Had I to do it all over again, based solely on that conversation, I would walk away and never look back. Not because of the cruelty he displayed by sharing those feelings with me, as you might expect. But, because he made it clear to me from the very beginning that: 1) he defined love in terms of what it did for him and 2) he based his love on ideas about who or what he thought I was ("sick," "healthy," or even "smart," "fun") instead of simply loving me as an entire person. His love was conditional on my continuing to make him feel good and being enough of what he wanted me to be (in this case, healthy) to be "worthy" of his love.
While I've grown older and far wiser in the intervening years, I've thought back to that experience a lot recently. I've asked myself when it was that I began to view being unhealthy as being inherently unworthy. But, more importantly, I've started to try to change my own inner dialogue. I do not have to prove myself worthy of love, and I certainly don't have to be healthy enough to deserve it!
While it's a simple idea, it becomes pretty challenging in practice. I read somewhere that divorce rates in marriages with a chronically ill spouse are more than 75 percent. Clearly, even if those of us with chronic diseases are worthy of love, it isn't translating into long-term, sustainable relationships!
Meanwhile, if you spend roughly 14 seconds on any online dating website, you will see that almost every ad mentions desiring someone physically fit enough to engage in hiking, biking, running, you name it. While that's probably just code for "no fatties," there does seem to be a pretty constant theme here. Healthy is good. Unhealthy is bad. Where does that leave those of us who are chronically unhealthy? Alone, I guess.
Until recently, I had no idea that there was such a thing as an "ableist" culture. I didn't realize that something as simple as assuming that a good partner could run a 5k with you is actually kind of... discriminatory. It creates a standard that only able-bodied individuals can meet. And, likely, those healthy folks out there don't even realize that these assumptions underlie their own world-views. From their point of view, perhaps the only reason that someone couldn't run would be eating too many Big Macs. If you aren't living a life of chronic disease, I doubt that it even crosses your mind that others are.
I don't have a magical solution to any of this, that's for sure. I still struggle with using my power chair because it makes my invisible illness visible. People stare. People treat me differently. Sometimes, I would rather struggle to walk or simply not go somewhere than deal with everything from doors without power openings to stairs without ramps to the prying eyes of strangers. Who needs to go to the zoo, anyway? It's cold. Maybe in the spring.
The important thing, I guess, is for people with a chronic illness to make their peace with it, as best they can. If you can't value yourself, you're destined to embrace others who don't value you either. And, while I don't know what the flip side is, I do know that it's better to be alone than to live like that.
Still, I like to think that it is possible for those of us with chronic diseases to find love, too. Not in spite of our illness. Definitely not because of it. There's nothing worse than a creepy care-taking codependent dynamic. But, simply because we are lovable, and worthwhile, and loved by another lovable and worthwhile person. For absolutely no particular reason or quality or trait, but simply because they do.
(This is a picture of me in a hat. Because every blog post needs a picture.)