Hysterectomies - And Other Joys of Dating With Invisible Illness
(Because Everyone Needs a Reason to Swipe Left)
(Okay, so this week you don’t get a hermit crab essay. I have to change things up now and then)
This is what I know: dating with an invisible illness sucks. Okay, so dating sucks for everyone. But people gifted with healthy bodies don’t need to concern themselves with extra annoyances that crowd the checklists of the terminally malfunctioned.
On top of wondering whether crooked smiles hide serial killer tendencies, I got to wince over proposed date activities. Would the guy produce a list of movement-oriented activities in line with the idiotic health-conscious profile I posted? (Face it, no one was going to swipe right on someone who admitted they were a broken potato) I would have to choose ONE of the options they threw out or admit I exaggerated the truth.
I DID swim, of course. Swimming’s like riding a bicycle. The muscle memory stays in your body, regardless of how long it’s been since you hit the pool and put in your laps. I also faithfully showed up to aerobics classes. No one needed clarification as to the KIND of aerobics. (If you sweat, it counts) I smiled through the good-natured teasing from the senior members of the water aerobics crew twice a week. At least older women didn’t comment on the spinal fusion scar that served as my tramp stamp or raise eyebrows when I needed to use the handrail to get in and out of the pool. But guys aren’t impressed with your ability to lift a foam dumbbell. (Have they ever tried, though? No, they haven’t)
Once I resigned myself to a date, it was time to confront the consequences of my decision. Forget the usual primping in front of the mirror; people with chronic conditions undergo different preparations to engage in strenuous activities. The movement an ordinary person takes for granted at miniature golf, ax-throwing, or even walking through the park translated to intense pain for me. I couldn’t go on a date without the proper protection. (Nope, not THAT protection)
Should I pre-game on Advil and Tylenol and risk the accompanying brain fog? Or did I want to smuggle a pill container into my cute little clutch to dose myself midway through the date when my muscles and joints were already screaming?
Then there was the anticipation of first-date conversations. Sure, I was hoping to get a free meal out of my venture off the couch. But those trips came at the price of human interaction. And my dates - courtesy of the little white lies on my profile - believed I engaged in physical activity.
(Actual physical activity - not attempting a daily shower)
That meant enduring lengthy discussions of gym equipment. (Why does everyone have a stance on whether ellipticals or stair climbers provide a better workout? It’s not like you GO anywhere) So I stretched my daily migration from the bed to the couch into “hikes” and “climbing” and other nonsense to convince them I was a healthy carbon-based lifeform.
Rather than whatever chemical compound currently sustained my existence.
On the occasions I made it through the night without wincing, revealing a bruise, or tripping up my words, I STILL wasn’t in the clear. Not when I impressed the guys with my wit and charm, at any rate. None of those first dates led to sex - thank the universe - but I often got home to a friendly text message. As if two hours of forcing an exhausted body to function weren’t rewarding enough for these men. Now they expected me to contribute additional brainpower and energy to the night?
At least I managed to juggle a phone lying down. (And no one sees you texting)
There’s an art to first dates - even for people with an invisible illness. And by the age of 39, I had the system down. I’d even invested in memberships to Planet Fitness and One Life so that I could venture an educated comment or two in those inevitable gym conversations. (Trainers will talk your ear off about weights and equipment if you show even a mild interest) Migraines had become “fashionable” enough to use as an excuse for the miniature pharmacy toted around in my purse. And it was only half a lie when I used work as an excuse to cut a texting episode short to get my much-needed sleep.
Then during one conversation, I let my fibromyalgia brain take the reins for five whole seconds.
And it ruined everything.
In your 20s, the topic of children doesn’t pop up on first dates. The male species isn’t ready to handle the conversation until the word “commitment” stops inducing panic attacks. But once they cross the border of 35, a switch goes off in their brains. (Or maybe it’s on the Y chromosome) The question, “Do you see yourself with children?” starts appearing sooner and sooner. It even enters their vocabulary in the texts that PRECEDE dates.
A cosmic joke, given most women are watching their eggs slowly expire at that age.
But I had programming installed in case the question surfaced. Multiple responses were loaded into my brain, actually. “I’m not sure” was my faithful go-to when a guy sprang things on me. Deflections related to my career’s (non-existent) trajectory were also popular. Anything besides the truth. Because nothing kills a date faster than describing your hysterectomy. (Maybe discussing the three medical conditions that caused it) No actual date made it to the level of hearing my “sterile” state, though. And I made sure I didn’t advertise my lack of eggs on those dating apps.
Why brand myself as COMPLETELY worthless?
But this guy? He’d already thrown me for a loop, leaving me scrambling to figure out how to behave around him. Rather than suggesting TopGolf, walking the beach, or hiking through a state park, he wanted to meet at a bookstore. (I should have proposed to him on the spot) And despite talking for two hours, he never brought up gyms or workouts. Our second date DID involve a bowling alley, but he never commented on my wrist brace. The man even suggested taking BREAKS. He wanted the time to snack and drink, but my aching body didn’t protest.
So when the topic of children casually arose on our third date, my brain short-circuited. The word “hysterectomy” escaped my lips before I could stop it. And everything tumbled after. Diagnosis after diagnosis; malfunction after malfunction. In five minutes, I laid every scar, lack, and inadequacy bare before him. The dam of truth broke, unable to resist this human being who failed to follow the expected pattern.
I waited for him to walk away. Worse than the psychotic “baggage” women are accused of carting around is a person that carries a hospital worth of specialists, a personal pharmacy, and a terminal diagnosis.
None of which you can see.
Ever the gentleman, he walked me to the car after our meal. And he kissed me for the first time.
Until I met my now-husband (are you kidding? No way in hell I WASN’T going to marry him!), I believed the same as everyone else: Invisible illness should stay hidden. The burden of your disorder, complication of explaining your pain, and frustration of fighting your body are too much for a new relationship. Type the word “imperfect” in a dating profile, or add a photo of your worst day, and you’re getting swiped left. So I fell in line with the system of disguise and misdirection.
I planned to continue doing so - likely forever. Or at least until my house filled up with cats.
But when you encounter a person who breaks the mold, you find yourself throwing away the routine. (They’re out there. Sometimes they live under a rock, but they exist)
Hiding my disability required effort and energy I didn’t have. (There isn’t enough makeup in the world to disguise exhaustion AND pain) But showing up as myself? That didn’t require extra spoons. The dating process went smoother when I stopped guarding my words and actions. Not to mention opening crucial dialogues that needed to take place before he held up a ring.
And with the truth of my missing reproductive organs out in the open? We never needed to bother with the “children” discussion. (You know - the one that leaves couples sitting on opposite ends of the couch at least once in their relationship?)
Invisible illnesses get inside our minds - literally. They make us afraid to admit the pieces that are broken or unreliable or just plain gone. And that fear causes us to miss connections with people who may make our lives thousands of times better. (I’m not referring to anyone before my husband. Those guys were meatheads)
You’re NOT your diagnosis. Nor are you the pieces or organs you’ve needed to give up. But all of those invisible fragments ARE part of you. And that means learning to acknowledge them - even on first dates and dating profiles.
It’s better than discussing bench pressing for the seventh time.