“I’m too Sick to Be in a Romantic Relationship”

by | Oct 10, 2008 | THRIVE! JOURNAL | 9 comments

… or are you, really? You don’t have to go it alone with Lyme disease.

special guest

by Connie Strasheim

Couple Kissing

IS THIS JUST ANOTHER ONE OF YOUR EXCUSES for staying single? Or is it an idea based on your friends’ marriages, struggling because one of the partners has a chronic illness? Or is it a conclusion you’ve drawn as a result of your own negative experiences of having dated while sick? While being in a relationship can be challenging and impractical when you are multi-symptomatic, how about we hash it out right here and re-think whether there’s any chance that romantic relationships are possible with chronic illness?

Let’s start with dating. Since I’m writing from a woman’s perspective, I’m going to present a scenario in which the protagonist is female. No offense, guys, but last time I looked, I didn’t have chest hair so I can’t effectively understand your unique challenges as men suffering from chronic illness. Society expects you to be providers, and in some ways, I think your dating and relationship issues are more difficult than what we women face, but I think you’ll be able to relate to the following, anyhow.

We live in an activity-based society, and if you are a woman with a chronic disease and can’t participate due to physical or mental limitations, you might think you aren’t worth the effort for most guys. Sure, you could find yourself a dude who doesn’t need stimuli galore, but even if you managed that, would he travel to your house in the boonies and pay for your recreation (since you’re broke) every time you happen to feel well enough to go out? Anyway, what John Dopey-eyes wants to spend half his nights on the sofa, just hanging out? Especially when he could date cute Christie the cyclist, who is cool and collected and…absolutely active. Why would he trade this for a night on the sofa with you? Absolutely what benefit would he derive from dating a motionless, mopey woman?

Okay, so you’re not manic or bedridden, but chronic illness does bring on some frigid seasons fraught with fear, rage and fatigue, and during those times, you’re not even useful to yourself, never mind exciting company for a boyfriend.

What’s more, you can’t often laugh because it steals the wind from you, you can’t be witty and articulate because of brain fog, and you can’t go dancing because you have postural hypotension. You can’t eat at the coolest Italian restaurant in town because pasta makes you swell like a hippo with hives, and you can’t stay out late because you need ten hours of sleep. You often cry and beat your bed pillows because you’re bone tired, and you’re anxious and irritable because your brain is loaded with pathogens. Yeah, you reckon you’re about as much fun as a pole in the ground.

Then there’s the commitment thing. What if you ended up canceling half your dates because of unpredictable fatigue? Would your beau be able to smile and say, “Hey, no problem!” What if all of your exciting Saturday night engagements ended at 9:00 PM?

And supposing John Dopey-eyes did make it past the sofa spud dating stage, would he be keen on financially supporting a woman who couldn’t work because of her illness?

On the other hand, maybe this scenario is just a replacement for your previous excuses for not dating. The old broken record that sings, “You’re not good enough for any man because…” (and then fill in the blank). Consider that there will always be a blank if you want one to be there.

Anyway, didn’t God create human beings to give and receive love? Should illness preclude you from enjoying the benefits of dating or being loved by another? Don’t those with chronic illness need to love others, as well as be loved in return? Should you put your life on hold until you can make yourself more perfect for Mr. or Mrs. Right? Isn’t love more dependent upon the eye of the beholder than the qualities of the beloved? Not that you don’t have any positive qualities just because you are sick!

But do your handicaps make you less loveable? Why are you focusing on the minuses, anyway? Even if they were minuses, isn’t everyone physically or mentally handicapped somehow?

You concede that the benefit of finding a man in your condition is that you’ll quickly weed out the superficial ones. Those who need recreation in order to have joy in a relationship. Those who can’t handle a few tears or who want Wonder Woman instead of the mortal human. And those who don’t have enough compassion to see who you are, beyond your illness. All these guys get pushed to the wayside as soon as they learn about your infirmity. It saves a lot of wasted time and energy, doesn’t it? (However, be forewarned, there will be some who will nonetheless think that they can handle your illness and will insist that things will work out fine, but it’s only because you look and act so darned healthy!).

So what do you have to offer?

Your mind wanders to the lessons you’ve learned, and are still learning, as a result of your ten-year journey with chronic illness. These lessons seem to be greater than those that were given to you during the first forty years of your life.

To start, you’re learning to value yourself for who God has made you to be, instead of for your accomplishments. Boy, hasn’t that been a tough one for the skull! You’re learning to cherish and nurture yourself, because if you don’t, you know that you’ll be in this disease fix forever. You know what it means to take care of yourself and to set healthy boundaries with others, for the sake of your sanity as well as theirs.

