"I've been thinking of a new direction / But I have to say I've been thinking about my own protection / It scares me to feel this way."
— Tina Turner
From ordering flowers to buying chocolates and making dinner reservations, people all over the country are thinking about love on Valentine's Day. During that time of year, I often marvel at the things we do in the name of love and what we call love.
So what does love got to do with HIV/AIDS? Let's look at some common reasons why, supposedly in the name of love, we don't protect ourselves against HIV.
Why don't we ask our partners about their HIV status? "Because I love him," or "because she loves me," people often say. Why don't we use condoms? "Because I love him (or her)." While I've heard it all over the past roughly 30 years, here are a few of my favorites:
"If you really loved me, you wouldn't ask me to use a condom."
"I love you, baby. I wouldn't ever do anything to hurt you."
"You're the only one. You know I love you."
"Get tested for HIV? If you loved me, baby, you would trust me."
I get it. Human beings crave intimacy. And sometimes there seems to be no limit to how far we will go and what we will do in our quest for it. This is particularly true for those of us who have been deprived of intimacy, marginalized within society or convinced that we are not deserving of intimacy, affection or love. Women, men who have sex with men and disenfranchised youth often share this experience. As a result, we confuse a lot of things — lust, loneliness, fear — with love. And that confusion can sometimes be deadly.
Self-love is the most important kind of love. Looking for love from someone else prior to learning to love ourselves is a very dangerous endeavor. If we love ourselves, we understand the importance of protecting ourselves. We understand that doing so communicates to others that we are worthy of love. But, most importantly, self-love provides a barrier against those who would do us harm.
Self-love is also the bridge to being loved by others. If we don't love ourselves, it is very difficult for someone else to truly love us, and, on the rare occasion when it does happen, it is almost impossible to identify.
When we love ourselves, we are better able to distinguish between true love, fantasies and the desperate longing for intimacy. When we love ourselves, we know when he says, "Come on, baby, we don't need a condom; you know I love you," he really doesn't. When we love ourselves, and she says, "I don't need to get tested for HIV; I love you," we know that she doesn't.
Don't get me wrong, I believe in love. I've ordered and received more than my share of flowers and chocolates; I've made more than a few Valentine's Day dinner reservations (and Valentine's dinners for that matter), and my knees still go weak every time I think about the first time I fell in love. But I've learned over time that the people who really love us want the best for us. They not only respect our decisions to protect ourselves, they insist on it. That's what love really has got to do with it.
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(Photo: MICHAEL ALLEN JONES/MCT /Landov)