First, it’s important to remember that the person you’re falling in love with is so much more than their illness. It might be a huge part of their identity and it might be a tiny part of their identity, but it is only part.
Secondly, it is important to remember that the farther you fall in love, the more their illness may become part of your identity. I always think about that moment from “Scrubs” when Carla, whose husband, Turk, has diabetes, describes herself as a WOD: Wife Of Diabetic. So I guess I can be a GFOC: Girlfriend of Chronnie. Our identities are inherently wrapped up in those of the people we love.
Loving someone with a chronic illness can mean that they’ll be too sick to go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, but two days later they may feel well enough to go see “Deadpool” with their dad. Here’s the thing though: I think it’s actually way more fun to eat at home while watching your favorite TV show than it is to sit in a restaurant overcrowded with grossly affectionate couples. Loving someone with a chronic illness can give you a different perspective on the “normal” things couples (and people in general) do. Little things like going out to eat are not that important, I feel. Remember (and this is a good reminder for all of us), your relationship is about the person you love, not what you do with them.
When I met my boyfriend, he’d already been living with Crohn’s disease for many years. It was normal for him, but I’d never had a loved one with a chronic illness before. We were long-distance for the first year, and he told me the details of his illness via Skype. He was used to doctors and procedures and medications and surgery. I was not. I’m still not. But it’s OK, because him being healthy is what I’m after and if all these things are what it takes, then so be it.
My greatest warning for those of you who are falling in love is this: Sometimes you will see the person you love in a great deal of pain, and there may not be a single thing you can do about it. I believe it’s the hardest part. Because you are sad and scared or just human, you will ask (repeatedly), “How can I help you?” and the answer can be a frustrating “You can’t” almost every time. My biggest advice: Celebrate and embrace the times when you can. Offer your arm to help them stand, wipe their forehead with a warm or cool washcloth, rub their head or their feet. If you don’t know in your heart that they would do all the same and more for you in an instant, you may not be with the right person.