This is probably one of my longer posts, but it is a huge topic that needs to be discussed. Ever since the “Something Amazing” blog post (http://gunnaresiason.com/something-amazing), I have gotten quite a few Ask Gunnar emails about not only my dating life, but also dating as a CF patient in general. This is an excerpt of an email I got from Katie, a 25-year-old CF patient, and she hit the nail right on the head:
“How do you handle dating being 24 with CF? I don’t think you have a steady girlfriend (that you have made public) but what do you say/do on dates when you are coughing? Obviously, we have to tell our new interest eventually, and it depends on the right moment for most people but in some very early situations how do you handle it? For example, when I first met my last ex I was coughing alot the first day we met at a friend’s party. Luckily, I had my girls with me and nothing was said other then him asking if I was okay and if he could get me water (which was very sweet). However, on our first official date, I was coughing alot and he made a comment like oh no you are still sick? I smiled politely and said yes, can’t seem to shake it. Here is where it gets complicated- No one likes to be lied to, and I feel the longer I go without saying anything about CF, the longer I am carrying that lie and I really don’t want to upset anyone by having them think I lied. On the flip side, saying something too early can scare guys off, I believe. (And have experienced)
“How have you dealt with this situation? Are girls more compassionate then men, who tend to scare easier? (Or am I just meeting the wrong guys?)”
I want to thank you, Katie, for reminding me that I haven’t had a girlfriend over the past year. Well done. Just to remind everyone how fly (no one says that anymore), despite that, I used the picture of Paris Hilton and me for the top.
With that being said, Katie does address a pretty significant social issue that I think a lot of people with CF, including me, face. I am going to try to answer this as best I can even though I am not much of a Dr. Phil over here.
It’s no secret that cystic fibrosis can be a turn off for a potential significant other or suitor (no one says that anymore either, trying to bring all of this back). As much as we want to believe that there aren’t people out there who wont give us the time of day because our genetics aren’t up to par, the sad truth is that those people do exist. Here’s the deal, though, we don’t have to deal with them, and neither do you, Katie.
It is all about finding the right person. I know that has got to be the oldest cliché in the book, but it is beyond true for people with CF. It takes a very special kind of person to fight CF day in and day out, so it makes sense that it will take a special person to take on the burden with us. Personally, I think it makes sense in then that I am naturally attracted to intelligent, driven women who can handle the emotional burden that comes along with the disease. Don’t forget about the sudden mood changes we all go through because of our needed steroid use, or the very low lows that we experience during times when we are sick. Those are not the easiest feelings, and only a few of them at that, in the world to deal with.
The emotional burden is there whether we like it or not, and so is the physical burden of the disease. I think a potential mate (trying to use as many generic synonyms as I can here) for someone with CF has to be responsible and be able to think on his or her feet. It is not easy living with someone who has CF, just ask my college roommates who figured that out over my four years at BC. I thought David was going to pass out when he saw the hole in my stomach after my G-Tube fell out, but he handled it like a champ – he didn’t faint.
There is a lot that goes into daily care. It is impossible to notice the endless hours of therapy and maintenance that go along with the disease. The frustrating part is that despite all of the effort that goes into the fight, sometimes the reward isn’t there. Think about it. How many times have you stayed 100% compliant, yet find yourself spending a few nights in a hospital bed? For the most part, there is always going to be a bit of an inevitability that something can go wrong at any given time.
Sticking with me as the example here, how do I know my girlfriend would suddenly be able to handle a very rapid decline in my health? Some people really do succeed under the stress that comes along with an emergency, while others unfortunately fail. I’m not sure that there is a good way to figure that out until you live through an emergency, but you can sure as hell prepare yourself.
I think you have to consider who you are looking for and where you will find this person. Maybe it’s luck of the draw and you bump into your Romeo or Juliet at the gas station (most random place I could think of) or a concert, but I think you can improve your chances by choosing your crowd, or your scene (that’s what the kids call it these days). I don’t think there is any guarantee that you will strike gold and fall in love with a friend of a friend. I know from experience because my friends haven’t hooked me up yet!!!!!!!! Despite that little issue, that’s probably a good place to start or maybe your crush is in front of your eyes and you don’t see him or her yet.
Contrary to popular belief, I have had “girlfriends,” or love interests, I guess, at different points in my life (go me!). So, this is what I have done to help answer the above question… At the price of embarrassing myself for the betterment of the CF community, I asked a few of my former love interests to write anonymous little snippets about what they think of me. Here they are:
“Not once when I was dating you did I feel like I was dating someone with CF. We had an awesome relationship! You’re funny, thoughtful and smart – I never got tired of hanging out with you. You truly are a special person and I couldn’t be luckier to have had you as such an amazing first boyfriend.”
“As a girlfriend, especially a new girlfriend, I never wanted to be the one who was always going for seconds at the dinner table or the chick who was ordering extra fries at brunch, but when I was with you, however, I could always count on you leaving your second slice of pizza untouched or ¾ of the popcorn bag uneaten, so I never had to be “that girl.” Your food would just mysteriously disappear without anyone noticing who was doing the eating – kept me happy, and your mom happy too. From a hygiene perspective, my hands were always clean… You, weirdo never went anywhere without Purell.”