You now have more compassion towards others. Knowing that a glowing complexion and bright eyes are often found in the sickest of people, you no longer frown at the handsome young man in the grocery store who pays for his goods with food stamps, or your so-called lazy cousin who can’t seem to hold down a job.

You don’t judge your neighbor who has fits of rage over the garbage cans you leave outside, because you know what it means to live with mental dysfunction.

You no longer become irritated at friends for not remembering your birthday, because you know what it’s like to have a memory like a flea and having expectations of others only depresses you and is detrimental to your health.

You don’t resent friends and family for not understanding your pain, because you don’t know what they have suffered, either. Besides, bitterness over what others cannot do or be for you is toxic to your body, and for your own sake, you’ll have none of it. So you no longer try to change others because you know you can only change yourself.

You may still fly off the handle at times, but you are aware of your dysfunction and are working tirelessly to become whole again, because now the stakes are higher.

You have come to appreciate the kindness of others who have helped you through your trials, which leaves you hoping you can do the same for another someday.

You have drawn closer to God because there’s no way you could have made it through this illness without Him. In moments of forced solitude and desperation, you have heard His voice and know that He has been teaching you how to love yourself and others more deeply so that you can be fully healed, from the inside out.

Haven’t these lessons fostered in you some fine qualities to offer another?

No, you really don’t have much to give John Dopey in terms of recreational companionship, but you do have much to offer in depth of character, and that doesn’t even include that spectacular character you had before you got sick! You’ve always been able to listen to others, to offer sage advice, and are reasonably good company, most of the time. You haven’t changed; you just have more off-days. At the same time, the lessons that Lyme disease has taught you mean that you might be more healed than before you even knew you were sick! Anyway, if John Dopey’s character is anything like yours, he’ll be willing to handle your off-days, however frequent they may be. For love is patient and kind, and seeks not its own.

Yeah, maybe relationships, if they are based on recreation and lots of externals, just aren’t worth it for sufferers of chronic illness. When it comes to developing a more meaningful connection, however, then even you, the world’s most disabled sufferer, can participate!

excerpted from: The Lyme Disease Survival Guide: Physical, Lifestyle and Emotional Strategies for Healing. Copyright 2008 by Connie Strasheim.

photo credits: Kissing Couple © Nathan Watkins / iStockphoto

Connie StrasheimConnie Strasheim is an accomplished health care journalist and the author of The Lyme Disease Survival Guide: Physical, Lifestyle and Emotional Strategies for Healing. A Lyme disease sufferer, she maintains a blog on Lyme disease and other issues related to chronic illness called Lyme Bytes. Currently, she lives between Denver, Colorado and San Jose, Costa Rica.

  • Earthwalker

    Earthwalker is the username that PT founder Julie Genser created for her online interactions so many years ago when first creating Planet Thrive.

    Julie's (Earthwalker's) life was derailed over twenty years ago when she had a very large organic mercury exposure after she naively used a mouth thermometer to measure the temperature of just-boiled milk while making her very first pizza at home. The mercury instantly expanded into a gas form and exploded out the back of the thermometer right into her face. Unaware that mercury was the third most neurotoxic element on Earth, Julie had no idea she had just received a very high dose of a poisonous substance.

    A series of subsequent toxic exposures over the next few years -- to smoke from two fires (including 9/11), toxic mold, lyme disease, and chemical injuries -- caused catastrophic damage to her health. While figuring out how to survive day-to-day, and often minute-to-minute, she created Planet Thrive to help others avoid some of the misdiagnoses and struggles she had experienced.

    She has clawed her way over many health mountains to get to where she is today. She is excited to bring the latest iteration of Planet Thrive to the chronic illness community.

    In 2019, Julie published her very first cookbook e-book called Low Lectin Lunches (+ Dinners, Too!) after discovering how a low lectin, gluten free diet was helping manage her chronic fascia/muscle pain.


  1. Onely

    I love the concept of this post and completely agree that people with chronic illness have so much to offer in relationships, despite not being “active.” As a person with Lyme, I find the dating world’s focus on “active=attractive” infuriating; when I see Cute Chrissy the Cyclist biking past me I have an overwhelming urge to throw things at her. (So much for your point about chronically ill people become kinder and more tolerant because of their illness! = ) = ) )

    I did have a slight concern that in two places singlehood was mentioned as something to be “excused,” as if it’s an inherently less desirable state than being coupled. While I definitely agree that we can all use our illnesses as an excuse to avoid intimacy (guilty here!), I also wanted to point out that being single can be great, and it isn’t necessarily a problem needing to be fixed. My sickness was one of the things that actually helped me learn that lesson.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. earthwalker

    Great point Christina, I totally agree!

