5 Things I Wish People Would Stop Saying About Dating With a Chronic Illness
On Valentine’s Day, your love life is often put under the microscope. But what is it like to date when you’re sick?
I am the most romantic person you’ll ever meet. I adore rom-coms, I read “chick lit,” I write about people falling in love. I am in love with being in love. Which would be fine, if I wasn’t disabled, demisexual, and the most awkward person you could meet. In a culture that often puts sex before romance, with dating being primarily based on physical attraction, it’s no wonder many disabled people are extremely insecure with regards to this topic.
I am definitely insecure. I am quickly becoming the only adult family member in my extended family who isn’t in a committed relationship. I am almost guaranteed to be asked about my love life (or lack thereof) at family gatherings. It’s difficult being told ”Go out and get a boyfriend!” or ”You’ll be fine when you have a boyfriend!” It ingrains the whole stigma that we are not whole unless we have a romantic interest. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to end up with someone. Eventually. But I’ve stopped actively trying now. I don’t want a partner for the sake of one. But that isn’t to say I haven’t tried before.
When I was a teenager, I was in an emotionally abusive relationship, so it’s only been in the last two years or so that I’ve recovered enough to try to date. In those last two years, I’ve had many an experience. Here are the top five. These could also be a top five things to not do or say to a person with a chronic illness. Let’s get cracking!
1) The advice. About two years ago when I started back into the dating scene, I was told by a close friend that I should keep my chronic illness “a secret.” This is a difficult topic. The person in question said there was “no way” I would get a boyfriend if I used my wheelchair or my cane, or spoke about my illness because I would come across as “high maintenance.” They said nobody would want to “make the effort.” This made me insecure, and I tried to hide that I am disabled. But the fact is, I am. I’m very sick. That’s just my life. And if my partner only likes me for my “healthy” persona, then they aren’t right for me. We deserve partners, just like everyone else.
2) The Back Incident. This happened in the summer of last year and it’s why I’ve stopped actively searching for dates. I was chatting to this boy on Tinder, and he was really into me. We planned a date, and he put a lot of effort in to come see me. So far, so good. Only, he was three hours late. Now, as someone with a chronic illness, I have a limited amount of time that I am functioning. By the time he arrived, I was starting to get hot flashes (not that way!) my hip was dislocated, and my brain fog was thick. We decided to just go relax, since I really was not up for the walk we had planned. I was flaring and all I really wanted was ice packs, Netflix and pizza.
I was feeling the furthest from desirable as humanly possible. He held me as we chatted and shared a few kisses, but out of nowhere he started getting super rough. He cracked all of the bones in my back. I have juvenile idiopathic arthritis, so the pain was extreme. I hurriedly explained that he hurt me, and he got frustrated and left, and blocked me on all social media.
I don’t really blame him. I think he was looking for a hot model and he got a barely-standing, wobbly, sleepy woman who was dreaming of pain patches and painkillers. The thing is though, I was left deeply insecure afterwards. For weeks afterwards, I would tell myself a “normal” woman would have enjoyed those kisses. I really didn’t. A “normal” woman would have made conversation. I didn’t because my brain fog was making it too difficult to focus on anything but trying to mask the pain I was in. I felt broken. I knew I really hadn’t met his expectations. It reinforced this idea many people with chronic illness get accused of, that I was “false advertising.”
My self-esteem took a hit as a result of this date. But now I realize there isn’t anything wrong with me. I’m fighting my body and that’s OK. But it took me a long while to realize that.
3) Catcalling. I have been catcalled a few times in town. Once was a male “friend,” who when I walked past him, decided to copy my limping gait and laugh, yelling in the middle of the local mall “Why are you walking so funny?” This was a few years ago when I could do some walks without a mobility aid. Now I’m proud when it’s just my cane and not my wheelchair. When I’m alone and walk with my cane, I get insecure because of a few instances of passing people my age and hearing them laugh, sneer and say I look weird.
Catcalling of any level is harassment and should be treated as such, but when you face it as a disabled person, the whole “broken” stigma can consume you. And if you think you’re broken, a dating relationship would be starting on a very unequal footing.
4) “You’re too pretty to be disabled.” AKA “The reason I left Tinder.” Pretty self-explanatory. Can be said in other ways like “You’re too pretty to be in a wheelchair” or “You look normal.” I don’t want to look normal. And what does “disabled” even look like? It’s disgusting that we are told these things masked as compliments. I want you to like me for who I am, purple wheelchair and rainbow cane included.
5) “You should go out with them, who knows when you’ll get the chance again.” Dating with a chronic illness can be tricky, and it can be very hard to find someone who wants to date you for you. But we need to remind ourselves there is nothing “wrong” with us. Our partners aren’t “generous” to look beyond the wheelchair, or the cane, or the puking at 3 a.m. But we can be made to feel like we should be happy with what we get, even if what we “get” isn’t someone we’re comfortable with, or could see ourselves with. I’ve found myself talking to people who made me uncomfortable because I was convinced that “this chance wouldn’t come along again.”
Dating is a personal thing. You may like dating casually, or you may only like dating when you can see a future with the person. There are so many ways and people out there, and we shouldn’t
be restricted to “settling” because we are disabled. We shouldn’t think anyone dating us would be “settling” either, or that we should be thankful they are with us. It’s a dangerous way of thinking.
Let’s be real, dating is tough. Right now I’m focusing on me, and hoping when the time is right, my Mr. Darcy or my Lizzie Bennett will come. But I’m pretty comfortable being on my own for now. It can get lonely, but you have to remember: If they can’t love you for you, then they don’t deserve you.
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