I know it might be hard to believe, but there are a lot of people out there who are not going to be bothered that much by you having herpes. I know because I’ve watched many, many women over the years find partners who just didn’t think herpes was a big deal—and I don’t mean that they searched and searched and finally found one partner who accepted them—I mean that they got out there and dated, and disclosed, and had boyfriends, and lived their lives. I also know because there are great writers out there like Ella Dawson who have disclosed their status publicly and the dating pool has not dried up for them.
Some of these women found their dream partner and are still in a relationship with that person today. Others are still dating, sorting through frogs trying to find their prince. (Note: just because someone accepts herpes doesn’t mean they’re your prince).
But rejection does happen. If you’re out there dating, there’s a chance you’re going to experience rejection at some point. I don’t want to sugar-coat it. I believe “the odds” of finding partners who are ok with herpes are better than you might think, but yes, there are still people who aren’t going to be able to get over the idea of dating someone with herpes.
**The fact that these people are probably putting themselves at risk for herpes anyway is frustrating and a topic for another day.**
I have been working with women with herpes for many years. As a therapist, I find that those who struggled with dating before contracting herpes feel particularly vulnerable. They often feel it was hard enough to meet someone before herpes and have difficulty imagining how they’re going to find love now.
Some people have a pattern of attracting partners who tend to disappear when things get real or serious. Others seem to attract committed partners with ease. This pattern often, no matter which one you fall into, tends to stay the same after a herpes diagnosis. For women who tend to attract partners who don’t want to commit, they may experience rejection after disclosing about herpes. It feels like it was about the herpes but really it’s the same pattern that was happening prior to contracting herpes. Things got real and your new romantic interest bailed.
I want you to know that this is not about being pretty enough, cool enough, smart enough, fun enough, or sexy enough. It’s about intimacy and security and what we expect from relationships. It often goes back to experiences we had when we were young, usually related to our relationships with our parents or primary caregivers. Sometimes these relationship dynamics are subtle. Your parents might have been really great, but there can be subtleties in the patterns that occurred in these relationships that can predict the kinds of partners we’ll be drawn to as adults and how they will treat us.
The good news is that you can correct course.
You may have heard of secure and insecure attachment. Some of us have secure attachment styles. We feel fairly secure with ourselves and in our relationships. We’re drawn to others who provide love, care, and stability. We feel confident in what we need and deserve and we don’t stick around with partners who treat us poorly. Others of us have insecure attachment styles. We find ourselves feeling familiar with uncertainty in relationships. We may long for intimacy and commitment but when we actually have it or it is offered to us, it is uncomfortable. We tend to be drawn to and excited by partners who are just out of reach. If you find that everyone you like doesn’t like you and the people who like you, you don’t like, there’s a good chance you fall into this category.
If this is you, my guess is that you don’t want to stay there. The bad news is that herpes can’t be cured. The good news is that we can do something about our relationship patterns. Healing this pattern doesn’t happen overnight. Occasionally people have an “aha” moment and make a quick shift, but most of us have to do some hard self-examination. Change isn’t easy, but change can really be worth the hard work.
So how do you fix the pattern?
1. A lot has been written about attachment. Herpes isn’t easy, but what I want for you is to not blame herpes for something else that is underlying. Knowledge is power. Learn more about attachment and reflect on how it applies to you. Here’s a great article you can start with.
2. John Gray, the author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (is this aging me?) suggested to individuals who tend to be attracted to partners who are bad for them to start dating like you are playing darts. If you always shoot too far to the left, start trying to shoot a little too far to the right. The more you practice, the closer you will get to the center of the board.
3. My favorite thing about psychotherapy is that it really helps us to examine the nuances of our relationships. A psychotherapist can help you see the subtle ways in which you continue to repeat patterns in your life and help guide you through new ways of being and heal from old relationship hurts.
4. I can’t say enough about group therapy, specifically a psychodynamic oriented group focused on relationships. In NYC, I facilitate a group specifically for women with herpes. But even a general psychotherapeutic group focused on relationships can help you with these patterns. Group is special because you form relationships within the group and this becomes a lab for you to examine the kinds of connections you experience with others. Before joining a group, make sure you ask the therapist if the group deals with relationship issues and uses relationships dynamics within the group to support this process. You can search for therapy groups in your zip code here.
I have watched genital herpes be the thing that helps women I work with finally start untying the knots of their struggles with relationships, insecurity, and self-esteem and come out on the other side more secure and confident than they were before herpes. No one wants herpes to be the thing that pushes us forward, but life throws everyone curveballs and we can just take it or we can use those experiences as the springboard to launch us into something better.
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I am a licensed mental health counselor in New York City with a psychotherapy office in Murray Hill, Manhattan. Find out more about me here.
Please remember that we are continuously learning new things about herpes. I will try to keep this post updated but remember that research may come out today that changes what we currently know about herpes. Information on this website is not intended to substitute professional medical or psychotherapeutic advice.