I’ve been tossing around the idea to write a post about the role endometriosis plays in my romantic relationship for months now. I took so long to write it for a few reasons:
Having been a single lady for the majority of my life, I’m sensitive to the fact that it isn’t always fun to read about other people’s happy relationships.
I’m not a relationship expert.
You know…it’s personal. Like sure, so is writing about how you’re bad at using a menstrual cup, but it’s a different dimension and involves another person.
But the more conversations I have with my fellow endo warriors and my friends in the Baltimore Flow, the more keenly aware I become of how many people need to hear my little soapbox rant about dating and endo. So consider the above to be both a trigger warning and a disclaimer before proceeding.
In my mid-20s, I dated a pretty decent guy for three years. Like many girls that age, I asked very little of him. The idea of being deemed “clingy” or “needy” was anathema. Like so many other girls, I wanted to be a Cool Girl. I didn’t put demands on his time, I didn’t make a big deal out of it when he forgot my birthday, and I never brought up our future. Most detrimental to our relationship was the fact that I never asked him to integrate me into his life; I never met his family and we only hung out with my friends, never his.
I broke up with him when I decided he was never going to give me what I needed. He felt blindsided. I learned (with the help of therapy) that by not making my needs clear to him, I also contributed to the failure of our relationship.
After that (and after watching Brene Brown’s TED Talk multiple times), I decided I would be wholly and authentically myself in future relationships. I learned that the hard, scary reality is that if you don't give someone the chance to see every part of you — even the ugliest bits — you've never even given them the chance to love all of you, and you're selling yourself short. It’s a risk, but a couple years later, when I met someone new, and he seemed to be able to provide all the things my previous boyfriend could not or would not, I was fully myself, and I fell hard and quick.
I documented this short, failed relationship that collided with my first endo surgery three years ago, so I won’t recount the story here. I wrote that essay roughly a year after our relationship ended. If you were to go back and read it, you might notice the sense of sympathy I felt for him. When he broke up with me a couple weeks after my surgery with no coherent explanation, I gathered what few clues I thought I had based on things he had said and told myself that having to deal with me and my endometriosis was just too big of an ask and he wasn’t ready to step up. And I didn’t think he should have to.
This might make you think he wasn’t a good guy. What kind of a schmuck doesn’t stand by someone they are dating when that someone is going through a medical odyssey? (He even said as much when he was insisting it wasn’t the endo that was driving him away.) I didn’t see it that way. To me, it made sense that a young, good-looking guy would not want to date someone who was in chronic pain, who was too tired to go out, who often didn’t want to be touched.
As it turns out, he was a shitty guy for other reasons that had nothing to do with the endo! I found out later he had cheated on me among other unsavory details. I was upset about it for a long time.
While the cheating does make him a bad guy, I still don’t think not wanting to deal with the endo makes him a “bad” person, exactly. It’s just like any other preference; I prefer a partner who can engage in interesting conversation with me rather than someone who is quiet. For a shallower example, yes, I prefer a partner who is taller than me. We all have our preferences. It’s perfectly valid to decide you don’t want to date someone who has a chronic illness.
HOWEVER, if he truly did not want to date me because I had endo, and he continues to not want to date someone who is dealing with something similar, there’s a good chance he won’t ever have a quality, long-term relationship in his future. Obviously not every woman has endo, but every woman, every HUMAN, inevitably goes through some shit.
Like my current partner Scott recently told a friend of his, if you’re in it for the long haul, at some point you will be the one taking care of your partner, and at another point, your partner will be taking care of you. Because that’s fucking LIFE, guys.
I couldn’t hear it at the time, but my best friend told me then that if this shitty guy wasn’t up for dealing with a minimally invasive outpatient surgery that was thankfully free of complications, then how was he going to deal with the difficult obstacles life inevitably would throw our way in the future? She was right. Life is full of tough stuff. People lose jobs, family members get ill, if you have children, life will constantly be throwing challenges your way.
