Watching someone else play Russian Roulette?
October 29, 2007 5:44 PM   Subscribe

How can I get over my newly realized comtempt of someone who is HIV+ ?

Before you start hatin' and I have to post a Chris Crocker video...

I've been around HIV+ people for the better part of my life, up close and personal, but here's the story:

I'm friends with a couple who are in a 3+ year relationship. One of them is HIV+ and the other is not. I've been friends with them for a while now, but I've noticed that more and more I catch myself feeling contempt the one who is HIV+, kind of like I'm being judgmental against him for placing his partner in a risky health situation. This is totally not like me.

1. Yes, their relationship is none of my business. It will remain none of my business.
2. I assume they take the necessary precautions, all of which I am familiar with.
3. His viral load is supposedly undetectable and I have no reason to believe otherwise.

So my question is not 'help me rationalize their relationship (again, it's their business), but since I like them both and enjoy their company, how can I nip this nagging feeling of contempt in the bud? I catch myself seeing the one who is HIV+ as greedy and selfish, satisfying his own needs by recklessly endangering someone else. I know better - I know that's not the truth, but I can't help FEELING it. Help me stop feeling like this!
posted by matty to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You probably can't stop feeling it. Emotions are random, they arise and fall without your asking them to.

What you can do is notice and acknowledge that emotion when it arises, and let it exist without it influencing your behavior. It's hard work, and you need to practice at it. There's no shortcut, but the feeling will pass in time if you let it exist and then let it go.
posted by ellF at 5:49 PM on October 29, 2007

This is not the answer you want, but if it makes you feel any better, I would feel the same way...
posted by ydnagaj at 5:51 PM on October 29, 2007

Maybe it's a way of masking grief. Maybe it is easier to hate him than to think about missing him when he's gone. Not to say he's a goner any time soon, but with an incurable disease it is hard not to think about.

You don't really know if he is recklessly endangering anyone or not. Sounds like they have a stable relationship. Anyway, much as you say it isn't like you, it is you--it's that ugly underbelly few of us really want to own as ourselves and we all have one and right now you have a conflict between the person you'd like to be and the person you are when it gets right down to it. I think you need to embrace your disgust and learn it's secrets because it will give you insight into what is really going on to cause your reaction. Maybe it is something more global like "responsibility" and something related to that theme that is really the burr under your saddle. Sounds chewy and dense... wade through it and you'll be a better person on the other end. Good luck!
posted by 45moore45 at 5:54 PM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Everytime you hear a voice on your shoulder telling you to have contempt for him, imagine a voice on the other shoulder saying, "I hope one day someone loves me the way she loves him."
posted by 4ster at 5:58 PM on October 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think you are giving more important to the wrong
inner voice.(which you believe is right)

Give more importance to the right inner voice.
posted by mot123 at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Imagine if you loved someone. Wouldn't you want to be intimate with them, especially if you took precautions every time? Just keep in mind that it's probably not a situation where he's persuading her into anything...she probably wants to be with him as badly as he wants to be with her.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2007

Two things that may help you view this from a different perspective:
-His partner is making the decision to do this. I'm sure his partner knows the risks yet still decided to engage in the relationship.
-At least the guy with the HIV+ status told his partner (and even you). You do realize that there are people who know their status and don't tell anyone, including partners.
posted by Wolfster at 6:12 PM on October 29, 2007

Can we stop with the assumption of hetero status here? Thanks.

As for the situation at hand, have you known other mixed-status couples? How did you respond then? I'm trying to figure out if it's this particular couple (including personalities, histories, decision making, emotional capacities, desires, power dynamics, etc.) or if it's the mixed-status in general.

