Last updated: November 2018
Being in a relationship is hard. Anyone who says they have it easy is either lying, or – well, nothing. Lying, that’s it. Laying your soul bare for someone is tough, even for the most self-assured among us. Fears, hopes, dreams, and flaws – all out. Now, imagine doing that with a chronic illness hanging over your head. Did your brain just explode? Well, un-splode it! Sure, your first instinct may be that Rheumatoid Arthritis makes everything more complicated, but in reality, it has some unique upsides. No way you say? Well, it’s true, and believe me, I’ve done a lot of… research.
The unique upsides
In these days where “come here often?” has been reduced to a swipe, it can be daunting for those of us who have “bonus features,” to find someone. I could use a picture of me with the sun streaming in just the right way to highlight my dark brooding eyes, a friendly collie giving me a high five, and Taylor Swift holding up a sign that says “I wouldn’t shake him off!” and it still wouldn’t negate the fact that I have to spill the beans about my illness at some point. It’s part of who I am – and before you say “RA doesn’t define me,” and so on, I’m not saying that RA is all I am, but’s its definitely up for best supporting actor. I used to think as long as I was good with my RA it wouldn’t be an issue, but I’ve come to realize that it’s more difficult for significant others to ignore than it is for those of us who do it effortlessly.
If you think about the situation, it makes perfect sense. You’ve been dealing with the heartache, pain, and disappointment of chronic illness for years, so you’ve formed some calluses, you’ve developed coping mechanisms, and you’ve learned to manage your expectations. When you meet someone, they probably haven’t done any of that, and it can be a shock to the system, so we do our best to handle the situation carefully. For almost all of us, that means hiding the severity of our illness and doling it out like Reese’s Pieces to a five-year-old. Well… don’t. You might trap someone you like, and trapping someone always ends well, said no one, ever. More importantly, there aren’t only negatives that come with chronic illness. “So Dan, what are the positives?” Well, funny you should ask because I just happened to have this list here. What a coincidence.
People with chronic illness know their limits.
I can vouch for this. I know the instant I’ve reached my threshold, I know when I’m not going to be able to do something, and I know what happens when I’ve pushed past my limit. (Which is usually always.) There’s no way we would overwhelm someone simply because we didn’t know our limits. (Certainly not on a first date.) How many regular dates can you say that about? I once went on a date with a girl who drank so much that she met another guy while going to the bathroom, thought it was me, and left with him. I would have stopped her had I known, but I was dutifully sitting at the table for another hour before I gave up and went home. If she had known her limits, it might have turned out different. Sometimes I wonder if the him me got I he lucky.
People with chronic illness overcompensate – in our partner’s favor. This one has been going on since time immemorial. Because many of us think we aren’t going to be able to do certain things, we do more of what we can do, usually without anyone asking. I am constantly doing things for whoever I’m with because I don’t ever want to be accused of not pulling my weight. This is a pretty common theme among the handicapped, we don’t like feeling useless. On the other hand, I’ve met normal lazy bums who act more like disabled people than those are actually disabled. You have much less a chance of someone like me turning into a shiftless layabout who goes food shopping and blows all your money on naked lady pens and candy cigarettes, than Matt, who lives in van, down by the river.
People with chronic illness don’t sweat the small stuff – because we literally can’t. If we were to sit around all day and whine about every little thing that hurts or goes wrong, then we’d never get up for porridge. When “will I be able to walk in five years,” is a thing, getting locked out of your Facebook account doesn’t even ding the meter. If you truly want someone laid back, there’s no better choice. Now, sometimes, this can backfire. I have definitely had girls say to me before “you never get mad! Get angry at something!” Fine, then. Are you ever going to empty the bathroom can? Or do you like playing Jenga with used razors and old Q-tips? Let’s see what happens when that tower falls. OK?!
We can handle anything.
Finally, people with chronic illness can handle anything. It’s like being with a Navy SEAL, just without the guns, physical strength, ability to travel at moment’s notice, and hand-to-hand combat training. Being able to react in a crisis, though, well, we got that in spades, baby. Have you ever been in a shoe store trying on boots and had your hip suddenly dislocated and then had to calmly figure out a way to get from the second floor to the first without help? Well, you steal a cart for restocking the shoes, push it into the elevator with your good leg, and then try to inconspicuously make it out the parking lot and into your car but have the manager catch you and then he makes several of the employees lift you into the passenger side of your mom’s car. Obviously. Which is what I did. What I didn’t do is freak out and call an ambulance and make a big scene like I probably should have, but my point remains valid. We are crisis thinkers, we have to be.
So, as I’ve so clearly illustrated, there are many upsides to being in a relationship with someone who has R.A. or any chronic illness. I know many think we are the “dented cans” at the supermarket sale – a discount price for a great can of yams, but, really, we aren’t any different from those that are healthy. No, actually, that is exactly what we are – different – not less, not more. Different problems, but the same relationship.
Mental Health Check-in: How are you?