For this post I really wanted to draw upon my personal experience. From October 2016 to August 2022 I was single. Yep, six years. A lot of dating, some friends with benefits (though there was a 2+ year period starting before the pandemic and lasting until last year that I did not have sex outside of masturbation). Wow, this topic got personal fast, I hope you’re all in for the ride. In August of 2022 I met my current partner and we have an amazing relationship that continues to grow. Something I struggled with while dating many people over the past several years was when and how to tell them about my pain and diagnoses and what that would mean for the relationship.
I’ve had conflicting opinions about this. I have done everything from reveal it on a first date so that if it was an issue at least we didn’t have to go on subsequent dates, to not revealing it at all over 4 or so dates and then never having the relationship develop anyway. Plus whatever is in between. I’ve also read other peoples’ opinions and even found a study on the subject of chronic pain/illness and dating and disclosure. From what I’ve figured out is that the timing and your particular reasons for it may not matter. We know ourselves and what we’re looking for, best. In this relationship I mentioned it maybe 4 or 5 dates in. We were starting to create a bit of emotional intimacy so I let myself have the first of many moment of vulnerability, and honestly I think it helped deepen the relationship, allowing both of us to take opportunities to continue to be vulnerable with each other. This kind of vulnerability is a requirement for emotional intimacy.
How did I do it? You might be wondering. The first time I mentioned it, I did so fairly casually. I can’t remember the exact conversation we were having, but I mentioned that I had chronic pain. In a conversation on a subsequent date I revealed a bit more about the pain and my illness diagnoses. Again, more in conversation, not in some kind of grandiose we need to have a big discussion kind of way. However, what I did that I think was particularly important and helpful was open it up to being more of a conversation by asking her if she had any questions and letting her know if she does she can always ask. She has asked questions along the way and I’ve always been open with answering them. And I’ve been open with communicating how I’m doing (physically and emotionally) as well. My hip hurts during a walk, I mentioned we need to walk slower because it hurts (we are typically both very fast walkers so it’s also kind of obvious when I’m in pain).
Be open and honest – this may mean having a big sit-down conversation or it may be a more casual approach like I took, either way, it takes some courage and vulnerability.
Invite your partner into the conversation – make sure they know they can ask questions and you’ll try to answer them to the best of your ability.
Ask them what their concerns are and thank them for their vulnerability as you navigate it together. Sometimes you’ll be able to put their mind at ease, sometimes they’ll be able to put your at ease, and sometimes you might agree to figure it out as you go.
It takes a lot of trust, emotional intimacy, and vulnerability to have this type of conversation. If you want to deepen the relationship, and create more intimacy, I believe this is a necessary step for anyone with a chronic illness or chronic pain. Though we may have beliefs that there is no one out there for us (I had a previous partner put that belief into my head for quite awhile), if we are open to some of the uncomfortableness that may come with dating, we can also find a partner who is the right fit for us.
I hope this helps you to keep making the most of it in your dating and relationships.
I’ve been thinking about loneliness the past few days because I’ve noticed a shift in my mood. It’s a bit lower than normal and when I think about why that might be, it comes back to feeling lonely. A year and a half ago I moved from a big city where I had spent 6 years making some wonderful friends, to a small town where I only had my brother in a town over. Then 6 or 7 months ago I moved to another big city, where I have my other brother, his wife, and a close friend I’ve known for many years and his partner. While I do see my brother and sister-in-law fairly often, I haven’t seen my friend much due to schedules, etc. I also don’t have any other friends here and it seems to be harder to make new friends at 37 than it was at 30. I also haven’t had a serious romantic relationship for several years.
Loneliness is also something commonly experienced by people with chronic pain and chronic illness. This can be due to not being able to engage in activities you once could. It could be a lack of understanding from friends and family, perhaps even lost contact with them because of it. It could be an inability to work. And so on. While some people are totally content being on their own (and for the most part I’m totally fine being on my own), most of us crave connection. It’s part of our evolutionary history. Humans have always lived in groups, supported each other. And yet we’re always alone…
One of the four “givens” of the human condition, according to existentialism Irvin Yalom, is isolation. It’s something we fear and dislike, and yet it exists for all of us. I think of it this way, who is the only person you spend 24/7, 365 for your entire life with? YOURSELF. No one else. And so, chronic pain or illness or not, loneliness is something we need to be able to deal with. But how do we do that?
Here are some suggested ways to deal with it:
join activities that you can do – this is something I’m personally looking into right now. Is there a sport you can play? An art class you can take? Some other activity you can engage in with other people, even with your pain? Sometimes this involves making room for your pain, which you can learn to do here.
reach out to friends and family – even if you can’t see them in person, connect via text or phone calls or video chats. I talk to one of my best friends every week via Skype. A couple of my other good friends I video chat with every few weeks and text with regularly. It’s not the same but it’s something.
join online support groups – well I have a love-hate relationship with these, they can be a great way to connect and remember that you’re not alone. Friendships can even develop online. Listen to this podcast about it.
Speaking of making friends online, tryonline dating – okay, if you’re in a relationship this may not be the best idea, but you could try Bumble BFF in which the sole purpose is to make friends. Otherwise, I have made plenty of friends in the past via online dating (though that was pre-pandemic and it does seem to be a little harder now).
Become your own best friend – while this doesn’t completely take away feelings of loneliness, it can help you in the in-between times of being with other people. I’m definitely my own best friend. And yes, I do still get bouts of loneliness but they are few and far between (I just happen to be in one of the few).
No one likes to feel lonely, especially when paired with other emotions like sadness and anxiety. While chronic pain and illness can make loneliness more common, there are definitely a few ways you can combat it so that you can keep making the most of it.
As we move into reopening phases in many places, some of us might be looking to take all of our virtual experiences and start going back to the “old ways.” Whether that be just seeing our friends in person (crazy thought after so many months, I know!) or going on actual dates, the thought that we don’t have to solely rely on online contact is amazing. Yet, for those of us with chronic illness, slow and steady might be the best course of action.
I miss getting coffees liket
I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t start doing “real life” things again. I have started to see some friends in person, and I’ve been back to work where I deal with the public consistently (some lady refused to sanitize her hands but then proceeded to put on a face mask which made me laugh at the lack of logic but okay). What I am more cautious about is heading on dates. For one, assuming any date goes well, there is potential for kissing at the very least (if not more) and exchanging saliva with a stranger when there is still a pandemic going on is probably not the best idea. As cases do become lower and lower that may change, but for now I’d still rather play it safe than risk getting an illness that could be made worse by my underlying illness.
Me at work… keeping others safe from me, and hoping they’ll keep me safe from them.
There is also the strong possibility of a second wave to come yet. If we look back historically to the flu of 1918, the second wave was much worse than the first. And though, yes this is a coronavirus, not a flu, a second wave could be terrible. While I am happy to be a risk taker in many areas of my life (adventure travel, moving provinces or countries at the drop of a hat, changing careers, starting blogs and podcasts, etc) I am not one to compromise my health more than it already is. Does that mean I won’t go on any dates until we have a vaccine? Unlikely, but it does mean I’ll be a little more selective of who I date (as if I’m not selective already lol) and how quickly things move.
Remember when we could share drinks with our friends without a worry?!
What are my other chronic illness warriors thinking about dating right now? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.