So this past June 15th marked exactly one month since I (mutually) ended a three-year relationship, which also happened to mark the longest I've been single for the last decade of my life. Yep. One. Month.
I've gone through some health stuff these past two years, which is detailed here, but SINCE I wrote that piece, the relationship I was in at the time ended and a whole new host of transitions ensued. I got a new job I couldn't be more excited about, I moved into my sister's house, I moved out of my sister's house, I got a cool apartment in a cool neighborhood, I finally bought one of those crowd-funded online mattresses (I hear great things! I went with the Leesa), and, naturally, I got a dog. Because of course I did. All great stuff!
But as I faced these other transitions, both exciting and scary, I also kept thinking about dating and starting that whole process over again. This was, admittedly, the first time in my life I was leaving a relationship not to immediately hop into the next one, and my last relationship did nothing to prove that things could remain placid and sunny in spite of the medical curve balls life was tossing me. Turns out being a person with a chronic illness and loving a person with a chronic illness can get pretty complicated. I thought about what my life would look like now, without the safety net of a partner who had been with me throughout the massive bodily transformation I had undergone while we were together, and I would be lying if I said that didn't make me nervous to imagine.
Vulnerability is a funny, inevitable thing while you're dating. We all have to work our way through it, laying all our cards out on the table. But the notion becomes even murkier when you're faced with some medical baggage, be it one's physical or mental health. I'm sure this tricky element of dating has played a major role in me avoiding (whether consciously or subconsciously) being single for the entirety of my adulthood. I'm in this weird space right now where I'm still getting used to caring for my body as it is now (I had my full large intestine removed in May) and keeping myself generally healthy, while also going out and trying my damndest to be a typical single woman by enjoying summer in my city, because it's the first time I've been physically able to do that in a while.
I went out on my first post-breakup date recently. It was a great night, super casual, but I found myself nervously shaking my foot under the table while I kept asking myself, "When is the appropriate time to tell this person you're seeing that you, ha ha, may have recently had your large intestine removed! And have been hospitalized a dozen times in the past five years! And catch all your bodily waste in a bag! But am still totally chill and down to party!" What would YOU do? Mention it, like, straight out of the gate or have a numerical date in mind, like, "This is definitely the night I'm going to discuss my ostomy. I can feel it!!"
Honestly, I don't know, and I know this answer will be different for everyone in recovery from something. The thing is, anyone with a storied medical history faces the very real possibility that the person opposite you at your get-to-know-each-other happy hour might not be totally cool with this very personal, very intimate information. Now, of course, I can accept that I will likely (definitely) face people like this while dating, and I would never commit to someone who couldn't accept who I am, medical condition and all, but it doesn't make imagining these situations, or actually putting myself into the position to face rejection, any less daunting. And what other choice do we have? I struggled imagining these encounters post-breakup, and honestly, I still do. How are you handling this? Seriously, what are we collectively doing besides meditating while listening to "Sorry" (the Yoncé, not the Bieber obvi) 15 times before a date?
We are getting, I think, closer to a place in our culture where we accept our partners' unique experiences as inevitable norms, which is great and a world away from the time we couldn't admit straight away that we're all a little damaged. Thankfully, I think honesty is "in" and here to stay. I recently binge-watched Maria Bamford's Lady Dynamite, which discusses authentic (mental) health experiences and, most importantly, the failures that shape us imperfectly. The fact that shows like hers are earning a space to tell earnest stories gives me a lot of hope. Social media is helping too. A while ago I made the decision to dive headfirst into my medical community's ever-growing Instagram presence. Posting outfits I like and feel good in with hashtags like #ostomyfashion and, the community's personal favorite, #nocolonstillrollin has helped to convince myself that I can have this medical thing, be an active support and community member, and be an attractive, put-together person at the same time. It also makes me feel slightly safer that, if my cards weren't verbally on the table, at least they're out there on my Instagram.
So what am I actually doing to put myself out there and take risks? I clearly don't have all the answers because I'm still new to the game, but I had a conversation with a friend recently who said he was, jokingly I think, saying "yes" to life. Again, I think he was mostly being irreverent, but something about that simplistic notion stuck with me this summer. Is saying "yes" usually the more complicated option? Hell yeah. I'm certainly not confessing to perfection, but I am trying to say it, like, three times more a week than I used to. At least to give myself a chance to wade in that vulnerability a bit. And so far, taking these sometimes-little, sometimes-big risks is paying off. I feel like I'm getting "there," wherever that place is. And even if I don't, I always have my dog.
This post originally appeared July 27, 2016 on xojane.com, reprinted with permission.