Otherwise, I think it may be like any reaction that a friend or couple provokes. Understanding exactly what emotions are provoking this response will help. Are you wondering what you'd do in this situation? Did another couple try the same and it didn't work out so well? Are you grieving another friend? Did you just find out someone else's status change? But yeah - cognitive behavioral strategies will help here. Others will chime in here on techniques for that I'm sure.
posted by barnone at 6:13 PM on October 29, 2007

"...I catch myself feeling contempt the one who is HIV+, kind of like I'm being judgmental against him for placing his partner in a risky health situation."

His partner knows, right? If so, then I don't think this statement is really fair.

Your friend's partner is presumably a rational adult, and must think that your friend is worth any risk. That seems very admirable to me. Maybe thinking more from this perspective would help?
posted by CrayDrygu at 6:15 PM on October 29, 2007

I'm not qualified to make most if not all of the assumptions below, but here's what I get out of it:

It's a defense mechanism. It's tough to become closer to someone you think is (erroneously or not) going to die soon anyway (for some value of "soon"), so while you have to spend time with this person you have to start thinking bad of them in order to counteract your natural desire to get closer to this person, your friends and people you spend time with. Beyond that, you don't want it to happen to his partner, too, so the cycle repeats itself twofold. I don't think it has much to do with HIV at all, it's just whatever causes the future event(s) that this person can be blamed for. It would make equal sense regarding people who drive too fast.
posted by rhizome at 6:22 PM on October 29, 2007

His partner has made the decision. Presumably they're both rational adults so it's not really your business.

If you're willing, I highly suggest you order the two issues of Ken Dahl's Monsters. It is about the author dealing with contracting herpes--the story is not finished at all, but in the beginning he goes through a similar soliloquy regarding the herpes-positive (how dare they expose themselves! How irresponsible!), which he then has to confront himself when he contracts it. It's very good.
posted by schroedinger at 6:27 PM on October 29, 2007

Maybe you're a little jealous? They have a nice, stable, committed, long-term relationship, despite an element that would be a dealbreaker for many, many (maybe even most) people.
posted by desuetude at 6:40 PM on October 29, 2007

If you have an opportunity to catch Queer As Folk (US), Season 2 (I think beginning around episode 6 or 7 through to the end of S2) there's a plotline dealing with Michael and Ben (who is HIV+) and the reaction of Michael's friends and family to him dating someone who is HIV+. The emotions were quite similar to what you are feeling. I think QAF handled the plotline really, really well. You may get something out of it.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:42 PM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

(I should mention that, if you are opposed to hot, gay sex and/or watching safely practiced hot, gay sex where one individual is HIV+, you should probably avoid it altogether).

Now that I think of it, there's another plot later in the series involving a HIV+ teen boy and his girlfriend, and all that's involved there.

Regardless, it's television, but it portrays the scenarios well.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:49 PM on October 29, 2007

Thank you for all the input so far - it's much appreciated.

Some clarifications:

They are two gay males.
I am a gay male in a stable, happy relationship of my own.
Despite all my exposure to HIV+ people, I've never known a 'mixed' couple.
I've seen every episode of QAF.
posted by matty at 7:23 PM on October 29, 2007

I guess call me old school, but I don't really see a reason or justification for "justifying" anything. You either feel one way or you don't, and it's either your business or it's not. Forget the rationalization of WHY--I mean, we could list 10,000 things and barely nick the surface. I think rationalizing and justifying makes it fake and artificial, and I think that's the opposite of what you want. I guess that doesn't make much sense, but either you like these people and you focus on what you like and THAT you like, and you give up trying to make your mind wrap itself around some convoluted way to make it OK to like them, or you DON'T, and you should stop wasting your time and theirs by trying to convince yourself that you can overlook the things that you seem to dislike.

My basic point is that in my world, you're my friend or you're just somebody on the street. If you're my friend, our relationship is thicker than water, regardless of who you WERE or where you got where you are. If you're not, c'est la vie, and have a jolly good day anyway.
posted by TomMelee at 7:42 PM on October 29, 2007

Balance the contempt you feel for him with the contempt you feel for yourself for feeling it. Then laugh at the whole situation. You're just as much a loser as he is, even if it's in a different way. We all are.
posted by alms at 7:44 PM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Because you're afraid.

