I braced myself for a break-up when I found out that I had bed bugs.
I had been dating my then-boyfriend for about six months when I lifted my mattress and found the horrific infestation. His reaction, I decided, would indicate his level of commitment. We hadn't been together long enough for me to expect him to stay.
I don't remember where I was when I told him or whether it was over the phone or in person, but I do remember the silence that expanded in the air after I forced the news out of my mouth. His pause gave me enough time to nervously imagine a series of possible reactions. I was prepared for him to tell me he wouldn't come over anymore, that I couldn't visit him either, that perhaps we shouldn't see each other until my situation was taken care of or worse, that our time was up.
He didn't say any of those things, but talk did quickly turn to the sort of conversation couples might have with each other if someone brings home an STD.
"Do you know how you got them?" he asked.
"I have no idea! I can't believe I have them, I'm such a clean person," I said, desperately defending my reputation. "You know that! You've seen my room. I'm so clean, right?"
"Do you think I might have them?" he asked.
"You might," I said. "I guess you should check your apartment."
He never got them, but his visits became less and less frequent, and effectively stopped the day he saw two bugs crawling up my bathroom wall.
Surprisingly, he continued to welcome me into his apartment, though I always felt nervous when I visited, showering vigorously and inspecting every item I put on and brought over to his apartment, to be sure I wasn't spreading my disease. Sometimes I worried that he wasn't concerned enough. When he'd leave his room, sometimes I'd peek under his mattress to compensate for what I perceived to be his lack of vigilance.
We eventually split, just a month after my final exterminator visit. It didn't have to do with the bugs, but I'm sure that the stress of the situation didn't help us in the last few months of our relationship. And the stress of the break up, which came on the heels of my bed bug battle, certainly didn't help dissuade me from my certainty that the Universe was trying to ruin me. Nursing a broken heart on the furniture-less floor of my bedroom, surrounded by rubbermaid containers filled with whatever possessions I hadn't tossed, didn't speed my recovery.
But I survived, and have moved on, although I still feel like I carry a stigma with me when it comes to dating. Eventually my bed bug past comes up and I still hesitate, waiting for the reaction. Will he stay or will he go?
In a way, it's sort of raised the bar on the men I date. Now that I have this sort of baggage, I need to be with someone who's serious enough about me to accept my bed bug past.