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The Obstacles of Dating While Chronically Ill

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness.

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness and unfortunately have become sicker over the years. Even though I spend the majority of my time too sick to leave the house, I’m still like any regular 23-year-old that yearns for a healthy dating life.

Due to my illness, the internet has become my only real means of finding a romantic partner. When I click with someone I’ve been engaging with online, I try to be upfront about my illness. A few have wanted to further our relationship, most respectfully end it there, but some are less than kind. Although it is disappointing to be rejected more often than not, I don’t hold any grudges towards anyone who isn’t willing to cope with the conditions of my illness. But when someone is blatantly rude, it is pretty unsettling. I once had a man text me, “you’re a game playing bitch” after I wasn’t able to go on a first date with him for three weeks. In spite of the fact that I had apologized multiple times and explained to him the reasoning behind my unwillingness to go on a date, he still felt I was giving him the cold shoulder and dealt with it by insulting me.

Though rejection is hard, the possibility of a genuine relationship flourishing can be even harder. When you spend most of your time as a recluse you get in the routine of being alone. Once the opportunity of actually leaving the house and engaging with someone arises, the whole thought of dating becomes overwhelming. On top of being chronically ill, I also suffer from severe anxiety. So from actually acquiring a date, reserving a day I think I’ll be well enough to function outside of the house, then dealing with all the anxieties that come with first dates, sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it. Though being single is fine, eventually the desire to seek a partner sets in and I’m back in the game.

I’ll be honest, first dates suck. I can imagine they’re awkward and challenging for everyone. But having a chronic illness that can plague you with a number of grueling symptoms at any given moment can make a first date a living nightmare. Around October of 2017, I was asked on a date by a guy who wanted to take me to the local fair. I really liked this guy and had never been to a fair, so I thoughtlessly agreed. See the thing is, I was diagnosed with a form of cystic fibrosis. So even though my lungs can stop taking in air properly and the muscles in my legs are as weak as straw, I somehow didn’t take into account that all the walking we’d do that day could affect me negatively. I hadn’t really thought about this until we were actually at the fair, and by then it was too late to make other plans. So I put on a smile and tried not to think about it, but eventually my symptoms caught up with me. My breathing became labored and my legs started to shake. I powered through it though and only asked if we could sit down about a thousand times and actually ended up having fun. Then came time for him to take me home. Earlier I had met him at the gate to my neighborhood. Arriving back, I realized I had forgotten my key and had no other way of getting in. It dawned on me then that I would have to walk the rest of the way home.

In the back of my mind, I knew this was a bad idea. So to save me the embarrassment of him witnessing my body break down even further, I told him I’d walk alone. I realize now that could have also been a terrible idea, but he insisted on walking me home anyways. I wasn’t in great shape to begin with but everything was fine for about two minutes, then my body started to betray me again. Breathing became almost impossible and my legs started to buckle incessantly. Though my body was falling apart, all I could really think about was how embarrassing this was. I knew he could hear my labored breathing and noticed I looked like my legs could give out at any moment. I knew I wasn’t ok, but I still didn’t say anything. I had already asked if we could sit down on multiple occasions during our date, which was embarrassing enough. I was not about to ask if we could stop and take a break now. So I just kept on going and acted as if everything was fine. We eventually got to my house and I quickly said goodnight, gave him a hug, went inside my house, and collapsed.

Despite the fact that I had experienced an unprecedented amount of embarrassment and my body nearly decided to call it quits completely, I was miraculously asked on a second date. And we eventually struck up a decent relationship for a while. Though our relationship has now ended, that night taught me a valuable lesson; my illness can only hold me back if I let it. It didn’t bother him that our first date consisted of me wobbling around and breathing hard. What mattered to him was that we made a connection and enjoyed being around each other. But that night embarrassed me enough to where I almost never spoke to him again, which I now know I would have regretted.

When I think about that date, I think about all the times I’ve missed out on things due to the fear of how my illness will affect me. That date makes me think about all the potential I possibly missed, seeing as even though it was a sort of nightmare, it led to one of the most prolific relationships of my life. It honestly makes me sad to think I have possibly missed out on new friends, new memories, and other great opportunities.

I still have my limitations, but I now try not to let them get in the way of having normal experiences and being an average 23-year-old. However, it isn’t always easy. There are still times when I’m too afraid to step outside my comfort zone and ultimately miss out on new opportunities. Yet when it comes to dating, I try to tell myself that I’m worthy of happiness and love. And though I’ve had more failures than successes, I’m still determined to get out there and find someone who will accept me for everything I am, chronically ill and all.    

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Sydney Lovell
Sydney Lovell

Freelance writer of short stories, articles, opinion pieces, and personal essays. I mostly cover topics relating to chronic illness, mental health, LGBTQ+ themes, and women's issues.  

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The Obstacles of Dating While Chronically Ill
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