This is how I’ve come to consider endometriosis to be a top-notch filter for not just who I date, but who I want surrounding me in my life.
A few months after that breakup, I met Scott through a mutual friend. We hit it off instantly and talked nonstop for a few weeks. But when it was time for him to go back to Florida where he was getting his masters degree, he ultimately decided he did not want to pursue a long-distance relationship, having been down that road before.
Naturally, I was upset. When I found out he was dating someone, I was angry and unfriended him, as one does. We didn’t speak for a year. Newly single the following fall, he popped back into my life, adequately groveled at my feet, and we’ve been happy ever since.
Just a few months after we started dating again, it became clear I would need my second surgery to treat the endo. This period of time was FRAUGHT to say the least. My surgeon was out of network and out of state, and I had no idea how I was going to afford the preop appointments, tests, and trips between Baltimore and New York in addition to the massive price tag on the surgery. I was in pain more and more often with increasing intensity. Scott was still living and working in Florida at the time. And deep down, I was scared that this would be a repeat performance of my first surgery and Scott would decide I wasn’t worth the trouble. There were countless tearful phone conversations.
When the time came, Scott was in NYC with me and my mom. He was there in the hotel room, unfortunately listening to me shit my brains out and encouraging me to stay hydrated the night before while I endured the bowel prep necessary for abdominal surgery. He was there ensuring me he still loved me despite the thin walls and the fact that I angrily snapped at him whenever he tried to get me to sip some broth.
He spent the hours while I was in surgery with my mom, and while I was in recovery with her, he got my car, which was parked at a friend’s in Brooklyn, and made some stops on his way back to pick up flowers, soup, a pastry, and most thoughtfully of all, cough drops because he knew my throat would be sore from the breathing tube. He drove us home from New York.
He was there through the weeks of recovery, walking me around the apartment in the middle of the night when spasms jerked me awake. He administered heparin shots to my belly since I couldn’t do it myself, saving my mom a daily trip into the city for the five days following surgery. He even went to the store to pick up stool softeners for me when the surgery and the postop painkillers caused me the completely opposite problem the bowel prep caused. It wasn’t pretty.
A few months later, when a friggin cancerous lump appeared on my neck (good riddance to you, Donald Lump), he was by my side again for my second surgery of 2017, a few days before Christmas. What a banner year.
He went through it with me all over again — the heparin shots, the constipation. Half my thyroid was removed through my mouth in a new surgery being pioneered at Johns Hopkins. What does that mean?
It means I looked like this.
Friends, I am someone who in my 20s died inside at the thought of a potential boyfriend seeing me without makeup. I cannot be bothered about such things anymore, but letting a romantic partner see me like this was next-level. THIS is what vulnerability looks like. It isn’t pretty. But it’s also what intimacy looks like.
This post is not meant as a way for me to brag about Scott. Our relationship is not perfect and we do fight from time to time (mostly about the dishwasher). Not all people are natural caregivers like Scott, so I am lucky in that way. I’m not nearly as nurturing as he is, and having him with me throughout 2017 made life so much more manageable.
But the point is he isn’t special. I mean he IS special to me, but he is not unique. There are plenty of people out there who are up to the challenge, whether you have endo, thyroid cancer, or any chronic illness. There are plenty of people willing to put up with your crazy family or your mental health challenges or your demanding job or WHATEVER ELSE you think makes it tough to be with you.
Talk about these things. Talk about your endo, or your personal “endo,” whatever that might be. Not talking about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It doesn’t make it not a fact of your life. Your endo might not be who you are, but it is PART of who you are, and it is part of your life. Those parts make you YOU, and you ARE worth loving. Don’t rob someone of the chance to love you, and don’t rob yourself of the chance to be loved.
And the next time someone can’t hang, don’t be sad. Be grateful they didn’t waste more of your time, and if it makes you feel better, slap a poop emoji on their face.