Finding True Love With HIV
by Tim Murphy
Achieving a happy relationship can be easier than you think—despite the obstacles presented by HIV.
If the news that having a partner can boost your health makes you wonder, “How will I ever find someone to love me with my HIV?” stop stressing. Though isolation and stigma—not to mention the challenges of facing ongoing health concerns and navigating how and when to disclose your status—can be obstacles, they are not closed doors. Many HIV-positive people, both gay and straight, have overcome them. Just ask Bonetta Graves.
Graves remembers the first time she met her dream man, William Spratley, in their hometown of Hopewell, Virginia. “I loved his maturity and experience,” says Graves, 42, now a medical case manager in Manning, South Carolina. “I’ve always had an old soul.”
But at that time, 1987, Graves was anything but old: She had just turned 18—and Spratley was 38. “My parents disapproved,” she says. “But I was headstrong.” Moreover, both she and Spratley were doing crack—in fact, they first met when Spratley’s nephew brought Graves by Spratley’s place on a drug run. “I was wild in my youth,” admits Graves, who kicked drugs more than a decade ago.
Their romance was short-lived: In 1989, Spratley went to prison on a drug-related charge of violence. After visiting him there a few times, Graves told him, “I can’t wait around for you.” A year later, Graves, working in the federal Job Corps in Maryland, learned she had HIV. “I cried for three days,” she says. She told Spratley, but he waited years to be tested, fearing a positive diagnosis would stigmatize him in prison. Eventually he got tested—and it was negative. Graves had gotten HIV from someone else.
The following years were not kind to Graves. She became seriously ill with pneumonia in 1991, recovered and continued doing drugs on and off. At a rehab program, she met an HIV-negative man. They married and had two (HIV-negative) girls, now 14 and 11. The couple also kept doing drugs—and then he started abusing her. “There were stitches, broken ribs,” she recalls. But because he was the breadwinner and accepted her despite her HIV, she stayed with him. “I felt like I had to because he was ‘taking care’ of me.” Her self-esteem was low—because of her drug habit, she says, not just HIV. “I hadn’t done anything with my life, so I was timid when it came to relationships. My HIV [didn’t help].”
Graves kicked drugs for good after her mother died in 1999. “I had two kids, and I was tired of all the drama. I was ready to move on, but he would never leave,” Graves says. Finally, in 2005 the couple decided to divorce.
A new chapter loomed. “I was elated but scared, because I had to raise two girls on my own,” she says. “But I vowed I wouldn’t get with a new man just because he had money and looked good.” Then she heard that Spratley was out of prison, where he’d been drug-free since 1994 and had become a legal advocate to other prisoners. Graves ventured introducing her girls to him. “He hugged them and opened his heart to them,” she says, “and honey, after that, it was on.”
Just like that? Graves said that the fast reunion felt right, like they were picking up naturally where they’d left off years before. “It was like the missing piece of the puzzle,” she says. “Plus, he was gentle. There was no arguing.”
Six years later and drug-free, Graves and Spratley seem to have found the clarity of mind to do things right this time around. They’ll marry next year. Saturdays, Spratley takes the girls to the library, and the whole family loves to thrift shop and fly kites together, a special hobby of Spratley’s.
Graves has advice for other HIV-positive folks looking for love. “Don’t ignore red flags,” she says—such as early indications of violence. “Hang in there looking for [the right] love, because you never know when the tables will turn.” Graves says full, honest communication is what’s allowing her and Spratley to succeed this time. Spratley agrees: “She doesn’t let me run from things,” he laughs. “There’s no woman more perfect for me.”
HOW TO: MEET YOUR MATE
Advice From the Experts
Shantrell Jackson, cybercenter associate at Atlanta’s SisterLove,
HIV-positive coordinator of its Dating and Disclosure workshop:
“If you want others to be OK with your HIV, you have to be OK with it. Support groups really helped me.
“Don’t settle because of HIV. Date someone you see yourself being with.
