When love takes over

Just over five years ago, as a young gay man, I met a guy whom I thought would be my forever, but our relationship ended two years later. After that experience, I hated love. I truly felt hopeless and I did not believe I would get to fall in love again.

After the breakup, I got involved with a campaign that focused on gay youth and I also put my energy into work. This really helped to ease the emotional pain I was experiencing at the time; it kept my mind occupied and prevented me from indulging in it too much.

Time heals they say and after being single for quite some time I again felt an urge to date and hopefully go into a relationship. At first, I tried to ignore these feelings, but the desire steadily grew stronger till one day, as if out of nowhere, I just knew: I was finally over him and was ready to give love another try.

In early 2019 I met someone. He was cute, down to earth, humble and he had a beautiful soft voice. We started hanging out and before I even realised what was happening, I was hooked. Our relationship developed into something deep quite quickly and I wanted to spend every minute with him. I was smitten and could not stop thinking about him.

He on the other hand found it difficult to open up. but I was not going to give up that easily. Behind that beautiful face, I saw someone distrustful of love. I sensed that (just like me) he had been hurt by love in the past and had unresolved baggage that he carried around in his heart. The first time I ever saw him I knew that he was the one for me. But because he had his guard up, he didn’t make it easy for me to win him over. It was not long before we were in honeymoon-style bliss and getting serious.

A few weeks after our relationship became official, I brought up the sensitive topic of sexual health. I know a lot of people find this part of getting to know someone tricky and uncomfortable but, for me, it is important and needed to be done. I asked my partner to make time for us to go for HIV tests together so that we’d know where we stood with regards to sex, our health and what kind of prevention strategies we needed to take (if any were needed).

Right after I suggested this, his attitude towards me changed. I could tell he felt uncomfortable and he wanted to avoid discussing it. It confused me. Eventually, he said, “I don’t think I will ever take an HIV test. Not because I am scared, especially with you”. He added that “It’s still early for us to be talking about this sort of thing and talking about sex”.

I was taken aback that he did not find it necessary to test. In the past, I had been an ambassador for youth sexual health and I considered myself informed about responsible sex so I tried to reason with him. But my attempts only got him upset rather than convincing him.

Later that same day, I received a text message from him. He shared that he valued the way I treated him, that I was a good person and that he would hate to lose me but if the truth caused us to break up then he would have to accept it. That’s when he dropped the bomb: The reason why he did not want to get tested was that he already knew his status – he is HIV-positive.

I was in a taxi when I received that message. I had an overwhelming urge to call for the driver to stop right there and then. I wanted to go outside and scream. I was in shock, but more than that, I felt scared.

I hesitantly replied to his message. I thanked him for his honesty and stated that it did not change how I felt about him. This was the truth, but I cannot deny that it did affect me deeply. I needed to speak to someone, but I would not abandon him after such a personal revelation.

The other thing that played on my mind was that I had been vocal about queer acceptance and supported being informed about sexual health. Now I needed to use the knowledge I gained and apply it to my own relationship.

That very next Monday I made an appointment with Engage Men’s Health. I consulted them about my situation, and they confirmed what I thought I knew about managing HIV. I felt a sense of relief. They did an HIV test, which was negative, and got me started on PrEP right away. I followed this up by going to counselling sessions.

I decided to support my partner then and I will carry on doing so. I fell in love with this man (regardless of his status) and I will not let him go through this alone.

I am now on PrEP and he is on ARVs. When someone is on ARVs, they need to have their blood tested every six months to monitor their progress. The last blood test showed that the viral load (HIV levels in his blood) had been successfully suppressed and he had reached undetectable (he cannot pass on HIV through sex). It was the best news ever!

Not every day is a good day, but we make our everyday worth it. He is not only my partner, but he is also my brother, my confidant, and my pillar of strength. In the very same ways, I am these things to him too. We live our lives to the fullest and we are as normal as every other couple. Negative and positive do not play a role in what we have, because we are one. Who knows, we might even tie the knot one day.

Benvolio Omontle Sepeng is a contributing writer for Engage Men’s Health. These are his views, which may or may not reflect those of Engage Men’s Health and its affiliates. Engage Men’s Health offers free and confidential sexual health services to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM). EMH is in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Buffalo City. Our services include free HIV and other STI testing, treatment, PrEP and also PEP. WhatsApp/Telegram message or call us on 082 607 1686.