Updated: May 27, 2020
By Stacy | @gutsygirlblog | Sept 24, 2019
Dating is hard.
Dating with chronic illness? Hard doesn’t even begin to cover it.
You’re tired. You’re sick. You’re in pain. It’s not a good time to start dating someone.
No one will understand. No one will want to deal with this.
And you’re right. No one— except the right one.
I met my husband in May of 2015 in the middle of my first flare-up. After six months of unexplained, debilitating digestive pain, I lost more than twenty pounds and was literally holding my life together with a heating pad, caffeine, and Imodium. I didn’t have a name for what I was going through, and telling a potential partner that your current favorite hobby is sitting on the toilet until your legs go numb probably isn’t going to top any lists for “Most Romantic,” so I didn’t tell him.
I didn’t tell him that every time he took me to a nice restaurant, it was like playing Russian Roulette with the menu. I didn’t tell him that after every date, I’d spend the next day in agony because of the one watered-down drink I managed to sip. It didn’t matter what I ate— everything hurt. I didn’t tell him why I had to cancel dates or leave work early for doctor’s appointment or carry a small arsenal of over-the-counter drugs in my purse. I was embarrassed, I didn’t think he’d understand, and I didn’t want to lose him, so I didn’t tell him... until I couldn’t keep quiet any more.
In July 2015, I had my first colonoscopy. I told him I had to have a “procedure” and “it was fine.” (Sound familiar?) That night, he showed up at my apartment unannounced with my favorite dessert in hand. He sat on the couch with me and held my hand, with my head in his lap and tears filling my eyes. That was the day I was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease.
He never asked prying questions, but the following week, while sitting seaside at a little fish market, I told him everything. We had only been dating about two months, but I told myself that if he didn’t care enough about me to have this conversation, to even skim the surface on this life-altering news and the fears that come along with it, then I’m not going to waste what little energy I have on this person. His response was simply, “Are you okay?” Three years later he’s never stopped asking me that.
If I could offer one piece of advice for those with any sort of chronic illness, it would be to be honest and transparent with those you choose to surround yourself with. How many of us have lost friends or partners because they “couldn’t handle” our condition? I’m not advising you to present your entire medical history Powerpoint-style on the first date, but as issues arise, don’t be afraid to let others in— they may surprise you. And for those who “can’t handle it,” you’re better off knowing sooner rather than later.
Chronic illness may seem like this ever-looming “extra baggage” that no one will understand or want to deal with. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: Every single person you meet has some variation of struggle or baggage that they will bring into a relationship. Not one single person on this planet has had a completely easy, uncomplicated life, and that’s okay. What you have had to endure in your life is what makes you brave, and strong, and compassionate, and if I may say so - a freakin’ badass.
Chronic illness is just one piece of your story and it’s what molded you into the person you are today. It doesn’t mean that you are broken. It doesn’t mean that you are a burden. It means that you are human; and more than that, you are a human who has persevered and proven that in the face of adversity, you rise. You rise through the pain, through the fatigue, through every flare up and set back. You rise every single time, and that makes you exponentially more capable and worthy of unconditional love. If a potential partner can’t see that— if they can’t see your unbreakable strength— then at the risk of sounding too cliche, it truly is their loss.
Because you are more than your illness. You are more than doctor’s appointments, bloodwork, and medications. You are more than fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Some days it may feel like your illness consumes you, but you are so much more. You are your passions, your hopes and your dreams. You are the light that fills a room and you are open arms when others need comfort. You are a warm smile, a compassionate listener and a fierce protector. You are a million other amazing things that are bursting to be shared with the world and with a potential partner, and someday, someone will see that and they will be the luckiest person in the world because they found you.
There’s no way to sugar coat it— dating with a chronic illness is hard. But you are a remarkable human. You are tough and resilient and deserving of the sweetest love this world can offer. Keep your heart open and the right person will love you for you— chronic illness and all.
Stacy Ransom, 28, is a part-time marketing specialist, full-time mother from Southern California. After being diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease and Spondyloarthritis in 2015, her mission became to be an advocate for those battling inflammatory bowel disease and chronic illness. Follow her journey on her blog, Gutsy Girl, and on her Instagram account at @gutsygirlblog.