To Date (Or Not) With Chronic Pain

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.

Red (Maybe) Tulips Sketch

 

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7 thoughts on “To Date (Or Not) With Chronic Pain

  1. Very interesting read. I’ve been in a relationship for almost three years now and suffer from chronic pain from a rare compression syndrome called Nutcracker Syndrome and also have epilepsy. My biggest suggestion is to be upfront and honest about what’s going on. While your friend is ABSOLUTELY right that it doesn’t define you it is a part of you that shouldn’t be hidden away. Ultimately if you do find relationship, it something that you will have to share will a significant other. As someone that’s been in a relationship for three years with a man I love. All three years he’s known I had epilepsy and then one year into our relationship I was diagnosed with the Nutcracker Syndrome. We’ve had one hell of a tough road, but we even just said today, that we are the best couple because we’ve been through things that most people wouldn’t imagine going through at our age. Sure, there are times when I feel guilty because I can’t be the most loving girlfriend around and he has to take care of me, but that’s why I told him upfront and the days I do feel better, I show him appreciation and how much I love him and be the best girlfriend I can. The benefits are you don’t have to go it alone. Sure there are friends and family, but it’s a unique support system in itself. Someone who shows unconditional love despite what your going through and understand that well today I may be a little bitchy because well I’m in more pain today. My boyfriend is the most understanding man in the world and without him it’d be 10 times as hard to get through this. He also helps me focus on my health. He reminds me to take my medicine, he hints to me that I may be eating too much, he asks me how I’m doing, he gives me massages. He’s all around there for me. Listen to your friend, because while yes there are some people who won’t understand…they have no idea what you’re going through, and frankly don’t want to even try to care. There are people who care only about themselves…that’s why I think you should be upfront from the getgo. I wish you the best of luck, and hope you find someone that treats you as well as my boyfriend treats me. I think we deserve it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your insight and supportive words.
      I do believe in being honest up front. The anxiety I have is about being open and having someone who is great on paper or in a phone conversation turn out to be a jerk. For that reason I am taking my time before meeting anyone and trying to discern as much as possible about them before expending the energy to meet in person to determine if an attraction can survive offline.
      Dating is anxiety-inducing enough when you don’t have to cope with health issues.
      Thanks again for taking the time to share so much about your experience 🙂

      Like

      • It absolutely is anxiety inducing and bringing in health problems just increases that anxiety. No one is as great as they seem, no one is perfect. And your hesistation is completely normal. You have to protect yourself, but if you end up meeting someone that doesn’t want to date you because of your health issues, know that there is something wrong with them…and not you. While we may have health issues now…when people get married they take a vow stating in sickness and in health. Who knows when people will get sick? It could happen when they’re older if they’re lucky, but maybe not. No one knows for sure. So you’ll be lucky to get rid of those people who are selfish.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Self protection is completely normal, but intimate relationships require vulnerability. It’s hard enough to be vulnerable when your healthy. I admire your courage. I pray that you will meet someone who will accept you for who you are.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your tulips are amazing!
    What nursenotion says above is quite accurate. I became significantly more ill after getting married. Meaning, I was managing my pain in a way that I could still do everything I wanted. Right before the wedding the migraines started and continued six months after the wedding.
    Dating is super hard. Marriage is super hard. Add a chronic illness and all the baggage that comes with it plus mood swings… we may find ourselves feeling “less than”. I deal with a lot of anxiety that stems from not feeling good enough to be with him. All of the activities that we bonded over are not an option anymore. I’m now attached to the couch and he still wants to fish and hike and travel. Ugh.
    My point is, having someone to go through this with you is amazing and it’s hard. What you must do is cultivate love for yourself so you have your own confidence that doesn’t diminish when you have a terrible day, week or month. Now, I need to take all of my advice and use it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: New Year | My Small Surrenders

  5. Thank you for this..
    Your article has given me pause.
    I have been living in chronic pain for over ten years and although there have been “opportunities” to open the door to a relationship.
    I simply feel that I am in a living Hell and can’t imagine inviting anyone into such a place…
    I know the term “chronic pain” covers a wide swath, and that what is possible or do-able for one person is light-years away from what another fellow chronic pain sufferer can accomplish but still and all…
    hmmm…

    Like

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