“I don’t disclose my HIV right away. That’s too serious, too soon. When I do, I do it in a public place where I feel safe and secure.” If they reject you? “You don’t want to be with someone who’s not comfortable with all of you. But don’t necessarily expect them to be OK with it right off the bat.
“To make it work long-term, you need honest communication, even if that means couples counseling.”
Christopher Murray, LCSW, Manhattan psychotherapist with longtime HIV-positive clientele:
“Take the time you need to disclose—you’ll know when you’re ready. Experiment with both telling up front and waiting a little. Just [don’t] do anything unethical or unsafe [like having unprotected risky sex without disclosing].
“Give people time to adjust to your HIV. Some people will say, ‘It’s fine,’ and you’ll never hear from them again. But others take a little time, then, a few months later, it’s no biggie.”
Positive Women Share Secrets to Their Success
Tonya Rasberry, peer counselor, Auburn, Washington, has been with her HIV-negative partner for a few months:
“You can learn to achieve good communication by really listening, putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. I am learning to do that in my new relationship, and I’ve never been happier.”
Shana Cozad, HIV prevention educator, Tulsa, Oklahoma, has been with her HIV-negative partner “since the dawn of time”:
“Be super-duper open and honest. A sense of humor goes a long way, too.
“Sex can be intimidating. Don’t expect it to be all fireworks and trumpets [at first]. Just be fine that they aren’t totally panicking.
“Someone who scorns or shames you about having HIV is a huge no-no. I don’t care how many margaritas they’d had or if they say they’re sorry.”
Andrea Harrington, HIV prevention specialist, Philadelphia, has been married to her HIV-positive partner for six years:
“Never be ashamed because you’re positive. I thought HIV made me damaged goods, not worthy of love. But being HIV-positive did not mean I had to settle for substandard. I [waited] until my prince came, willing and accepting of all of me. My husband and I found each other while basking in the light of a newly found independence called self-worth.
“To make it work, you must be open with each other. Secrets are for the Colonel’s chicken recipe.”
Find a Friend or Date Online
The largest online HIV match-up service—for love or friendship—is POZ Personals, with more than 125,000 members and a new, easy-to-use design. Sign up for a free or premium account at personals.poz.com.
Some tips for using POZ Personals:
- Post a clear photo of yourself. Profiles with photos get more attention. Avoid dark sunglasses, hats, strange lighting and poses.
- Go casual and be sure to smile.
- Be honest. Say who you really are and be clear about what you’re really looking for.
- Let your personality shine through. The more info you provide in your profile, the
more likely someone will find something in common with you and strike up a conversation.
- Sign up to be Catch of the Day on your Edit Profile page.
Scroll down to comment on this story.
comments 1 - 15 (of 30 total)
Solomon Berhe, Seattle, 2014-06-12 23:49:33
Being Poz since 1997 . On medication doing pretty well .
I don't hide I'm out and open
Very happy to be alive
Being from Africa
If I was there on time of my diagnosis
I wouldn't be here today
When I tell my story for otheres it make me happy and strong and give otheres a confidence to get tested .
lalo, antigua, 2012-11-17 08:50:40
Hey every one how r u guy s.i liv in antigua an Am looking for a girl with hiv to make her mine well o have bring lookin all the time but cant find the r a lot of them but i dont who is who.help me if u can
joyce, belize, 2012-07-15 02:46:01
My name is Joyce. My husband and I have been married almost 19 years, we have been together for 24 years. We have two beautiful children ages 12 and 14. We used to be best friends and lovers. We had so many dreams and goals. Life was becoming so busy and the little things got in the way. Both our children have challenges ranging from anxiety and adhd to learning disorder and mood problems. The struggle of managing the children, two full times jobs and daily life left the marriage into the dust.
