Online dating is already a nightmare parade where decency goes to die, but it’s even more frustrating and potentially humiliating if you have a medical device or a chronic illness. It’s still worthwhile because there are some wonderful people using apps to find companionship, but online dating is wild. Everyone is already working against expectations about appearance and the culture of treating people as disposable, and chronic illness throws more chaos and angst in to the mix.
I’d like to share a bit about my experiences, so hopefully it’ll be useful to someone. I hope you’re able to feel less alone if you are also having mixed luck with dating. I get asked about my dating life often, so I’ll address a few of the most common questions first.
- How do you tell someone about your ostomy/ health condition?
- Does your health seem to matter?
- Why are you still single?
- For the love of all that is holy, why?
How do you tell someone?
When you tell someone new about your ostomy, I have found it helpful to frame it in a positive context which allows the person to feel comfortable asking questions. Talking about what you’re excited to do with your second chance at life can be a fun discussion, and humor helps too. I also like bringing up the fun things I get to do with ostomy friends. You will not always get positive responses when you tell people about your ostomy, but that’s okay. It just means you need to move on to better people. I’m so glad I started making better choices and stopped accepting being treated differently because of my health issues. I’ve gotten some very sweet responses about how dates see me as brave and strong, which relieves a great deal of anxiety for me.
Does your ostomy seem to matter?
In my experience my ostomy absolutely seems to matter to some people. Rejection out of ignorance is a risk I choose to take with every new person, romantic or otherwise. It doesn’t matter much to most people, at least that’s what they tell me. Just because you might get a few bad reactions doesn’t mean you should stop putting yourself out there. There are so many lovely, kind people to balance out anybody who reacts negatively to your physical condition. I’ve been asked about my reproductive abilities on a first date, but I’ve also been serenaded, so there’s quite a spectrum.
Why are you single?
Right now I’m single because I have a bad combination of low tolerance for bullshit, a certain intelligence level, a weird face, and a whole lot of trouble with medical issues. I’m currently unable to see my friends, so dating is on the back burner. It just can’t be first priority when I’m exhausted, ill, and trying to fight for adequate medical treatment.
For the love of all that is holy, why?
I put myself through the ridiculous ordeal that is online dating because I enjoy companionship so much and there are some genuinely amazing people who are using apps for the same reason as me. A bunch of us just aren’t up for trolling bars to meet people and our friends don’t have anybody to set us up with. The time I spent with some of my online dates was sweet and joyful and thrilling, even when it didn’t work out long term.
Since my health isn’t great I can’t keep up with healthy people, which I think causes tension in a lot of relationships. I get angry at myself when I have to cancel plans, and I worry about resentment building up over time the more I have to stay home and just take care of myself. I believe honest communication can fix a lot of problems so I encourage people with chronic illnesses to admit when they’re struggling. Instead of quietly trying to push through the pain all the time, try communicating and being straightforward. Pain can be misinterpreted as anger or other negative emotions.
Sometimes loneliness gets the better of me and I make poor choices. I’m getting better over time as I learn from my mistakes, but loneliness is hard. It can be tempting to settle with someone who isn’t good for you just because companionship feels good even if there are issues with the relationship. Loneliness seems to physically hurt sometimes. When that happens, I reach out to my long distance IBD and ostomy friends.
I have such wonderful men in my life who remind me to hold out hope for a decent man who makes me happy. They remind me of what I should expect from a good relationship. Satisfying the need for companionship in other ways helps me stay away from questionable choices. Valuing closeness with friends and family is vital, especially when you face the challenges of chronic illness.
Another challenge I face these days is when to allow people access to my social media. My Instagram feed shows the every side of hospital stays, me in my pajamas with messy hair, and clues about my current struggle. It’s going to reveal my videos from the hospital, the ugliness of illness, and flaunting medical appliances. Allowing access to social media before an in-person meeting is not a great plan in my opinion, but that’s just me. Allowing access to my social media can also be used to jump start great conversations and test someone’s resolve and maturity. When I do choose to share, I only share with a disclaimer that if it’s too much for them, to just let me know and we’ll part ways. Sometimes that happens.
If being open on social media about my adventures with Crohn’s disease hurts my chances with a lot of me, it might not seem worthwhile. For me, though, being authentic and getting to know people who can relate to me are worth more than a romantic relationship partially based on deception. Allowing people access to some very un-sexy photos and hoping for the best is just how it has to be for me sometimes. I love the amazingly sweet reactions I get most of the time. Sometimes they tell me they admire my strength, sometimes they reassure me even if it means making more flexible plans. You never know what will happen.
Moral of this Story
It’s easy to become frustrated with dating in general, let alone the baggage that comes from illness and surgery. Plenty of people in your shoes have wonderful relationships that enrich their lives. The best things in life don’t come easily, but I hope now you feel validated and hopeful. If you have any questions or tips you would like to share, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Someone once told me I have no business being so picky about dating because I have a chronic illness and I would like to remind all of you how false that statement is. You deserve to be loved, and some people can’t handle being with someone who has physical issues. I hope you’ll remember you are worthy of love and there are wonderful people who truly don’t mind physical flaws or let them get in the way of having a good time.
Photo credits: @n8haddy and @theobessiveeye