How Dating My Husband Has Changed Since I Became Chronically Ill
It’s always been easy to spend time with my husband, Paul; it’s just never been easy to date him.
We began dating 21 years ago, when we viewed our circumstances not as complications but as minor inconveniences. We were 21 years old, attending Los Angeles City College, each living at home, and neither one of us had a car.
Out of necessity, we became efficient, creative budget daters. We used “buy one get one free” coupons for frozen yogurt. We ate fast food by candlelight. We packed picnics and went for walks in different parks.
Once we moved in together, dating became easier. Our schedules still didn’t align, but at least we knew we’d see each other every day, versus once or twice a week. We still didn’t have a car, and we still didn’t have much money, but we had privacy and we had each other. We turned chores into dates. Once a week, we walked to the market, but not before stopping at the local video store or our favorite coffee house. Our dates weren’t fancy or extravagant, but they were ours. We walked to a neighborhood movie theater that charged patrons $2.50 a ticket to see movies shortly before they were released onto VHS. We rode our bikes to a 24-hour neighborhood bakery and snacked on brownies.
We were both 32 years old and had been married for nine years when our son, Ryan, was born. But after Ryan arrived, going out on a date resembled working on a jigsaw puzzle. We had to fit all the pieces into place as we coordinated Ryan’s nap time and feeding time, his babysitter’s schedule and our work schedules to figure out a day and time for us to go out.
When Ryan entered elementary school, dating became somewhat easier. Each week, Paul has one weekday and one weekend day off from his retail job. And after I retired from teaching, that weekday became our date day. We’d stroll through the sculpture gardens at the local art museum and take ourselves to lunch. And like in the “old days,” we’d turn our chores into dates – treating ourselves to breakfast before taking the car for an oil change.
Through the years though, the dating constant that has remained the same is our walks. We walked because we didn’t have a car. We still walked after we bought our car because we enjoyed seeing our neighborhood at this slower pace. We’d purchase a mocha for me, an Americano for Paul, and hold hands as we walked through our community.
Walking is what we’ve always done. But sometimes I don’t know if I can still do it. Or if I should still do it.
Because now dating my husband involves a new set of challenges. While we are both 42 years old, our bodies are aging differently. I suffer from an autoimmune disease which means that I experience somewhat-limited mobility, low energy and levels of pain that Paul does not.
And though we share a 21-year history, I find myself increasingly feeling self-conscious and insecure.
Lately, I feel as if I don’t know how to date Paul, because while he seems to me to be improving with age (becoming more physically fit, excelling in new roles at work), I’m not. I’m different. Because of my disease, I’ve had to give up my teaching career and exchange it for one as a stay-at-home mom/freelance writer. I’ve seen my weight fluctuate as a result of medications, and I’ve seen my physical capabilities decrease. And though I’m hesitant to use the word “disabled,” so many things — the placard I hang from my rearview mirror, my monthly checks, my numerous doctor appointments — are telling me that I am.
Planning a date with Paul is still difficult. But now it has nothing to do with finances, and everything to do with comfort. Sitting in a movie theater for two hours means I may be shifting in my seat, crossing and uncrossing my legs, trying to find a way to feel at ease. Staying upright and mobile, such as strolling through a museum, means two hours of walking, standing and pain in my legs.
Back in the early days, the what-when-where of our dates didn’t matter. All that mattered was the who. As long as it was us.
But now, as my disease progresses, the scariest part is that I don’t feel like the girl Paul used to date. I don’t feel like the same girl who went parasailing in Catalina while Paul watched from the boat. I don’t feel like the girl who bravely explored San Francisco while Paul was occupied in all-day trainings for work.
I’ve become a more apprehensive woman, a woman who limits her new experiences and approaches outings with a level of hesitation and fear. I’ve given up attending summer concerts at the Hollywood Bowl because of the discomfort involved — the difficulty walking up the incline, the hard bench seats, and we no longer attend the yearly Los Angeles Times Festival of Books because it’s too exhausting for me.
And unlike our past dating challenges, these new obstacles facing us don’t seem temporary; they seem permanent. And now these obstacles don’t feel shared; they feel like they’re all mine.
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