A lot has changed since Deontez Wimbley, 29, first walked into the Chili’s restaurant in the Lindbergh section of Buckhead in April 2016. Today, the restaurant is permanently closed, but nearly six years later, the connection he made with Jerald Nuness, 29, then a server, and now his husband, proved to be worth the risk of being rejected. Like customers who frequently tipped less than the standard 20% or not at all, Nuness says he was accustomed to being hit on at work, and Wimbley, who also worked in the restaurant industry for a period, knew the odds of the conversation moving beyond a two for $20 were slim to none, or so he thought.
“Should I try to say something or not? My best friend and I were having this conversation amongst ourselves,” Wimbley says. “We kind of concluded that even if I were to shoot my shot, if I wrote my number on the receipt, it'd get balled up and thrown away. So I didn't want to be corny like that. So I got on Jack’d as we were leaving the restaurant.”
“And so did I, as they were leaving,” says Nuness.
Wimbley recalls sending his future husband a message on the popular gay dating app to ask about connecting outside of the Buckhead eatery as he made his way to the Lindbergh Marta station—eventually making plans for their first date—dinner at Maggiano's.
While neither were interested in pursuing a serious relationship, Wimbley, adamant about not settling down before his birthday over Labor Day Weekend, was also equally adamant about sharing his truth with Nuness, which once revealed could threaten to derail the train off the track.
In a text to Nuness, Wimbley disclosed his HIV status. Diagnosed in 2012, Wimbley says he had specific reasons for sharing his personal health information on day one of meeting the slim and attractive server.
“Look, I was learning about these girls out here getting folks sent to jail for HIV criminalization, which is a huge problem,” Wimbley says. “I knew that I wanted to make sure Jerald knew what my status was. And so I texted him. I was like, hey, I'm HIV-positive... I just wanted you to know that. And I didn't want to say it to him in person because I didn't want to give him any pressure to respond a certain way. By sending the text—one, it'll get it on record. And two, it would provide him the opportunity to respond however he wanted. He could have blocked me and kept it moving or he could respond the way that he did.”
Mentally, Wimbley says he was prepared for Nuness to reject him. After all, messaging around PrEP, the antiretroviral drug prescribed to HIV-negative men and women to prevent the acquisition of HIV, and “U=U,” a campaign indicating that a person living with HIV with a consistently undetectable viral load cannot transmit the virus to their partner (s), was struggling to reach the population most impacted by the epidemic. For Wimbley, Nuness’ reaction was a sweet surprise.
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