There has been a thread on the ME Association’s Facebook page this week about romantic relationships. As part of M.E. awareness week, a positive story of someone with M.E. who found love despite their health problems was shared and the headline was ‘M.E. is no barrier to love and marriage’. However, it caused a bit of a backlash because as many sufferers quite rightly pointed out M.E. is a barrier to love and marriage. For some it’s a surmountable barrier and for others not, but I think we all agree that chronic health conditions have the potential to affect our romantic relationships or to make it difficult to find love should we be single.
I was in a committed relationship when I became ill with M.E. However my boyfriend was just 24 years old, had high flying career ambitions (he later became an editor at Sky news in London) and he simply couldn’t cope. He didn’t want to cope and at his age who can blame him. So when I became severely affected and bedridden I broke up with him. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d ruined his life, and make no mistake about it I would have ruined his life. He’s gone on to have the career he dreamed of and his now married with triplets, none of which would have happened had he stayed with me.
For my entire thirties I was bedridden with severe M.E. I couldn’t even get dressed or brush my teeth let alone cope with a romantic relationship. The loneliness and longing for a partner at times was an actual physical ache but there was simply nothing I could do about it. Having said all that, I do have friends with severe M.E. who found partners and went on to get married so it’s not impossible, but it isn’t the norm. The more severely affected you are the less likely it is that existing relationships will last and the harder it becomes to meet someone new. That’s just the reality of the situation.
On the thread, there were several women whose partners also have M.E. and they met through support groups. I find this great but odd, as M.E. affects mostly women and all the support groups I’ve ever been to have been 95% female. Any men who attended were married because the reality is that men’s marriages do tend to survive chronic illness as it’s less likely that women leave men who are sick. I also think it must be difficult if both of you have M.E. and the disease affects you in different ways. Many of my friends have day/night reversal, for example, where they sleep til lunchtime and are awake half the night, whereas I’m the total opposite and am awake at 5.30am and half dead by 4pm.
After my improvement and now moderately affected, in my early forties I decided to try and find a partner. I live in a sparsely populated rural area where sheep outnumber people 10:1 so it wasn’t likely I was going to bump into Mr Right in Tesco, therefore I decided my best bet was online dating. I did that for 3 years and met the very dregs of society. I lost count of the number of middle aged men who sent me pictures of their penises despite the fact we’d never even met, the men who ranted non stop about their ex-wives, the commitment phobes, the philanderers, the deluded fools who thought they were Brad Pitt but whose profile picture was Danny Devito, and the rest who wanted to spend their time white water rafting or climbing Helvellyn, neither of which I could do. The handful of really nice guys I came across lived literally hundreds of miles away and because of my energy limitations I wanted to see someone for a couple of hours a night but they ended up staying the entire weekend because of the distance involved and it was just way too much for me. Thinking long term, by the time you’re in your forties you both have established lives with families and jobs and friends and homes and it doesn’t matter how understanding someone is there are practicalities involved and the situation often just doesn’t work. Maybe if I’d lived in a city I would have stood more of a chance of meeting someone locally, or maybe not. Again, I’ve read about people who have tried online dating and gone on to meet the love of their life so it is do-able, for some people at least. It just didn’t work for me.
All this aside, the biggest barrier for me personally in finding a partner is the very careful way in which I have to live. I have 3 severe health conditions which have to be very precisely managed otherwise my life turns to shit. I have a routine which if veered from for any length of time sees me bedridden. I have to be able to sleep and I can’t even bare the dog on my bed at night let alone a snoring, duvet stealing man. I have to eat a very specific diet. My brain needs peace and quiet for the majority of the day. I struggle to do any kind of activity outside my home, let alone something on a regular basis. Car travel is tortuous. You get the drift. I’m not sure how I’d cope trying to fit all that around another person and I’m not sure what another person would get out of a relationship with me – even I find my life frustrating and limiting. Obviously there are some men who can cope, but they are very few and far between and become even fewer by the time you’re in your fifties and like I mentioned earlier have a well established life.
So, while it’s heart warming to read that people can maintain existing relationships when chronic illness strikes and that singletons can find love despite their limitations we also do have to recognize that for many people this isn’t the case. Marriages fall apart and the barriers to finding love when you’re sick and single can be overwhelming. I gave up trying to find Prince Charming several years ago because I couldn’t cope with the constant disappointment (or the weirdos!) so if it happens for me I’m literally going to have to bump into him in Tescos which, considering I have home delivery, is unlikely 😉