  3. Ron

    The mans point of view:

    The good news is men are more interested in physical attraction than your ability to hike 10k. If you find a guy who finds you attractive it’s more likely than not that he is going to be interested in you no matter your illness or disability. In fact most men would have sympathy for your condition and not be turned off by it. I would also guess that about 50-70% of men are couch potatoes anyway and won’t mind spending evening with you doing little or nothing.

    As pointed out in the initial post society expects men to be bread winners and men accept this role. So the fact that you are broke has no negative affect on his interest in you. For chronically ill men the reverse is not true and it is much more difficult for ill men to find romance than it is for women who are ill.

    Don’t let your illness stop you from finding romance. Men are pretty easy to please. They just want someone they like to look at in most cases. Highly intellectual men would also require intellect in a mate but for the average guy that’s not the case. If you are ill and bright you will still be a good match for a bright guy.

    If you want a guy that gets you then look for someone with your illness. Not all chronically ill men are unemployed or broke and even if they were would it be so bad if you existed together and lived on your pooled incomes just as you survive now with separate incomes.

    Basically find a nice guy who think you are cute and nature will take it’s course from there. Your illness is not a turn off for most men.

  4. Ruth

    Hey Ron,
    Appreciated your viewpoint….you make it sound
    so easy though…it may be easier for a woman who
    is younger…but this gal is only young at heart (66)
    and the choices are slim! But then, this thread is not
    about age, it’s about attitude…right?

  5. C

    Hmmm. Lyme symptoms can encompass conditions such as interstitial cystitis, chronic prostatitis, pelvic floor dysfunction, vulvodynia, etc. These conditions are extremely challenging for relationships, and were not considered.

    Oh, and make sure that you really have found your soul-mate, if you think you may have. Sociopathy and Narcissism run rampant these days — our current culture breeds these personality disorders! Being w/a disordered person has the potential to make your already sick body much, much sicker from the stress of it all. And don’t even get me started on what the internet and easy access to porn on it have done to many males I encounter. It is really quite a sad phenomenon.

    Just my two cents . . . I’ve been through the ringer : (

  6. Lonera

    This is basically between two adults. One thing I have learned having Lyme Disease, is to lay down your cards on the table. And educate him of your illness first, just like you have ups and downs, sometimes fatique or sometimes weakness or sometimes anxious.

    This is really depends individually. If you are lucky to meet him, who will be so compassionate and understanding of your illness-grab the opportunity to have that relationship.
    Sometimes least expectation is better. Sometimes you will find this soul mate in between friends. Weird, but really when your least expected about a relationship then bamm it happened.

    Beyond Lyme, their is an infinite beauty with-in us.

    Just take your time, who knows Mr Soulmate is just around the corner, sometimes when you look harder you tend to miss the Glow of that beauty.

    Everyone is unique individual when that chemistry will find its chemistry then just taste that poison.

  7. Nancy

    On the bright side, lyme made dating much easier. The jerks run at the first sight of illness… and the good ones stay. I met my husband after I became sick, and the hardest part was believing he’d stay despite all my “stuff”. Really it was me, and not him. So sometimes you just have to be open to love, and be honest about your limitations.

  8. heather

    i wish this article were less heteronormative, but other than that i appreciate the insights and thoughts presented.

  9. Andrea

    Sometimes it just takes too many “spoons” to sort through dating sites, have phone conversations with possible dates (the step before having coffee together), or even to make myself look halfway presentable (you know, those times when showers are few and far between and you live 24/7 in nightshirt and fuzzy slippers).

    And it’s not so cut-and-dried as categorizing men as jerks if they run away, and soulmates if they stay with you even when you’re sick. I was with one man (primary relationship – I’m poly) for 34 years, and he was always supporting and willing to be educated. I really thought we were soulmates. But eventually, he hit mid-life and did some reassessment, and decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with a mate who was able to do more active things with him – not necessarily an athlete, but someone he could count on not to cancel half their dates, someone he could dance with at live concerts, travel with (including lots of walking and stairs :0( ), bicycle or swim with, and basically do things with. Our divorce was amicable, the alimony is enough for me to live on, and we’re still good friends. But it tore me up that even this wonderful guy eventually left.

    And yes, Ruth, I am 56 and running into lots of 50-70 year olds who want a woman younger than 50. (sigh)

    But it is good to be reminded that we are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS, and that we have value because God made us that way. We do have depth of character and compassion that TABs and NDAYs don’t, but it’s hard to find men who are satisfied with that.

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