You see this person as a perpetrator, even though you know that he's not. It's a projected (and very negative) fantasy about you or someone you love being harmed. You relate it to some situation of violence or betrayal or victimhood that you have experienced or nearly experienced or are afraid of experiencing.

The good news is that, if you sit very still for half an hour or so, your mind will lead you on a series of associations that will help you figure out what you're afraid of.

It's not really about them.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:46 PM on October 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Maybe imagine a scenario in which the HIV+ person ('A') was, at first, completely against having a physical relationship.

Maybe A was reluctant to pursue *any kind* of relationship, but the charms of 'B' slowly wore him down - he can still feel the reluctant smiles at aggressively stupid jokes, the surprise when his hand was taken out of the blue. B wins A over; A can't help but think this is a bad idea, and told B from the start that he was HIV positive -- in a misguided effort to drive B away. But A knows what he wants; he persisted. And persistence paid off.

Then there are the painful weeks while B insistently wheedles A to get more and more intimate; the amazing, hard-won progress from kissing, to something more, and more. B says that we are, after all, animals, and the need to be physically close, completely, isn't trivial. More than that, B's personality is such that he's a whole person when he's getting some, and he's a ghost, in a sense, when he's not. And he only wants A. That's not up for discussion; it's A or nobody. And doesn't A need the same thing? He wants A to be happy, completely fulfilled, for both their sakes.

And aren't we all going to die, eventually, anyway? And shouldn't we grab happiness like this, joyful brilliant connection, when something wonderful is offered to us by fate or chance or God? Isn't the world fraught with enough other risks to make ignoring such a transcendent opportunity a crime?

A cries. He hates having to choose between two bad things. It seems like a lose-lose situation; there's no way for him to be a good guy. Then B kisses him and nothing's bad anymore; there's only joy. After all, how can he worry about what anyone else thinks? How can he force them both to dwell in unhappiness and want, when this is so close and so easy to grab and so perfect?

Maybe he hates himself a lot of the time. Maybe he thinks about it a lot, but can he talk about it all the time? The point, B says, is living _now_. If you spend all your time punishing yourself, it's not really doing anyone any good.

Of course there are other perspectives. You may know the real story. This is just one thing I imagine.
posted by amtho at 7:52 PM on October 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

I was in a 10 year relationship with a man who was HIV+. It might help you to know that he was careful with me to an almost pathological degree. It was my decision to be with him and I have never regretted it. 'Cause I loved him, you see? It was no sacrifice to me.
posted by thebrokedown at 7:54 PM on October 29, 2007 [5 favorites]

Oh, I am a female, BTW. (I also want to apologize for the weird accidental rhyming in my answer :(
posted by thebrokedown at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2007

It's possible, if not likely, that they aren't having sex.
posted by orange swan at 8:13 PM on October 29, 2007

When I got out of my wanderlust years, I fretted for a time over whether or not I could be HIV+. Finally, a girlfriend inspired the good sense to get checked. And then checked again three months later. Heavy times.

Why? Because I had fun. And I was worried that what with all the against-the-rules fun I had had, I was going to "catch teh AIDS."

When I took my last test, I cried. I had made it through a gauntlet. But not because I did anything wrong! Rather, it was because I loved too much and I got lucky.

Regularly, I have heard it said that being sexually promiscuous is self-hate. Or to practice unsafe sex is to lack self-respect. Maybe that is true for some. But I say it is untrue for most. It is my experience that most of us have sex because it makes us feel the opposite of bad! Sex makes us feel wonderfully good!

Someone who gets HIV is not a criminal or even a victim; they are a sufferer. As in, "she or he suffers from HIV." But it sounds as if you get that.

