My boyfriend didn't tell me he had HIV – I found out too late
‘How could he do this to me?’ I sobbed into my phone.
My best friend Alec* was doing his best to comfort me, but I was inconsolable.
Only minutes earlier, Google had confirmed that the pills concealed in my boyfriend’s suitcase were antiretroviral medicines, or ARVs. Medication to treat HIV.
And we’d had unprotected sex.
I didn’t know it at the time, but when you’re taking your HIV treatment properly you can become undetectable, which means you can’t pass it on to anyone else.
While his HIV medication could have protected me if he had been taking them consistently as part of his treatment, I didn’t know if he had.
And it turns out, he hadn’t.
I was 19 when my boyfriend Dave*, then in his mid 20s, and I started dating at the start of the pandemic.
Dave was tall, handsome and I liked him a lot. After two weeks of chatting on Grindr, we started arranging online ‘dates’ – and Dave asked me to be his boyfriend. Though we’d never met, it just felt right.
Nigeria, where I’m from, has anti-gay laws and my parents are religiously homophobic. I’d known I liked boys since I was 10, and never had a problem accepting my sexuality.
Except, my sister was the only one who supported me. My parents knew about my sexuality, but were in denial about it, hoping I would change someday.
I was an unemployed student, so it felt good having someone like Dave – older and more experienced – finally watching out for me.
He paid my bills, bought me clothes and surprised me with gifts. I felt loved, wanted.
We talked every day and after months, when lockdown was lifted, we decided to meet. He lived a long drive from me, so we agreed to travel to a different state to spend a week together.
My stomach was flipping with nerves and excitement and, when I got the hotel room door, I paused, wondering whether to knock.
The decision was taken out of my hands though, as the receptionist had already informed him I was coming, so he opened the door, pulled me inside and kissed my lips.
Listen to one woman’s story of being diagnosed with HIV at 21 below
Seeing my hand shaking, he smiled. ‘Relax,’ he whispered.
As we kissed again, happiness flooded my body.
If only I’d known how short-lived that happiness would be…
When I went to the bathroom to apply mascara for our date that evening, I saw a strange drug wrap – a small plastic envelope used for dispensing medications in their prescribed dosages – but I was too excited to give it a proper thought.
‘It must have been there when we arrived,’ I dismissed it.
I had always discussed safe sex with Dave online and he’d agreed.
Yet, he became furious that night when he discovered I’d brought condoms with me.
‘You’re insulting me,’ he shouted. ‘We may as well break up if you can’t trust me with your body.’
Refusing to look me in the eyes, he swore on his life that I had nothing to worry about.
When I still hesitated, he even threatened to leave the room and find somewhere else to sleep.
He made so much fuss about it that I felt bad for even suggesting it.
Eventually, I gave in and we had unprotected sex.
Our first night – and time – together wasn’t at all like I imagined, but I felt it was my duty as a boyfriend to please him.
And the week only continued to go downhill a few days later when Dave dozed off watching Netflix in the hotel and I saw a disturbing notification pop up on his phone.
I’ll hurt myself if you break up with me…
Surfing through his messages I discovered he had many other boyfriends, relationships that had gone on for as long as I had known him.
I was devastated, angry, disgusted, and betrayed
Heartbroken, I retreated to the bathroom, where I sobbed for hours.
I couldn’t bring myself to confront him about it until I got home. He denied it outright and called me paranoid.
I was furious, but as he continued to gaslight me, I ended up questioning if I was hallucinating that night.
Already, I felt too attached to let go. Besides, school had just resumed so I couldn’t afford to do it on my own. Foolishly, I stayed with him.
A month later, I met Dave again in a hotel but when he left after breakfast to meet some business associates, I couldn’t resist the urge to snoop through his things, to see if he was hiding anything else.
I found some pills in transparent wraps hidden at the bottom of his suitcase, the same kind I saw in our hotel room weeks earlier.
My heart sank. Google confirmed that they were ARVs – meaning Dave had HIV, and hadn’t told me.
Facts about HIV
- Thanks to progress around treatment, people living with HIV can live a happy life with a normal lifespan
- HIV treatment works by stopping the virus from reproducing and reducing the amount of virus in the blood to what is called an ‘undetectable’ level.
- This means that the virus is still there, but it is in such small amounts that it can’t be passed on to anyone else. Treatment also keeps people living with HIV healthy.
- It usually takes between three to six months for someone to become undetectable when they start treatment.
- People on effective HIV treatment can give birth to HIV negative children.
- If someone living with HIV is on treatment and has an undetectable viral load, they cannot pass on HIV, even if no condoms are used. However, sex without a condom increases your chance of an STI or result in unplanned pregnancy.
You can find out more information about HIV and sexual health through Terrence Higgins Trust
Unable to breathe, I frantically called my best friend and cried until my head hurt.
Worried about what Dave might do if he found out I’d been through his things, I played it cool, then made my excuses to leave the next day.
I was devastated, angry, disgusted, and betrayed.
I went for a HIV test a week later. Tears were rolling down my face as I squeezed Alec’s hands while I waited for my results.
And when the nurse brought my results, my worst fears were confirmed. I was positive.
‘How could he do this to me?’ I yelled. ‘I’m just 19!’
As the nurses tried to calm me down, Alec sat and sobbed with me.
At home, I felt like I’d been handed a death sentence, that I didn’t want to live anymore.
I have HIV, I messaged Dave. You infected me. When he replied, he told me we should stick together, that he’d help me.
Numb, I let him set me up with a counselling program and an NGO, that helped me with medications and a check-up routine.
It was a relationship that was never going to last though and, three months later, after dating for a year, he told me he loved someone else.
I blocked him on my phone, on social media and finally left him for good.
My life went downhill. I was depressed and suicidal – I couldn’t keep up with college either, and dropped out.
I was barely eating and lost weight. I got so sick, I was hospitalised twice. I even became inconsistent with my medication.
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Thankfully, my best friend and sister were always there and pulled me back whenever I slipped into the dark side.
It’s been three years and I’ve not fully healed from the trauma – but I am slowly finding the strength to rebuild my life, though, and have gone back to college this year.
Romantic relationships don’t interest me anymore. I’ve been celibate ever since Dave, and I don’t currently want to have sex again after my trust was broken. Thankfully, my HIV medication means there’s no risk in me passing it on to anyone else.
I want to stress to everyone the importance of practising safe sex – if I had, I wouldn’t be writing this story.
As for Dave, he found my new social media accounts and has been messaging me for a year now, saying he misses me and still cares.
But I never reply.
*Names have been changed
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