Must I tell dating partners?
Most of us in the Cincinnati HELP Chapter believe that telling is the right and proper thing to do. Few relish it, and even those who have had considerable experience in telling appreciate additional ideas and advice. Perhaps this is because we tend to view telling in terms of negative outcomes. That is, we think of the bad results that we want to avoid: rejection and betrayal of our confidence. Our focus is on how to "get through" the ordeal of telling without these bad things happening.
One study cited by the American Social Health Association several years ago found that telling your partner is the single most effective thing that you can do to protect him or her from getting the virus from you. That's a pretty powerful argument in favor of telling!
When should I tell?
Often, people feel that the timing is the key. When is the right time to tell? A partner deserves to be told before sexual intimacy occurs. But how long before? Few would choose to tell upon first meeting the other person. But waiting until immediately before sex is not a good idea either. Most tell-at-the-last-second stories that we have heard at meetings through the years do not end in enduring relationships.
That said, when to tell becomes a question of strategy. Some people prefer to tell early; others want to take their time. Each approach has its own advantages. Telling early can be a defensive move. The earlier you tell, the less emotional investment you have in the relationship; rejection will hurt less. But there are other benefits to telling early too.
Once your partner knows, you don't need to worry about if and when sex will happen. Feelings, not "I haven't told yet" will determine the progress of the relationship. Unless you are experiencing an outbreak, you don't sacrifice the spontaneity. Nor is there the chance that your partner will misinterpret a go-slow approach imposed by the untold truth.
There is also an "honesty effect". Telling, and especially telling early, tells a partner that you are honest, that you can be trusted. Waiting lessens this effect. The response to telling late may instead be "Why didn't you tell me sooner?", which casts doubt on trust.
Some of us also view telling as an opportunity to educate a person and dispel some of the myths surrounding herpes. Even if no relationship develops, there will be one more person in the world who understands a little more. Like water carving out a canyon, this slowly, surely wears away the stigma.
Others feel that it is best to postpone telling. Telling later gives your partner a chance to get to know the good things about you before you reveal the bad news. It also means that you are not entrusting your secret to everyone you date, but only to those with whom a truly intimate relationship develops. The fewer people who know, the less the risk that someone will reveal your secret. Moreover, you have a better idea of how dependable the person is to keep that secret. As you get to know the person better, you can also better customize your "telling speech".
These considerations may help you make your choice. But how early or how late you tell is your own personal decision. You must find the time that feels comfortable for you and right for the relationship. Even when you discover your own preference, you may need to adjust the timing from one situation to another.
What do I say?
How you tell is also important. Be honest and be informed. Having herpes is not good news, but it is news you can truthfully deliver in a positive way. You know you have the virus; you know the precautions to protect your partner. This is something that the two of you can manage together. There will be times when it will inconvenience your relationship, but you can still have a healthy, loving, and good life together. Encourage questions, but don?t push for an immediate response. Give your partner time to think it over, if that is what he or she needs. Needing time to digest this information is not necessarily a bad sign. It is significant, and for your partner, it is probably unexpected. ?I need to think about this? is not a euphemism for rejection. Be patient and be understanding. Your attitude in telling tells your partner more about how herpes will affect your life together than the facts themselves.
Should I tell other people? Family? Friends?
This too is a personal decision. Unlike dating partners with whom the relationship has reached the point where sex is an issue, these people have no need to know.
Many members of our group choose not to tell their family or their friends. If this is your choice, you have no need to apologize for that decision. If you feel uncomfortable with opening up to them, if you sense that they will react negatively or betray your confidence, or if you simply prefer to maximize your privacy, not telling people who have no need to know is the right choice.
Yet most of those who do tell parents, siblings, or close friends find support, comfort, and encouragement from them. It is true that every time you tell someone, you take a risk. You know your friends and family best. You know best whether the reward of sharing with them is worth that risk.
It is clear from all the stories we have heard at meetings that people who tell honestly rarely experience rejection. Fewer still find their confidentiality betrayed. Telling isn?t easy, but do not be afraid. Your chances of a happy outcome are good.