I had barely finished my first semester of college when I found out I had herpes. A high school friend and I wound up taking our friendship a little further, and 20 seconds into the act that would change my life forever, he stopped.
My friend said I was too much like a sister, and he couldn’t continue. Then he left. I worried about how that incident would affect our friendship. Little did I know my worries would extend far beyond that concern.
Less than a week later, I found myself in excruciating pain. It hurt to walk, and I couldn’t use soap anywhere near my genital area. I knew enough about sexually transmitted diseases to know that I had condoms, which can reduce the risk of transmission. My selling point, however, was telling him that approximately one in four people has herpes and, statistically speaking, he undoubtedly had slept with someone who had herpes. He said he would know if he had been with someone who had herpes.
“How?” I asked.
He thought about that for a minute and then realized he might not know. In the end, instead of rejecting me, he chose to continue our relationship. What a relief. But after we had sex, he would always wash himself like a doctor scrubbing down for an operation. I could hardly blame him, but it wreaked havoc on my self-esteem. Since he was disease-free, he refused to wear medication, I stumbled across a web site for people with herpes.
Finding Help and Support
There are dozens of web sites that provide online support and information for people with herpes. Many feature chat rooms, bulletin boards, treatment information, personal ads, and social groups around the world. A friend of mine had recently married a guy she met on the Web — proving that not every Internet date is a psycho — so I gave it a try.
I met dozens of electronic pen pals and eventually went on several dates. It was a relief not to worry about when to bring up my medical history, and to bond with a guy over asymptomatic shedding instead of having to explain it.
The whole experience made me more comfortable with the fact that I have herpes and gave me the confidence to begin dating again. It was as if I had just re-entered mainstream society. Not everyone with herpes has to date someone infected with the virus to find true love, but in my case, it worked.
Mr. Right Online
Eventually, I met a man online who lived only three miles from me. We discovered we had numerous mutual friends. Given the circumstances, it was surprising that we hooked up on the Web and not at a neighborhood barbecue.
Soon we will be married, and more than 100 family members and friends are invited to join our celebration. Most have no idea how we really met, but it’s not important. Herpes brought us together, but it’s the love, laughter, and good times that keep us close.
Ann Smith is a pseudonym for a journalist living in California.