Is it possible you are unconcerned about the HIV, and in fact just don't like the person? Maybe you don't like him, and and you feel guilty about that because he is HIV-.
posted by humannaire at 8:19 PM on October 29, 2007

The -hiv negative partner obviously knows about the + status of his partner, and chooses to be in a relationship with him.

Try channeling your contempt into positive thoughts for your +hiv friend and his partner.
posted by pluckysparrow at 8:36 PM on October 29, 2007

Lately I've been trying this thing, suggested by a Buddhist friend (so maybe it's related to a Buddhist practice? I don't know...) where when I have a negative feeling like, for example, feeling lonely, I actually say in my head (or out loud if I'm alone) "Hello loneliness" (or, "Hello, whateverbadfeeling"). For some reason this is super helpful. I've had therapists tell me before to just notice my feelings without judgement, but the practice of actually saying "hello" to my feelings is for some reason very helpful in a practical way. I usually feel a lot better really quickly!

So you could try saying out loud "Hello Judgment!" or "Hello Contempt" or whatever it is your feeling when you think about this couple. I know this sounds really trite, but I'm sharing it because it is actually helping me.
posted by serazin at 9:04 PM on October 29, 2007 [15 favorites]

(Also, I sometimes say something like, "I see you contempt!", or whatever the feeling is)
posted by serazin at 9:05 PM on October 29, 2007

Maybe try realizing that by feeling contempt for the HIV+ partner, you're actually expressing contempt for the HIV- partner, because you're basically saying that you think he's an idiot who's too stupid to take care of himself or make decisions for himself.

And I love the "Hello, contempt" suggestion. You can't really stop feeling anything -- you're human, you're going to have emotions -- but it sounds like you want to stop being controlled by your feelings. The best way to do that is to openly acknowledge them (even if just to yourself), which makes them not a big deal, rather than trying to stuff them down, which just gives them more power over you.
posted by occhiblu at 9:41 PM on October 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

You could also try to take one or two weeks and force yourself to focus on all the caring things the HIV+ person does for his partner. You could even go so far as to write down a list of behaviors you see that contradict your current assumptions.
posted by occhiblu at 9:44 PM on October 29, 2007

There's a lot of good advice in this thread already, but I wanted to add something from a different direction.

There are things that are important to you, to varying degrees. Most things in the world don't impact your life or your feelings much, but certain specific things do. Perhaps big ticket items like religion or race, or small potatoes like the way someone drives or dresses, or something like your issue. What they have in common is that you're not entirely rational about them, and though you are aware of your feelings (and their not being quite normal or acceptable) you're simultaneously unable (or unwilling, or both) to take the steps to change your feelings on the subject.

An average person has at least a few issues like this, and that doesn't make them bad people, or insane. Danny Bonaduce once said that he got through the day better after his wife pointed out that just because he has crazy thoughts in his head doesn't mean he has to say them out loud. Similarly, you can harbor judgemental feelings about someone and still be an okay person, if you're cognizant about your feelings enough that you aren't letting it impact how you treat them, and about their feelings that you don't tell them how you feel.

The thing is, it's easier to do that when you've got some distance between you and the other person. In this case, I suspect you don't have as much space as you used to have; they've becoming closer friends to you than ever before, and so as time passes you have more of a personal stake in whether they both stay alive and healthy -- and so you start to resent it, or show contempt, or both, when you see them "playing Russian roulette" with two lives you care so deeply about.

So don't beat yourself up about it; lots of people struggle with this. Maybe it's your grandfather, who refuses to stop driving even though he's dangerous and putting himself and your grandmother at risk; maybe it's your best friend who has been smoking for a long time and shows no sign of ever quitting, even though he's awaiting the results of a biopsy; maybe it's your child, who is throwing away their educational opportunities and concentrating on partying. At the end of the day, you care about their behavior because you care about them.

