In my early adulthood, my relationship with HIV was rather impersonal and academic. I considered myself very well informed and very responsible, but HIV was still a remote, distant menace that I knew a lot about but didn't feel personally threatened by.
In college I volunteered as an HIV/AIDS peer educator and HIV test counselor, having been recruited to provide outreach to the gay community on campus. I was also sexually active in college, but always practiced safer sex and took the occasional HIV test. Even then, I tested more because I thought it was the responsible thing to do, not because I ever really thought of myself as at high risk.
Even though I was gay and living in a major US city, HIV didn't impact me in a personal way. I had no friends who were HIV positive (as far as I knew) and best of all, I was in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man I really loved and trusted. We got an HIV test together after the first month of being a couple and then made the decision that we would be faithful to each other and that we no longer needed to use condoms. We had a great life together for about seven and half years. Then, like many relationships, ours changed and we grew in different directions. The spring of 2001, my partner informed me that he was leaving. I was heart-broken of course, but I took some solace from the fact that we remained friends and that we could look back on our relationship with a sense of pride at what we had shared together.
Two months after we broke up, my ex-partner called and said we needed to have a talk. He informed me that he was unfaithful during our entire relationship (I actually had no clue), and had many anonymous sex partners. He then informed me that he had recently tested HIV positive and that I should get tested as soon as possible. You can image how I felt. The betrayal was difficult enough to deal with. Now suddenly this abstract concept that I had managed to keep considerable personal distance from was suddenly on top of me, threatening to take over my life. The two weeks I had to wait for the results were exhausting, like living in a fog of fear and anxiety. When the test came back negative I was elated, but my perspective on HIV was forever changed. Fortunately, I do realize that my ex-partner's behavior doesn't mean that I can never trust again. But my health can no longer depend on a lack of evidence and a sense of invulnerability. I know now that safer sex and discussions about trust and commitment are an ongoing conversation and that an HIV test is valuable information - information that needs to be updated from time to time.