Lying About HIV: Risk Versus Rejection

By: Margie Mirell

Dear Margie,

I am a 41-year-old who has been HIV+ since 1999. I had a partner who cheated on me, didn’t use protection, and gave it to me. My relatives— even my mom— called me a whore and said things like, "That is what you get.” I fell apart and stayed isolated from everyone for 2 years, but found hope and support in the community and realized it was not the end.

Just this past September I met a very attractive man who is 4 years older than me. We talked, he said he was interested in hooking up, and we went back to my place. We just made out and I did not tell him I was positive.

I was not expecting to hear from him again but we started texting and hanging out. Then when he faced having to move back home with his mom because of having no job, I hired him to work at my small business. Soon the overnight visits turned into intense sex (all safe), and after two weeks he told me he loved me. I was a little shocked but had feelings for him as well, just not as intense.

After talking about our finances and moving in, we became official Domestic Partners on November 3, 2011. He has been very caring of my non-HIV-related medical problems but I still haven’t told him about my status. I take my pills while he is in the shower or when he steps out. Now he is talking about us bare backing. My doctor and therapist suggest I tell him soon. He said he would never leave me but I don’t want him to look at me like I led him on. I have not led him on. It just happened too fast, too soon.

I already went through a whole life of rejection for all of my problems. Here is someone who wants to be more intimate because we have been faithful, but all his STD and HIV panels are clean. My only problem is the HIV.



Dear JJT,

Before we start, I think it's important to note that not informing a sexual partner of your HIV-positive status can potentially be considered a criminal offense in some states. Since you didn't tell him, you could be in a precarious position. Regarding this possibility, your best option is to get legal consultation, and many local gay and lesbian centers offer these services.

What I can offer you, however, is some assessment and advice on what is underneath you not telling him. I think you have a fear of rejection.

People who lie do so for many reasons:

•They feel powerless in their relationship
•They have fear of being open and transparent
•They fear hurting the other person
•They’re afraid the other person will be angry or abandon them

If one doesn’t tell the truth, his partner will eventually find out and the trust will be broken. That said, there are ways to tell the truth that will lessen the other person’s feelings of betrayal.

For example, if you cheated on your boyfriend and you know you need to tell him the truth because the guilt is getting in the way of your intimacy, keep it simple. Sit your partner down, and with compassion and kindness say something like, “I have some things to tell you, and I know that it could impact our relationship in a major way, but I’m hoping we can use this as an opportunity to grow. I want us to have a deeper, more intimate relationship, but I’ve been keeping something from you knowing it will hurt you and us. I know you’ll be angry and probably sad, but I hope we can work through all of that and come through this in a more committed way.”

Then you tell him what happened—but DON’T go into specifics. Details are going to really hurt him, and that’s not the point here. The point is something happened, it’s keeping you two from being closer, and you’re trying to rectify that. With most relationships, this kind of communication can take a negative (one person lying) and turn it into a positive (building a deeper, more committed, and hotter relationship).

In your case, JJT, it's obvious you both moved too quickly. This could put you at legal risk, and as Domestic Partners you may have a financial risk as well. Hopefully, you and your therapist can explore why you find yourself taking these kinds of risks with your financial and personal freedom.

Ultimately, when it comes to telling a difficult truth, the risk of rejection is always worth it. When you don’t tell the truth, when you hide behind your lies, you set the grounds for tearing yourself apart on the inside. When you’re honest, when you tell the truth, you gain your self-esteem and can walk around feeling good about yourself.


Margie Mirell, LMFT and life coach, has been working in private practice with the LGBT community in Santa Monica, California for more than 20 years. She focuses on relationship issues, addictions, and co-dependency.


Have a dating question for Margie? Send it to us! We may use it for our dating section.


All images, including Margie: