About the Author: Nat is an ulcerative colitis fighter. More than that, she uses her experiences to empower other women with chronic illnesses to accept their diagnosis and feel confident in who they are. She does one-on-one group coaching for some incredible women that have gained the confidence to create their own platform and share their story. She also even has her own podcast on IBD! To learn more about the podcast, coaching, and all of the amazing things she is doing make sure to check out her website here, and of course her instagram here!
I still remember the first time I had to tell a man I was dating about having ulcerative colitis. My palms were sweaty, my heart was pounding so quickly I swore he could hear it, I could barely make eye contact. Before our date I had mentioned I had some “food intolerances” and asked if I could pick the restaurant. The topic of conversation came up naturally as he perused the menu and I stumbled on my words but it finally came out, bracing myself for the worst.
“Oh, my grandma has Crohn’s so I know about that!”
The relief I felt was almost tangible and I let out a breath I didn’t even know I had been holding.
From that moment on it got easier and easier and easier until I just started opening up even before first dates. Because I finally realized - if men didn’t respond well to the news that said everything about THEM and nothing about me.
With ghosting, dating apps and now a national pandemic, dating in the 21st century is hard enough. Add a chronic illness on top and I understand it can feel tricky and extremely daunting, but I promise it can still be done and can be a fulfilling and fun process.
Here are 8 lessons to keep in mind while dating with chronic illness:
- Don’t be afraid to open up early on: It can feel so scary to tell someone you’re interested in about your chronic illness. But I challenge you to ask yourself WHY? Why are you so nervous? Are you afraid of rejection? Judgement? Being seen as a burden, not as “fun,” undesirable? Well, guess what? If someone can’t accept you with chronic illness… they shouldn’t get the chance to be with you in the first place. And again, this says everything about THEM and nothing about YOU. It is not your job to make others comfortable. I always say ulcerative colitis has been the best “filter” for me with dating. It helps me weed out the men that aren’t open minded, empathetic or emotionally mature - which are all things I would look for in a partner, chronically ill or not! I always encourage my chronically ill friends, clients and peers to tell potential partners sooner rather than later for this exact reason. Being chronically ill is nothing to hide or be ashamed of. If I can take a guess, your chronic illness probably makes you incredibly resilient, which is something to be proud of. :)
- Don’t change yourself: Don’t try to be someone you’re not just to “prove” to a potential partner that you’re still “fun,” “spontaneous,” etc. with chronic illness. It’s more than okay to want to stay in on Friday nights rather than going out (in non-pandemic times of course), it’s more than okay to want all of the information ahead of time before saying “yes” to plans, it’s more than okay to want time to prepare before trips, it’s more than okay if your idea of fun is reading on the couch or watching movies cuddled up in bed. You deserve someone who accepts you for YOU.
- Connect with yourself and know your worth: One of the best things I did for myself while dating is first focus on my relationship with myself. I know it’s cliche but you truly can’t love someone else fully if you don’t love yourself. Focusing on self love and self care and really connecting to myself on a soul level helped me feel 100% worthy on my own. Knowing your worth comes from within and nobody’s opinion of you is so helpful while dating because if you do stumble upon an individual who isn’t supportive of your chronic illness, it much more easily rolls of your back and you can walk away thinking “their loss.” I really connected with myself and found my inner worth by going to therapy, reading personal development books, journaling and strengthening my spiritual practices. Maybe for you this looks like exploring a creative passion, hiring some type of life coach, etc.
- Know your non-negotiables: Know what you need and want in a partner that will be most supportive of you with chronic illness. Of course, it’s important to stay open minded, but knowing things like empathy, open mindedness, and patience are non-negotiables for you will keep you on track so you aren’t creating relationships with someone who will end up being a difficult match for your lifestyle.
- Don’t settle: Don’t settle for anything less than you deserve!!! And you deserve the WORLD even with chronic illness. I think it’s a common fear for us chronically ill individuals that we will never find someone who will love us fully with our illnesses. Don’t let this fear make you hold onto anything that isn’t fully serving you. Don’t just settle for someone who simply doesn’t make fun of your illness or doesn’t see you as only your illness. You deserve someone who, of course fulfills the above two descriptions, but who also loves you fully and deeply, thinks you’re incredibly strong and celebrates that strength, will go the extra mile during hard times, etc.
- It’s not on you, it’s on them: If someone ultimately can’t accept you with your illness, that’s on them. You did nothing wrong. It is not your job to shrink yourself to make them more comfortable. It is not your job to hide your illness and try to function “normally” to make them comfortable. You’re strong and resilient and amazing as you are and if someone can’t see that, then they aren’t the person for you.
- Speak your mind and ask hard questions: If you start sensing anything weird with your partner or potential partner around your chronic illness, speak up and ask about it! “Does it make you uncomfortable when I discuss my illness? Why?” “Why do you get upset when I have to cancel plans? Is there a way I can help you better understand why I have to do this at times?” Asking these questions helps your partner continue to learn how to best interact with someone who is chronically ill, but also helps you get a better understanding if they are worthy of you and your time.
- Know that you aren’t a burden: The right person will never let you feel like a burden. Because you’re NOT. Drill that into your brain and walk away from anyone who makes you feel otherwise.
You are so so worthy of big, genuine love, no matter the chronic illness(es) you live with so bravely each day. Don’t ever forget that. Xx nat