kiss & tell: a dating dilemma
Welcome to Lip’s new relationships column, Kiss & Tell. Our new anonymous columnist is going to be sharing her experiences and thoughts on dating and relationships every fortnight!
At Lip, it’s important to us not to assume heteronormativity when talking about sex or relationships, but as our columnist is heterosexual herself, most of these columns will focus on issues related primarily to hetero dating. If you are interested in looking at relationships from a queer perspective, get in touch with Zoya at firstname.lastname@example.org!
People don’t go on dates anymore. Or at least that’s what I’m told, because personally, I’ve been on countless dates. You know how they say that if you do something for 10,000 hours you’ll become an expert on it? Well consider me your resident dating expert.
For me, the best thing about dating is not the fine dining, or the witty banter, or the prospect of finding my future husband. It’s the stories. Dating is an awesome way to meet new people and learn about the world, and the worst dates make the best stories. Being invited on dates also has a rather disconcerting way of throwing up moral dilemmas which make you question your values; like, would you date someone who is significantly older or younger than you? Or who is of a different religion? Or who has a disability or serious illness?
I was faced with such a dilemma last week. Hardly believing my own luck, I ended up seated next to a handsome stranger in a crowded theatre. His jaw line was perfectly chiselled and smattered with just the right amount of stubble, his suit was sharp, and his hair was curly and slightly dishevelled, giving him an endearing air of boyish charm. We chatted easily as we waited for the show to start, and again during the interval.
It was only when we got up to leave I noticed that he had a significant limp when he walked, and his hands shook as he reached for his phone to save my number. ‘I have MS,’ he said, when he saw me looking, ‘that’s why my hands shake.’
He texted me the same day, and a few days later we went for a date to our local premium cinema. His symptoms were more noticeable to me now; he had to drink from straws so he didn’t spill, he asked me to pour his water and stir the sugar into his coffee, and he had difficulty punching his pin into the EFTPOS machine. I noticed people looking at him as we walked together, and I found myself fiercely daring them to be shallow enough to judge him.
He talked easily about his illness and in general the conversation flowed easily. He’d pre-booked the movie tickets and he also insisted on buying my coffee before the movie, as well as wine and snacks to eat in the cinema. Not only was he the perfect gentleman, he had a great job (accountant), a good sense of humour (he laughed at all the right places in the movie) and was a good listener (he even reassured me when I whinged about my degree).
But instead of being excited that I’d met someone with all of these amazing qualities, I just felt terribly, horribly sad. Sad that he was such a nice guy and this had happened to him and nobody knew why or how to fix it. Sad that he had been diagnosed at age 18, when he should have been excitedly embarking on his adult life, not lying in a hospital bed. Sad that he couldn’t play any of the sports he used to love anymore. And, selfishly, a little bit sad for myself.
It would have been a different situation if I’d already been in a relationship with him when he was diagnosed, or even if I’d been able to get to know him initially through work or as a friend. But this man was basically a complete stranger to me, and getting to know someone is awkward and complicated enough without the added pressure of dealing with a serious illness like MS. I’ve actually had people with quite serious health problems in my life for a long time, which meant that I was more comfortable being around him and I wasn’t thrown by some of his difficulties. However it also means that I know how hard it can be to see people you care about suffer, and to stand by helpless while your heart breaks for them as they try to be brave. It’s something I’ve been able to endure because I had to, but it’s not something I would wish on anyone.
In general, when it comes to dating someone with an illness or a disability, I think a lot would depend on the nature and severity of the disability. For example, if someone was permanently in a wheelchair, that would make daily life difficult in particular ways, such as travelling. However it is a defined injury which is unlikely to change or get worse, so in some ways it would be easier to deal with in a dating situation. A serious illness like cancer would be unpredictable, but there also might be the potential for a full recovery. MS, however, is very unpredictable and it is an incurable lifelong illness. The cause is not yet known, but there is some association with genetics, and people who have first-degree relatives with MS are more likely to develop it themselves.
After agonising about it for a few days, I decided not to go on a second date with him. I’m at a point in my life where I just want to meet new people and have fun, but in this situation it seemed unfair to continue anything when I wasn’t sure I was looking for commitment. Furthermore, if I did want to commit to something serious and long-term, there would be a whole host of issues to take into account, including whether I would want to have children considering that they may develop the disease, and whether their father would be able, or even alive, to raise them.
Most of all, though, I decided not to go on a second date because the prospect didn’t make me feel excited, it just made me feel sad. I wish I could look past his illness, but I can’t, and neither person in a relationship is going to find it fulfilling or satisfying if one person is doing it out of guilt or an obscure sense of charity. Call me shallow or selfish if you will, but I think there is enough unexpected sadness and difficulty in life already without knowingly volunteering to take it on.
Our anonymous columnist grappled with this column and the situation described in it for a long time, worrying that her decision was in fact insensitive or unfair. What do you think? Have you been in a similar situation? Or are you someone who has either a serious illness or disability, and how has that effected your dating life? Comment and let us know below!