“Gunnar, you are a ******* *******”
“Let’s just say you were the funnier of the two in the relationship. You could always make me laugh, even the way you laugh used to make me laugh. Although, what wasn’t so funny was your love of Blink-182 (I’m a country fan) and somehow I could never find the country music station in your car. But, I think I impressed you most when I knew all the words to a random Bowling For Soup song. In all serious, you wanted me to write some about you as a person, not just your CF – that was easy because I never saw you that way. You were just Gunnar, a caring, nice and thoughtful guy who, even today when I think about, continues to make me laugh.”
“Besides the mono scare you gave me, you’re totally awesome and are hilarious.”
“What I love about you is how fun and easy you are to be around. In college, whether we were going out, watching our rival hockey teams or going to see Act of Valor for the eleventh time, we were always having so much fun.”
Thank you ladies, you’re all part of a really exclusive club now.
The point that I am trying to make here is that although I may have CF, I am seen as a person beyond that. I think that is made pretty clear in the one with all the stars. Straight to the point, that’s my girl.
When it comes to finding a significant other, I think it just kind of happens. I try to think about how I make friends, or how I became friends with my best friends. Other than the few that I got stuck living with in college (love you guys), it all just happened organically. For the most part (key phrase there, because yes we can all be idiots sometimes), my friends are all smart, responsible and fun people. They are a lot like me in a lot of ways, but very different at the same time. Our differences compliment each other, though, and that’s why the friendships work – except for my college roommate Vince, he loves to chew with his mouth open, and I don’t think I will ever get over that.
It just comes down to being your normal self when you try to create a friendship or a relationship. Unfortunately, Vince is his normal self when he chews with his mouth open. Damn. But in all seriousness, I think, for me at least, when I go on dates I try to bring every positive about me to the table. I have a hard time speaking for myself, which is why I included the messages from the past acquaintances, but I think anyone would tell you that it’s pretty easy to tell that I do have a bit of drive inside of me. There is something about me that always wants more, and I think that is a positive that I try to show when I go out on dates. I’ll use an example here. I have gone out a few times over the past couple weeks with a new girl, we can just call her “new friend” for the moment (because if she reads this and sees her name on here, she will probably kill me), and that’s exactly what I have tried to do, show her my overwhelming positive side. I guess you can ask her if I have succeeded, but what I can say with confidence is that I have been very honest. Typically, as you can probably tell from my blog, I am very open about CF. Obviously with the coughing and the seemingly endless stream of pills that come out of my pocket, questions do get asked. Honestly, I don’t blame anyone for asking me anything for that matter.
I try to approach the topic with a bit of humor, kind of like I do here. The way I see it, the only way that I can make this hellhole that is CF doable is by laughing at it. If I can’t laugh at myself for some of the s*** that I get myself into, then how can I expect to be an approachable guy? In this case, I kind of lucked out because new friend does have a really good sense of humor and is the sciencey (made up word) type, so she can laugh along with me, while at the same time, she does have somewhat of an understanding of the disease. She asks all the right questions, and I have no problem answering them. Other questions she, or anyone may have, though, are probably better answered through experience. Like any of my other friends, I think she’s able to look beyond my CF and see me for who I really am (I make myself sound really awesome there, “who I really am” – I’m not like Bruce Wayne or something THAT cool, let’s calm down), just like I am able to see her for who she really is. She is exactly what I mentioned before, intelligent, fun, driven and responsible (she’s a hottie too), so I guess I can see where this leads to. Who knows, though, new friend might see this and kick me to the curb after seeing how transparent I can be – the things I do for content on this blog. Stay tuned for that answer.
I know this has been a really long drawn out answer, but I hope I have captured at least some of the anxieties CF patients may face when it comes to dating. It is not an easy question for someone to ask, so thank you, Katie, for bringing this issue to my attention. I think the bottom line is that it is all about being yourself. You aren’t going to gain someone’s trust by lying your way through a relationship. My mom is the one I lean on for answers here, she always seems like she knows the right path to take, so I guess I have gotten a lot of this from her. She’s sort of like the Dr. Phil of the family. Dr. Mom.
Here’s my last note. I know there are still some bigger picture questions that need to be answered like, you know getting married and what happens after that, but the kid over here is only 24, and I am not prepared to dive into that, nor really want to at the moment. (I also hope you noticed that I used the first, second and third person in that sentence. Hell yes.). As Carmen, another college roommate, once said, “let the kid play.” You can take that to mean whatever you want.
Katie is a pretty interesting person with CF – she has a blog herself, check it out at: http://25yearsyounginchicago.blogspot.com/
Remember, May is CF awareness month. Be on the lookout for a lot of really cool promotions from the BEF, as well as my CF awareness month blog post that will be coming out soon. Is CF awareness month supposed to be capitalized? Who knows?
ALSO — if you are a college student with CF, APPLY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS THROUGH THE BEF at www.esiason.org – right now is a popular time to apply, don’t get left out, help yourself out with the tuition bill!