16 Reasons People With Chronic Illness Make Great Partners
Wow. Earlier this month, New York Times Magazine published a column in which someone asked if it was OK to dump a person because of their medical condition. The writer who responded essentially said that it was, actually writing, “You don’t owe it to anyone to accept that burden.”
This columnist’s entry is infested with “ethical” faults, starting with being a blanket response to cover dating anyone with a chronic illness (“when a potential partner is already seriously ill”). Chronic mental health and physical conditions, including Crohn’s and other autoimmune diseases, vary greatly and are more prevalent than people realize. A response to one situation and acting like it applies to an entire population is dismissive, insensitive and ignorant. Then, to add into this blanket statement the word “burden” is to say that this sizable population of humans is not only “less than” — but a literal hinderance to the privileged population of able-bodied people. Um… aren’t we supposed to be way past this sort of thing?
Newsflash: people with chronic illnesses — including the man with Crohn’s the person asked about — are whole people. He is not one characteristic or condition. I imagine there are plenty of traits that make him a great boyfriend, including the empathy, intuition, passion and creativity that become superpowers for many of us (yep, I’m one of this crowd) who live with chronic illnesses.
Again, using the word “burden” focuses only on the strains and inconveniences imposed by the disease while ignoring all the benefits this whole, dynamic, beautiful individual offers. Likewise, as this particular man is not defined by his illness, his would-be partner is not defined as a caregiver! Yes, caregiving might be part of the relationship, but that’s part of any great relationship. “Caregiver” is definitely on the long list of things I’m personally eager to offer a partner.
Almost as bad as using the word “burden” is using the word “abandon.” We’re not children. We’re not puppies. Leaving us is not abandoning us. You’re simply leaving. We’ll be just fine without you. We were just fine before. It’s a relationship, not a charity.
I sometimes think I’m undatable, that no one would want to be my life partner because of my diagnoses and the complications they can add to a relationship. (Yeah, I’ve been dumped because of them.) But then I think, is that really the kind of person I want to be with? Also, I step back and look at myself as a whole person… and I like what I see!
If that ignorant column or anything else makes you feel undatable, I want you to step back and look at yourself as a whole person. What are some of your favorite things about you? I bet a few of them actually come from how you live with your condition. I know my diagnoses have made me a better, cooler person in a lot of ways.
The best news of all is that when those of us with chronic conditions do find our partners, we’ll have the best partners ever! Partners with the perceptive capacity to truly know us, partners who will wholly commit, partners with such brazen courage and empathy that they’re ready and eager to feel anything with us.
Dating is frustrating and my feelings get hurt, but the truth is that yet another gift I’ve gotten from fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis is the perfect tool to weed out people like Name Withheld and spotlight the man of my dreams.
The truth is, I’m totally a catch! In fact, here are 16 reasons why people with chronic physical or mental health conditions make great partners:
1. We’re easy to please.
Life can be tough. There are a lot of things that most people find easy to do for themselves that we might find quite difficult some days. So if you do something as simple as bringing us chicken nuggets or washing our dishes, it’s a huge deal.
2. We can do cozy days like a boss.
Do you want to avoid those chores and that to-do list, to just take a day off and do nothing whatsoever? We’re totally on board! We have these days often, and while it’s not by choice, we’ve learned to make great choices within these days, like finding the snuggliest blanket and the most binge-able new TV series. We got skills!
3. We’re your reason to bail early.
Not feeling up to three more hours at the museum? Like the party but don’t love it? Well, lucky for you, we probably feel the same! Let’s get out of there, and feel free to say your partner isn’t feeling well. The “excuse” doubles as an awareness moment.
4. We have genius self-care ideas.
Self-care is our thing, man. We’ve got so much icky stuff happening that we’re always looking for ways to feel less icky, whether physically or mentally. So we’re experts at aromatherapy lotions, herbal teas and knowing how to joyfully spend an entire evening playing with Legos.
5. We don’t judge.
Conditions like ours come with a lot of stigma. The conditions themselves, some of our treatment choices, even our actions because of how we’re feeling. We totally know what it’s like to be judged, and it’s the last thing we’re going to do to you.
6. We don’t doubt.
People have a hard time believing what they can’t see and what they’ve never experienced, which piles a lot of undeserved doubt on people with hidden disabilities. Whatever you’re going through, don’t worry. All you have to do is tell us, and we’ll believe you. We get it.
7. We’re great listeners.
Because of numbers 5 and 6 above, and also because sometimes we’re totally not feeling up to carrying on conversation, you go right on ahead and take the floor! Please!
8. You know how much you matter.
We lose a lot of time to being sick or mentally unable to interact, so if we’re spending time together, you can totally feel special because we made the extra effort for you. We might even be risking a flare up.
9. You can dress down.
We’ve got enough discomfort in our lives. We’re not going to add to that with coarse or pinching clothes or physically painful shoes. So don’t dress up. We sure as heck aren’t going to.
10. Flexibility is our language.
We like you to be flexible with us. Because we usually can’t predict when our good days or when our bad days are going to be, we often have to cancel, move plans or amend plans to something a little more low key. If we expect you to be flexible, it’s only fair that we be flexible, too. If we choose dinner and a movie as the activity, because that’s all we can handle, we’ll let you choose the where and the what. And if you ever have to cancel or change plans, we usually understand better than anyone.
11. We’re great at spontaneity.
Because it’s hard for us to make plans knowing we might not keep them, we’ve learned to be spontaneous. When we’re having our best days, and you invite us out to dinner, we’re so happy to be feeling good and have an opportunity to actually do something, we’ll be suited up in our favorite comfy-chic outfit and out the door in a flash! Also, we’re quite likely to send you a text out of nowhere asking if you want to go on a mini-adventure. When we’re good, we’re great!
12. We are culinary masterminds.
For two reasons: First, many of us do a ton of research on nutrition and food trying to find ways to feel better. This gives us unique knowledge and also unique creativity in coming up with delicious concoctions that align with dietary restrictions. Second, we often don’t feel up to cooking, so we’re brilliant at getting something good onto a plate fast. (It’s called an “emergency pizza.”)
13. We’re super in touch with our emotions.
For so many reasons, a multitude of conditions and diagnoses cause people to feel more, plain and simple. Whether we’re tired, in pain, or have a mental health condition, these deep feelings make us sweet, sensitive goo balls. When we care, we care big.
14. We see good everywhere.
Chronic conditions are major bummers. They affect all aspects of our lives. We live and thrive with them because we learn to accept the negative and look for the positive. We’re the people who celebrate just taking a shower because a shower is not an easy thing for us. So we celebrate all kinds of little things, and we are always on the lookout for those little things to celebrate. That’s a better life.
15. We are weather forecast experts.
Many medical conditions are affected by weather changes, and we often feel what’s coming ahead of time. (I call mine my “fibrocast.”) You can go ahead and check your weather app, but then ask us what we think before heading out on a long bike ride or paddling out into the lake. The messages from our body weirdnesses are more accurate than Doppler!
16. We’re inspiring.
Look at all we do despite what we live with! Now doesn’t that remind you of all you can do, too? Isn’t that a beautiful reminder to keep right by your side?
For great tips and tools for dating someone with a chronic physical or mental health condition, check out my book, “Splatvocate: Supporting People with Hidden Disabilities” at www.Splatvocate.com.
Image via Christina Irene