Sunday, April 1, 2007

Like Most Girls: A Love Story

Like most young girls, I spent hours dreaming of the day I would meet a man and fall in love. Romantic dates, wedding dresses, and images of happily ever after danced through my head. All the while, the nagging question underneath; “But can a girl with who is so sick have all those things?”

Dating isn’t easy for anyone. Proof of that can be found simply by visiting the “self-help” section of any bookstore! Whether we are trying to figure out the “rules” of dating or understand the differences between “Mars” and “Venus”, there clearly are a lot of people in need of guidance on the topic. Most of us reach a point in our lives when we deeply desire a partner and rarely have a smooth journey in finding, or for that matter, keeping one.

Acknowledging the already challenging nature of love relationships, it is no wonder that adding the difficulties of illness into the equation can create another level of complexity. As a young girl seeking love, I made many mistakes. As a young CF girl seeking love, I made many excuses. Using trial and error as my guide, I continued to make mistakes and excuses well into adulthood. There aren’t many role models out there for such a situation and I fumbled desperately in the dark.

A confident person in most of life’s arenas, my “relationship self” never seemed to match with the rest of me. When talking to boys, my focus was on saying what I thought he wanted to hear. All I cared about was getting him to that like me and become my boyfriend. It never occurred to me to question whether or not I liked him! In relationships, I was submissive and often was talked down to and told what to do. Inside, I knew that wasn’t right but I couldn’t bring myself to “rock the boat”. Deep down, somewhere along the way, I developed an unconscious belief that I had to trade his bad behavior for him having to “put up” with my illness. I was often in a state of vulnerability and weakness. That state of mind led me to do things I wouldn’t have done had I been true to myself. It allowed me to be in verbally abusive, long-term relationships and to hang on to those relationships out of fear of never finding better. Many women have walked a similar path that I am describing, but Cystic Fibrosis was a large driving force behind why it was so difficult to change these detrimental patterns. There was unaddressed anger and sadness there and I often looked to men to make me feel alright about my disease. That never worked! With some counseling and a determination to be loved the right way, I eventually found my way out of that confusing maze.

Now, after consciously working to change my patterns, I have found what I always hoped, but never truly believed, was possible. I have the happiest and healthiest relationship that any human being could hope for, with or without CF. I also have the battle scars from years and years of bad choices and faulty perspectives. All I can do now is talk honestly about all the things I wish someone had told me when I was searching for answers to the tough questions. I hope that some of my big mistakes will serve as a warning to others as well as an inspiration to require more from themselves and those they choose as partners.

Below I have jotted down a few things I Wish I Knew A Long Time Ago. They seem simple, but they really are key.

Pre-Dating “Homework”: It is essential before you begin dating that you clearly establish a strong foundation of self-love and appreciation. Sadly, it is easy for some girls (and boys) to see themselves as “damaged goods” and therefore be willing to do things in relationships or overlook major character flaws that they wouldn’t if they didn’t have an illness. The first step in doing this is to uncover the difference between your mind, your body and your soul. We so often find our self-esteem in the clothes we wear or how pretty we feel, but it’s important to go deeper to discover what is valuable about you beyond the physical. Once you are able to make that differentiation, you can then explore who you are and what you believe about life on a much greater level. When you can truly see yourself as the amazing person you are, you will then be able to begin the search for a healthy relationship.

Dating: There are so many questions that come up when you first start dating a new person. Things like, “When should I tell him about my illness?” and “What kind of reaction will he have?” can distract you from getting to know someone. The answers to these questions need to be explored in your “homework” so you can enter into dating with a plan. You have to figure out where you stand on these important issues before you go on the date. Trying to sort out when you should tell someone about your physical problems in the back of your mind won’t work; you won’t be engaged in the moment and will miss getting to know the person in front of you. If you think of these things ahead of time, you will have a game plan and can feel more confident.

In general, when you are on a date, it is essential that you find techniques that help you maintain your level head and not get caught up in the “need to impress”. Pretend like it’s a job interview and you are the employer! There’s only one position available as your partner, so be discriminating and choose wisely!

Getting Serious: When you have an illness, falling in love can feel bitter sweet. Amidst the excitement and joy come the questions: “How will we handle it when I get sick?”, “Will he stay with me when I am in need?” and “Can I or should I have children?”. Facing the sad parts of your reality head on is key to having a strong relationship. If you can’t talk about the hard things, there will be trouble down the road. As the person with the illness, it is your responsibility to educate and initiate dialogue about your disease process. It is your partner’s responsibility to take it seriously and look within themselves to see if they are up for the challenges ahead. If your relationship is going to work, you will both need to feel safe and comfortable in talking about your true feelings at every turn. While facing illness is difficult, it can enhance a relationship with the right partner because you both will be keenly aware of how precious your time together is.

The burning question for many people is; “Can I have the relationship of my dreams despite my illness?” and my answer is “yes”. There is someone out there who will love you enough that a short time together is better than no time at all. Is your life more complicated because of your illness? Yes, but you have the opportunity to embrace your challenges and enrich your life and your love.

1 comment:

Jen! said...

I met my first husband at the exact time I was painfully wrenching myself out of denial about my CF and realizing how serious it was. I know now that that crisis compelled me to get married too young and too quickly - and I put up with his abuse for way too long becasue as he so kindly put it "no one else would want me." I hope when you finish this book that is gets widely published and becomes well known - your insights could save others some of the pain that you and I endured unneccesarily.

P.S. My second husband knew what he was getting into, and still chose to be with me for however long we have and he is fabulous!