When I moved back to New York at age 26, I wasn't ready to date. I'd just come out of a long term relationship that, frankly, didn't end the way I'd have liked. There was another piece of baggage weighing me down. I was suffering from a mystery chronic illness that hadn't been pinpointed by my doctors. Still, I did what all twenty-somethings do with money, a great job, a car and other single friends. I travelled into Manhattan at least three to four nights a week. I went to all the clubs, bars and restaurants I'd heard about as a teen but was barred from going to by my parents. The nights out often turned into mornings where I barely making it home before I had to go to work. Yet, at least then, my condition didn't interfere with my lifestyle so the men I was meeting were none the wiser.
I hung out with a couple of people but there was no one serious in my life until I was 28. I met a guy who made me consider dating him exclusively. The problem was I was out practice and I was getting sicker, it seemed like, every month.
Hiding my illness was easy when we went to lunch and to grab a beer. But, when he brought me home one night my secret literally spilled out. I suffered a massive hemorrhage that forced him to rush to the hospital. I nearly died that night but he remained by my side. When I woke up in my room, four hours and two procedures later, he was right there. I thought that would be the last time I'd see him but a week later, while I was home resting, he called to ask me out again. I knew I'd have to explain myself.
The days before I was scheduled to see him I racked my brain about what to say. I came up with five rules that I could apply to dating him or anyone else while I was sick and single. They were be upfront, be honest, answer any questions, don't settle and ask for and accept help.
So, even before he could ask me why I nearly bled to death, I was upfront about the fact that I had a chronic illness. I knew that meant I also had to be honest about not knowing when or if I'd ever get better.
I was uncertain if knowing I was ill would change his treatment towards me. So, when he told me my condition wouldn't be an issue, I vowed not to settle for any behavior that I would've found unacceptable if I were well. I decided, just because I was sick it didn't mean I wasn't deserving of the same time, affection, devotion, respect and loyalty as any other woman.
The final thing I thought about was the toughest for me. I knew, at some point, I may need his help. Therefore, I promised myself that I'd ask for and try to accept his help without allowing myself to feel like a burden.
I followed my rules and ended up staying with that man for ten years. Along the way, I allowed some transgression but overall I was loved and supported the way I needed. Still, the relationship didn't work out. I was back in the dating pool and newly diagnosed with the rare autoimmune condition, IgG4 related systemic disease that's treatable and not curable.
It took me three more years to find another man I thought was worthy of my time. With him, I did things differently. I told him I was ill before our first date but he didn't back out. Two years later, we were engaged to be married.
In the end, I found someone who sees a whole woman; one that's intelligent, loving, charitable, independent, stubborn, feisty and sometimes besieged symptoms. He carries me when I can't walk, feeds me when I'm unable to, holds me when I'm in pain, and doesn't hover over me, allowing me not to feel weak or needy.
My fiancé told that someone once asked him whether it was hard dating me because of my condition. He said he responded, being two strong willed people in a relationship is a problem not my illness.