Jeton Ademaj, Harlem, NYC, 2011-10-07 06:08:58
Bryan, i'm afraid your reaction to this article is at least as tragic and comical as the blitheness-to-stigma u attribute to it. perhaps it falls to u to be the stigma-fighting example to ur coworkers...or will u let ur worry over such stigma block any happiness u can hope for? The Closet is a dark n lonely place to inhabit full-time, regardless of what one is hiding. if the specific suggestions of this article don't work for u, never stop searching for what DOES work...then, SHARE IT if u can.
Guy39sd, San Diego, 2011-10-03 15:26:31
POZ personals ROCKS! I'm with the best girlfriend I've ever had and owe it all to the site and their willingness to provide the community with a free dating service. ROCK ON POZ.com.
From a very happy guy in San Diego.
billybob, Speigleville, 2011-09-29 02:07:19
And they lived happily ever after.
Veronica Brisco, Columbia, 2011-09-24 22:57:11
Congratulations! You are both so awesome for taking a step toward eliminating the stigmas that surround HIV/AIDS. You make a beautiful couple. Thank you so very much.
Veronica Brisco, Columbia, 2011-09-24 21:48:03
AWESOME! Thank you for providing hope for a NORMAL LIFE, STEPPING UP, sharing your TRUE story, helping to tear down the walls of STIGMA, being an OVERCOMER, NOT QUITTING, looking forward to a FUTURE, LOVING AGAIN, TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for and UNDERSTANDING that your past exists but you DON'T HAVE TO wallow in it and most of all for not being ANGRY WITH THE WORLD. I focused on the positive, not what may be CONSIDERED negative. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could all do the same.
Dave, New York, 2011-09-22 22:56:43
I was glad to read this story, and would love to read more like this from all different walks of life. Would be nice to hear real-life stories about people who found love and didn't already have a past together to help create the connection, new couples who have disclosed from the beginning. To keep the hope and optimism alive. Good article.
mark, , 2011-09-22 18:44:12
QUEEN;your posting proves my point,I'm right and you're wrong....you never gave us any anecdotal evidence of the contrary,you only cemented my opinion.Going to the hospital w/someone?puhleez.the man in thisa article did a lot more than that with his hiv+ partner,he married her....like I said before,men are NOT as stigmatizing as women are and this article and your silly post proves it,get over it.
Bryan, Tampa, FL, 2011-09-19 15:50:24
Thanks for the anecdotal story. I am an advanced medical professional and recently diagnosed poz. I have no problems with self-esteem. The stigma associated with people who are HIV+ is alive and well...I watch healthcare workers even when they find out my patient is homosexual. Now you think I should put a clear face picture on poz.com? If it wasn't so tragic, it would be comical.
caseyp, chicago, 2011-09-17 22:12:57
What side am I on? Just bc they share a similar disease does not put me on the same team as x drug addicts who fall in love. This article follows through w the stigma that poor and addicts are the only straight ppl that get hiv today. Im just suggesting a story that doesn't follow that stigma and hope to make others feel better about love and hiv. Game set match. Over the argument
Tammy, Washington, DC, 2011-09-15 16:56:50
Caseyp's comments were unneccessary. If you would have read the story, you would notice that they have not used in over ten years! At least they found happiness, what about you? Their story is applicable to them. One would think since you are college educated that your comments would have reflected your degree. You are discriminating against this couple just like people discriminate against people with HIV. Make up your mind on who's side you are on.
caseyp, chicago, 2011-09-14 22:18:53
Although this story may be touching (?) The story of two crack addicts finding love defn does not help me nor many others im sure who are young and college educated struggling with the stigma of the disease and the hope of a long term relationship. Can you make your stories more relavant to a larger audience ?
Austin, Baltimore, 2011-09-14 02:56:58
comments 1 - 15 (of 30 total)
I loved this article! Honesty, openness & love are my cures for HIV. Recently diagnosed in April, I began meds in June & am testing undetectable! Joining a support group and therapy have been important parts to my treatment. Self-worth is an area I am working on. Being open and honest within ALL aspects of my life, from my job, to school, to my f&f have opened up doors I never thought possible when diagnosed. Dating has proven fruitful when I am open and honest; at very least, I can educate.