• Shruti

Dating and the Chronic Life

Chronic diseases affect just about every aspect of a person’s life, but which aspects are most painfully affected varies from person to person. Many people struggle with maintaining friendships and feeling like an active, contributing member of society. I have been very lucky in those two areas lately, but I find that the dating and romantic relationships prove to be the hardest part for me to deal with. Dating can be a pretty difficult process to begin with sometimes, but chronic illness just adds another level of messiness.

With both full-time work and part-time school, the amount of time that I can potentially spend with someone is already limited. This is then compounded by the fact that trying to manage my schedule with my illnesses means that by the weekend I really just want to collapse into bed and stay there. I’m exhausted and pretty much useless company by Friday night. … and that’s just on the regular days. The problem is, I can never predict which days will be regular days and which days will be “OMG I’m so exhausted I can’t see straight” or “OMG I’m in so much pain that the idea of even trying to get out of bed is excruciating.” So I could potentially plan a date that fits into my ridiculous schedule…. and then wake up that day and say “yeah…no.” Which really sucks, and makes it hard to convince a guy that I’m actually interested. This, of course, applies througout a relationship. I can never truly guarantee that I’ll feel up to doing something. Then there’s the fact that as a vegetarian with gastroparesis, dinner dates are hard. Yes, I can usually find something that’s vegetarian, but I can usually only finish maybe 1/3 of it. It’s uncomfortable sitting a table and picking at my food. It seems like a minor thing, but it makes my dinner dates all the more awkward.

Of course, those are only the initial issues. The major elephant hiding under the rug, of course, is the reality of my chronic illnesses themselves. I never really know how or when to let the elephant out of hiding. Trying to hide that something is going on with me is about as easy as trying to hide an elephant under a rug. The big lump under the rug shows in the aforementioned issues with scheduling a date in the first place, it shows when I can barely manage to eat a child-portion meal, it shows when I wince as I try to stand up after sitting at the dinner table for so long, and it definitely shows in my limitations in terms of activities for dates. Hikes? Ummmmm yeah. Not so much. The end result is that people either think I’m not interested, or see the bump under the rug, but can’t figure out what it is. But most of the time they don’t seem to care whether it’s an elephant or maybe a hippo or a rhinoceros? The reality is, most of the guys feel uncomfortable and don’t really want to get into any kind of relationship with someone with this much baggage. Now, granted, a friend reminded me awhile back that most everyone has baggage of some kind. My friend, in her infinite wisdom, said that the trick is finding someone who can accept your baggage and whose baggage you can accept. Well, getting someone to accept it seems to be the issue.

I think part of the problem is that I never know when to bring it up. I don’t like to bring it up too early because then I feel like it’s casting a shadow over me and who I really am. I want to at least stand a chance of a guy being interested in ME before I mention my illnesses. On the flip side, if I wait too long I’ve had guys say that they feel cheated and that I should have ‘fessed up earlier. It’s hard to judge the right moment when every guy is obviously different. More than one guy has been put off by my timing, and one even said that he had thought I just wasn’t that into it, but this reality was “way worse.” I once had a guy catch sight of my medical ID bracelet in the middle of asking me out. He faked a page and left without even finishing his sentence. Which just begs the question “Is there truly even a good time?” It’s nice to weed out the guys who don’t want to deal with the realities of my life early, but sometimes I feel like maybe if they got to know me a little first they might be interested in at least giving it a try.

Watching my friends move forward with their lives is hard too. One of my best friends got marrried last summer, another one around Christmas, and I’m pretty my sister is headed in that direction in the very near future. Sometimes it’s hard to deal with the dual-ing feelings of joy for their happiness and my own loneliness. Dating isn’t easy even without chronic illnesses, and a lot of my friend are still single right now. This sort of helps, of course. Still, certain times are hard. Valentine’s Day. (Last year my sister bought me a bag of chocolate. Which she later announced – in front of a group of people, mind you – was “pity chocolate” that she bought me because she “felt bad that I was home alone when she was out on a date.” This was supposedly a joke. I don’t think I’ll ever find that kind of cruelty funny, and it certainly didn’t make it any easier.) Summer wedding season is rough too. I try to remind myself that days like Valentine’s Day don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. I know this in a logical frame of mind, but sometimes my emotions overrule the logic. This of course leads back to my acceptance theme for this year. Trying to just accept that it’s probably going to be harder to find an accepting guy. Trying to accept that this is only partially in my control. Most of all, I’m struggling with trying to accept that it’s ok for me to feel both overjoyed at someone’s luck and happiness AND miserable about my own love life (cough. lack there-of).

Whenever I post something about dating, I invariably get comments or emails from the people who have been lucky in this arena. Generally, when one or both members of a happy couple start to lecture, grating feelings of resentment and annoyance tend to be induced. However, there is some solace in knowing that there are people out there who can be accepting of illnesses like this. Honestly, I get the most reassurance from people who started dating someone after they already had their illnesses. I think this is because, at least to me, asking someone to accept me part and parcel with my illnesses is different from asking someone who is already in a committed relationship with me to accept that I’m being diagnosed with a new illness. I’m sure that that situation has its challenges too, though, and I’d love to hear from people about what they did to get through either of these situations. Have you found any good ways of getting around these issues? Or in explaining your illnesses? How do you judge when the right time to “‘fess up” is? I know that some of this is just a matter of finding the “right guy,” but if anyone has any tips or tricks I’d be grateful…

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