One thing people always ask me is how I navigate dating as a sickle cell patient. Since we’ve now entered the month of love, with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, what better time for me to write about dating while chronically ill?
From the start, I am very open about my illness with any potential suitor. Personally, I advise anyone living with a long-term illness to be as open as possible, provided they are comfortable doing so.
At a macro level, sickle cell has not hindered my ability to date. I have encountered mutual attraction many times and have had the opportunity to date different people accordingly. However, what sickle cell has helped me to do is filter out potential suitors more quickly and easily.
Sickle cell is a hereditary condition. I was born with it and have had it all 31 years of my life. It isn’t going anywhere, and I will have it for the rest of my life. Therefore, anyone I plan to “do life” with must be someone who knows and accepts this.
This may sound like a headache, but I believe it’s actually a blessing in disguise. My hope is that this filtering process will result in a situation in which whoever vows to love me — “in sickness and in health” — will genuinely mean it.
I think that for people who are healthy, it can be easy to take such a vow hypothetically without really understanding what it means and what it entails. When you spend as much time in the hospital as I do, you’ll hear stories about people who are deserted by their partners after they’ve become severely ill. This is especially true of husbands who leave their wives and husbands who have unrealistic expectations of their wives post-diagnosis. But it does occur both ways.
It is heartbreaking to hear these stories, so if there is anything I can do to mitigate such an experience for myself, I will do it. For me, this is illustrated by my stringent approach when considering suitors.
For those who fall ill later in life, I guess the ability to confidently ascertain whether a partner will be supportive through a severe illness is limited. But when you’re born with an illness, I believe it’s easier to identify this trait in a potential suitor, because there will be ample opportunities for it to be demonstrated.
I admit this strategy isn’t foolproof. In the past, I dated someone who knew I had sickle cell, and for the most part, they were understanding and tried hard to be there for me when I was ill. But my frequently falling ill became too much, and they decided not to move forward with the relationship. I had to accept this and move on.
Similarly, in another experience, I met someone who seemed lovely. But once I disclosed that I had sickle cell, they made it clear we couldn’t move forward in the relationship. They had previously dated someone else with sickle cell, and unfortunately, that person passed away due to the illness. This was heartbreaking for that person, and they didn’t wish to experience it again.
Once again, it was that person’s prerogative to do so, and honestly, I probably would be the same way. I just had to accept it and move on.
While both situations were painful at the time, albeit in different ways, ultimately, they were beneficial to me. In the first, if that person hadn’t left, they almost certainly would have done so later. In the second, had the person not been open and honest with me, who knows how the relationship would have played out. One thing is certain: It wouldn’t have been an ideal scenario for either of us.
My advice to other sickle cell patients is to be open and honest about having the condition as soon as you’re comfortable disclosing it. This may mean that some people won’t want to continue in the relationship, but that’s their choice, and it’s OK. It doesn’t reflect upon you, so don’t interpret it to mean that you’re undeserving of love.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. You should know that anyone who wants to build a life with you must know about and love all of you. Don’t cheat yourself out of that by accepting partners who refuse to do the necessary work to develop and maintain a relationship with someone who is chronically ill.
Note: Sickle Cell Anemia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Anemia News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell anemia.
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