Some months ago, a friend I’ve known since junior high school had a very pointed conversation with me about dating and intimate relationships. He caught me off guard with his questions about my romantic life or lack of one. He was curious to know why, since becoming ill just over three years ago, I haven’t dated at all. His concern was that I am allowing my illness to define me and overtake my entire life. He pointed out that I am more than my illness and pain and that people with more severe disabilities and/or debilitating health conditions still manage to engage in fulfilling intimate relationships.
In our conversation, I told him I couldn’t get into a relationship because I was focusing on my health and all I need to do to restore it. In return, he asked how long I planned to focus on my health alone since almost three years had already passed. Would five years be enough or maybe ten? What would happen if I let all those years pass without any improvement to my health and never taking the time to explore the possibilities of sharing my life, even with an illness, with someone?
Interestingly, he didn’t talk about what I might gain from dating or being in a long-term relationship. He talked instead about what I have to offer. It was embarrassing to hear him describe me so positively, especially at a time when I don’t usually feel attractive, engaging, and bright – the brightness of my intellect is often dulled by pain and pain medications – nor do I feel particularly sexy. Feeling sexy is hard when pajamas and sweats have become my standard wardrobe staples.
Nonetheless, I promised him I would think about all he had said to me. And think I did. The first thing I thought about was the person I had started dating a couple of weeks before becoming ill and how uncomfortable I was being so vulnerable with someone I’d known for barely two weeks. As he called the ambulance, stayed with me in the emergency room, and visited me practically every day for the first week of my hospital stay, I was grateful for his support and kindness. However, having someone I hardly knew see me that way was overwhelming in the context of so much unknown. It didn’t feel right to move forward with a relationship. It felt unfair to burden him with that level of responsibility when we didn’t even know each other’s favourite colour or foods.
Thinking about that conversation with my friend led me to deciding I would give online dating a chance. I set up a profile detailing my interests and what I look for in a partner, I posted recent pictures of myself where I look happy and healthy, and then I waited for interested prospects to contact me. I wait instead of initiating contact with anyone who piques my interest because I’m still uncertain about how to explain my current life circumstances. The thought of telling a potential partner about my daily struggle with pain still causes me great anxiety. Although my hope is that those feelings will soon change.
However, being online and exchanging written messages about my interests and who I am, as a lead up to deciding whether to meet in person, has been helpful. It gives me a chance to sort through and figure out who, of all those I communicate with, might be the type of person who would not be phased by what is happening in my life now. It’s also a chance to rediscover the part of myself I’ve neglected because of my pain and better understand how I’ve changed in recent years. Being online also provides a way for me to manage the pace of the process, while making sure I don’t feel too overwhelmed.
I have to admit that, with my friend’s urging, I am opening myself up to the possibilities of what my life could be like, even if I’m never pain-free. I know that not everyone I meet will be as compassionate and open to my situation as the friend I’ve known since I was a child, but now I’m hopeful for the chance to meet someone who is.