I’m pacing outside Café Rendezvous, waiting for a guy we’ll call Jack. I haven’t seen his picture yet, which I guess is foolish. But give me a break: This is my first Internet date, via a site that claims it is “the best, easiest and largest ... for STD singles.” God forbid I should get herpes or syphilis! (My editor says I was even more foolish for not having used  POZ’s site, www.pozpersonals.com.) No, I just want a normal, straight man with AIDS. I’ve never even had the chickenpox, for God’s sake—only mumps and HIV. And the virus has made me think that dating in my white heterosexual world is impossible. As if I’m diseased, beamed into some universe of men nobody else wants either.

So I give Jack a shot. He could be a really nice guy, right? Right? I keep repeating that mantra as a man approaches, smiling. He’s wearing pointy alligator cowboy boots and dirty jeans that don’t fit. I want to vaporize. “Jack?” I say. “Yeah,” he answers, with a shit-eating grin. I feel sick to my stomach. I tower over him as we walk to our table. I can see the crown of his bald head, which wouldn’t be so bad—except that the rest of his hair runs past his waist. And I’m thinking: “The minute I get home, I’m wiping my damn profile off that site.”

Suddenly, I feel even sicker, for judging the guy like this. He’s probably just like me, trying to meet that dream date who can make him believe, just for a second, that the virus doesn’t bind him to loneliness. But I gotta tell you, it’s frustrating. Does the fact that I have HIV mean that I can’t have the same physical expectations and fantasies—realistic or otherwise—as negative people do? Why can’t positive people judge by appearances and be superficial, too? Must we instantly marry anyone who smiles at us, thinking we couldn’t possibly do any better for ourselves? Don’t get me wrong: I think many ladies might find Jack hot. But I’m just not one of them.

Anyway, I managed to shelve all my issues, and the date wasn’t half-bad. But Jack never called back! Remarkably, I was pissed off. True, I would never have gone back out with him. But now I had to review the situation all over again. Maybe I’m too overbearing and aggressive, as my mother keeps reminding me. Or, even worse, maybe I was the one who was not attractive enough for him. I start to examine my every flaw. Note to self: Work on self-esteem. Go back to gym. Get plastic surgery you’ve been threatening for, like, ten years now.

It doesn’t help that I’m not sure what I’m looking for. Do I want someone to love or just someone to love me? Maybe, now that I think of it, what I found skeevey in Jack was my own desperation reflected back at me. Every time I meet a new man, I have to fight turning him into a symbol of my HIV fears.

I’m a Jersey girl, so I can’t talk about love without quoting Bruce Springsteen. In “Human Touch,” he sings: “You can’t shut out the risk and the pain without losing the love that remains. We’re all riders on this train.”

So, yeah, I’m gonna stay on that train. I may be wasting my time, but I have to try. It’s taken a long time, since my 1985 diagnosis, to want to date again. No way can I let self-sabotage stop me. I want to see myself and my dates for who we really are, to take Bruce’s carnival ride into the dark and scary tunnel of love.

POZ welcomes aboard “Angelica,” a new pseudonymous columnist.