really doesn't matter if you have herpes or not. If you want to feel like shit, you'll find something about yourself you can use to make yourself feel like shit. And for a long as you choose. Years, decades, a lifetime.
Most of us who suffer low self-esteem actively search, easily find, and immediately latch onto what we perceive as our ugliest attributes. Then we spend years, often decades, telling ourselves we are shit for having them. And we do it willingly. We almost treat it as an obligation, something that's required of us.
The whole time we're feeling like shit, not realizing we're making our own selves feel like shit, we don't see that it's pointless and damaging and drags us into deep dark ugly places. Scary places. Dangerous places. Places where Suicide lurks.
If it turns out Don doesn't have herpes, he may just keep beating the fuck out of himself over his Asperger's. And all the other places he perceives he is inadequate or failing or lacking. And I know from what he says, there are plenty of those.
The truth of it is, we don't have to punish ourselves for anything. We are born whole and complete, knowing everything we need to know to have goodness and joy in our lives. And our life's experiences are orchestrated to bring us back in line with what we know deep inside about ourselves: we are perfect and whole and complete just as we are.
But apparently, you have to live it to learn it. Apparently, you have to get to the shit bottom out bottom of the bottom before you can rebuild yourself and get a hold of and nurture and build up your true self. And apparently, you have to get really old to figure that out. At least I did.
It seems none of us get a hold of the Truth until we're ready to hear it, and we're finally ready to give up torturing ourselves, ourselves, instead of nurturing the Spirit spark of light and goodness and wholeness that has existed in us since our soul was birthed.
Suffering is inevitable. It's not all rainbows and butterflies. If it isn't herpes, there will always be something, some obstacle. We will have reprieves, periods of peace and light. But around the next bend, another challenge awaits. It never gets easier, but we become wiser and more resilient, simply with the passing of time.
Suffering is part of life. Don't magnify your own suffering by creating it inside yourself, yourself. Try not to, anyway. Capture that lying self-talk, and talk back to it. That critical bitch in your head - she does not deserve the airtime you grant her. You'll never get rid of her, well, never say never. But you can learn to shut her shit talking mouth down. Practice. If you're consistent, she'll lose power over time.
Herpes doesn't own you, define you, or make you less. Don't let it! What you might not realize, is, it's entirely within your power to decide how you feel about having herpes, and how you feel about yourself.
-Roseanne Roseannadanna, SNL