But it's their life, not yours, and those that choose to participate or expose them to the dangers of that behavior (the grandmother above, or your non-HIV+ friend, for instance) are capable of making their own decisions. As a friend, all you can do is keep your mouth shut and be supportive of everything they're doing, because it makes them happy.

After all, consider the parent who is homophobic but has a gay or lesbian child; asking them to stop being homophobic is a losing proposition, but asking them to keep their mouth shut and be supportive is a much more reasonable request. So don't worry about stopping these feelings -- just be honest with yourself about them, seek therapy or another outlet to vent (such as this askme, for instance) and be a caring and supportive friend.
posted by davejay at 9:59 PM on October 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Can you just let yourself really feel it? I find that's usually the best way to get one emotion to turn into the next one.
posted by salvia at 10:59 PM on October 29, 2007

I felt similarly when a friend of mine became partnered with someone positive, even though I had volunteered for an AIDS non-profit and thought I was generally a right on and live and let live person. For me, there were a couple of things at work.

The first was that no matter how educated and broadminded I thought I was, I had an atavistic fear of the disease (and of any serious disease, really, but particularly communicable ones). AIDS is a fundamentally scary concept and I wanted to pull my friend away from it like it was a hot stove. I think of that as a reptile brain reaction and it went away pretty quick once my more reasonable side, to say nothing of my conscience, reasserted itself.

The second was that I wanted my vital and healthy and very young friend to be with someone as vital and healthy as he was. I didn't want his heart broken. I didn't want him lonely. Most of all, I didn't want him infected.

This was in 1996. All these years later, they own a beautiful home together, they travel widely, they have a wide circle of friends, and are very much still in love. My friend's partner is one of the nicest people you'd ever hope to meet and unless you noticed him taking his pills as I have a time or two you would assume his health was perfect; he takes good care of himself, and good care of my friend. As for my friend, he is still negative. Chances are his partner will precede him but if that happens I am certain he'll have no regrets. Disease, death, heartbreak, and loneliness always lay in wait for us. True love doesn't. If your friend is happy and his relationship is good and they love each other well, eventually time itself will take care of your remaining fears. You may even find yourself envying them.
posted by melissa may at 1:27 AM on October 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Several years ago I used to have my hair cut at a barber shop in the City. After I moved across the bay, I began going to a barber near my house--but if I was in the City and I needed a haircut, I'd stop in to his shop. The times I dropped in he wasn't there, but after a few months I finally caught up with him. As we talked and caught up with the "Hey how have you been?" chitchat, he told me he was HIV+ and he hadn't been feeling well and his HIV- partner was taking care of him.

This was the first time I'd encountered AIDS so close to me and I was so stunned I just sat there in silence, trying not to cry. I tried to see him a few times after that but he stopped working at the shop, and I look back on that with a certain amount of regret, because I later realized he might have thought I stopped going to him because of his HIV status and I didn't know how to explain to him that wasn't the case.

I don't know if this helps, but my regret lies in not being able to tell him what I was feeling while I could. I already had a great deal of respect for you, and I just want to say I respect you even more for wanting to remedy this while you still have the opportunity to do so. Bravo, sir.
posted by fandango_matt at 4:49 AM on October 30, 2007

You might be interested in this article:

Magnetic Couples: When positive and negative attract, HIV often takes a backseat to that crazy little thing called love. Four couples tell all about negotiating the serodivergent terrain.
posted by heatherann at 5:34 AM on October 30, 2007

Ask them. Ask them exactly how they deal with the issue of HIV in their relationship. Tell them that you care deeply for both of them and that you want to be a good friend and a helpful friend, but that you don't have their experiences and so you would benefit from their insight. Hearing from both of them will help you understand their relationship (which may be theirs, but is part of a much larger community).
posted by greekphilosophy at 5:56 AM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best of web. For real.
posted by humannaire at 8:31 AM on October 31, 2007

« Older Best. TV. ad. ever. (if it actually exists)   |   How can I get money to finance my move? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.