Herpes: A Love Story

It seems like an unlikely story - trust me, I had a hard time believing it myself and I’m IN this story. But I want to share it with you - the story about how herpes led me to the man of my dreams.

Before I met my partner, I had just casually hooked up with a guy I had met on a dating app. The best part about THAT whole story was that I went over to this guy’s house with a condom in my purse. The guy had told me it wasn’t necessary- that he was sure he was “good” and if I was too- then why bother? I know, I know…. whatever you’re thinking, I’ve already thought it myself 2 million times or so.

Needless to say we didn’t bother with the condom.

Low and behold, about two or three weeks later- I had my first outbreak. Gosh, that was a rough weekend. Not only did I figure out that I was likely HSV positive, but I had to call that dating app guy…and I had to tell my new partner. We had just slept together a few days prior to my first lesion.

Let me quickly interject! I was hesitant to share this whole story - I mean it’s not exactly easy to put into writing that I was casually sleeping with two men… without condoms….but that’s the truth. And I want to be as honest with you as I possibly can. What I’ve come to realize is that my sexual history and my STI status do NOT define me. So you’re getting the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Even if it does make me a little uncomfortable.

Now, back to my first outbreak.

At first, I wasn’t even sure what it was. But after a million Google searches and getting really familiar with straddling a mirror, I had a pretty good idea about what I was dealing with. The conversation with the dating app guy that followed is pretty irrelevant to this story… he’s not the one I fell in love with, but you probably already guessed that. He just told me it probably wasn’t herpes and I basically never heard from him again. So where did that leave me?

Crying. In a ball. Under the covers. Because I knew I had one more person to call.

I asked my partner to come over because I needed to talk to him. Later, I would find out that he was mostly just terrified that I was going to break up with him. When he got there I couldn’t even get out of my bed to answer the door. He found me right where I said I’d be- under the covers. He crawled into bed with me and took me into his arms. I told him that I wasn’t certain but that there was a pretty good chance that I was having my first herpes outbreak. And you know what he did? He didn’t run for the door. He didn’t point a finger at me. He didn’t call me names or shame me for what I had said. He just wiped the tears from my face and told me that he loved me.

WHOA. Did you see that coming? Because I sure didn’t. He held me for as long as I needed him to, he assured me that everything would be okay, and he stayed with me until I fell asleep.

We stayed together for a year and a half after that. He stuck by my side after I got the results from my blood test. He stuck by my side when I lost everything I owned in an apartment fire. He stuck by my side when I had to go get a biopsy for a precancerous lesion on my vulva (yeah, 2016 was a rough year!) He stuck by my side through my surgery and my recovery. He never left, not even during the darkest days. He never even glanced at the door.

But you know what? I single-handedly ruined our relationship. I was so sure that something was wrong with him. How could he love ME? I had herpes. I was just a dumb, easy girl who got what she had coming to her. How could he stand me? Maybe HE gave me herpes and this was his way of keeping me! Oh man, our imagination really can get the best of us, right? I was so paranoid, so miserable, so incapable of receiving love, that I ultimately pushed him away.

We spent 6 months apart while I tried to screw my head on right. I spent a lot, if not all, of that time learning to love myself. I locked myself away in my apartment, reading books on introspection (and herpes!), journaling, meditating, practicing yoga, and talking about it all with people I love and trust. And once I finally forgave and accepted myself, reclaimed my identity and my sexuality, and felt ALIVE again….he came back into my life.

It was completely unexpected. We had both assumed there would be no second chances. But the universe saw it differently. And now we’re engaged to be married next April. I’m more in love with him and MYSELF than I’ve ever been before…and I don’t know that I could have arrived here if it hadn’t been for my HSV diagnosis. Crazy, huh?

Here’s what herpes taught me:

  • You will never be able to love somebody else until you’re fully capable of loving yourself. You must start there.

  • The people who really love you will accept you no matter what. If they don’t accept you…do you really want that kind of relationship? If they can’t be there for you now, what else could scare them off?

  • Do not try to convince the people who accept your diagnosis that they are crazy! They’ll start to believe you, I promise. LET THEM LOVE YOU!

  • Your life, even your love life, is not over when you contract HSV. It can only ruin your life if you allow it to.

  • Be honest, be open. The truth will set you free.

For those of you wondering if he really did give me herpes. He didn’t. But I did give it to him after nearly 3 years of unprotected sex! And you know what? It was no big deal to him. There are good ones out there, ladies. And trust me, they’ll see that you are also so much more than your own HSV diagnosis.

Rae Higgins