t’s not often I envy married people but I do begrudge them this: not having to have The Conversation. Ever again.
We’re constantly reminded of the downsides to being tardy in our search for lasting love – heightened fertility risks, all the good ones are gone, loneliness, fear of missing boats and so on. Aside from the fact that’s all debatable, a far more regrettable necessity
when on the dating circuit is having to have The Conversation. It’s just I’m not sure everyone’s having it.
It could be a matter of life and death or, at the very least, mild discomfort but that doesn’t seem to be incentive enough for a grand percentage of new lovers to raise the subject. To turn to someone you barely know and demand proof of their disease free status is highly embarrassing and tempting to ignore. So it seems most of us do.
There are no stats on the frequency of The Conversation but I speak from anecdotal experience. That is most people I ask don’t ask but just assume. These are people aged over 30, intelligent people who think they can tell by looking at someone whether they might be carrying an STD.
We of all people should know better. We’re the generation of those Grim Reaper AIDS scare tactic ads, who witnessed condoms being promoted from shameful items on the back shelves of the chemist to free handouts at the pub. You’d think after all that it’d be ingrained in us to insist on some high level proof of safety. And yet we still… gulp… avoid it at all costs.
My GP says we’re all slackers. Women are a little better at it than men getting checked more regularly as a one-stop shop with pap smears. Men tend to only front up when forced by a woman (tests or nothing, take your pick) and even then chicken out on blood tests opting only for easy peasy urine tests which is all very well for chlamydia but won’t enlighten them on the far more lethal Hep B or C, HIV or syphilis.
But we should be having the works when we meet someone new, and insist on the same from them: tests for AIDS, Hep-the alphabet, all the STDs. You might think you know you don’t have any of the above but you can’t make that call without verification, especially if you expect someone else to. A verbal green light won’t suffice. You must demand to see the paperwork.
Don’t take anyone’s word for it, warns my GP. HIV is on the way up again along with most STDs. Let’s not kid ourselves that condoms are a sound alternative. Most blokes resist them with all their might, bullet proof in their moment of passion. Unless they can whip out a piece of paper, medical confirmation that they’re clean as a whistle, they can maintain their condom battle.
Oh, bring on the day when we don’t have to go there any more. It’s a very loaded chat to have because in the very act of bringing it up, you’re voicing your expectation that the relationship is going somewhere when it’s far less confronting just to let it play out. The condom conversation eliminates the cringe-worthy ‘where’s this going?’ conversation because if it’s a meaningless fling, then condoms and no discussion beyond will suffice. But to suggest you both have AIDS tests may be interpreted as moving things too fast, hinting at a future where there may not be one, especially now that it’s being rushed by AIDS tests for two. To ask makes romance practical.
But ask we must. To giggle nervously and ask a virtual stranger for their medical records is the only way until you meet someone who’ll be with you for life and their medical history becomes yours too. It’s no reason to get married, but it’s a reassuring side effect.
This column appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on on November 25th, 2007