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Sex + Relationships

Dating Someone with a Complex Chronic Illness and Why It’s Actually the Best Decision I’ve Ever Made

Most people who know my boyfriend know him as the intelligent, kind, quick-witted 22-year-old that he is. He’s very much a normal guy on the outside – he went to college, joined a fraternity, had the same stressful assignments, exams, and NFL fantasy league (and Browns Sunday football experience) that most guys his age have. He has a ton of friends he spends time with, eats nacho cheese Doritos and plays 2K on his PlayStation 4 during almost every waking moment. However, unlike most people his age, he has a chronic illness that tends to be mentally and physically exhausting.

Dylan was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder when he was 17 years old. To summarize the disorder without getting too medical (even though, as an avid Grey’s Anatomy watcher, I probably could), his liver attacks itself. This disorder, along with the medication he has to take for it, makes it harder for him to eat, causes fatigue, is hard on his immune system, and also causes incessant itching and lots of doctors’ visits. He has spent lots of time in hospitals and even had to take a semester off because the disorder escalated. Our relationship has endured a lot because of his illness; it has been the base of arguments,caused us to work around plans, and eventually got between us for a couple months.

I know this all sounds super depressing and concerning, but I promise you it’s not. After all, the title of this article should give away that there is a happy ending. I’m here to tell everyone who has ever stared at me like I have three heads when I tell them about Dylan’s disease or anyone who has ever said “how do you do it?” when I go into detail, that this is honestly the least of my worries when picking a partner. Quite frankly, I’m sure it would be the least of theirs (and yes, yours too!) if the world didn’t stigmatize the way disorders can come between two people who love each other. I know that sounds extremely cliché, and it definitely is, but it’s also true. If your boyfriend, girlfriend,or even a person you ‘like-liked’, told you they had some life-altering illness, would you just pick up your things and purchase a one-way ticket to ‘Good Luck With That I’m Out’, USA? No, you probably would not.

Truthfully, Dylan and I have a fairly normal relationship. We get in small fights and not-so-small fights. We go to concerts together. We have inside jokes and send each other, on average, 25 Tweets per day. Given that we live in different cities right now, we talk on the phone and FaceTime almost every night. He truly is my best friend. The fact that he has an illness that makes his life a bit different than others’ is not something that has ever made me question whether or not he and I are right for each other. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely times when it’s frustrating, and I act selfishly. At the end of the day though, I am constantly reminded that putting aside his disorder has been one of the most important decisions I’ve made in my 20 years of life.

To expand on the “why” of the article title, Dylan’s character and personality are extraordinary. I know everyone says this about their boyfriend and I will proudly be a part of the majority in this case. He is loving, selfless, smart, and open-minded. He is there for me during my worst days, weeks, and even months; Dylan is there for me when life is as smooth as chocolate frosting (which, he would argue is better than vanilla, but that’s still up for debate). I want to emphasize that a chronic illness doesn’t make someone incapable of love or giving love to the fullest extent, nor does it make a relationship incapable of working. If anything, it has taught me patience, unconditional love, and selflessness. So when people ask, “how do you do it?” or bluntly state that they could “never, ever do that,” I challenge them (and you as well, dear reader) to realize how incredibly the same and also incredibly different those with chronic illnesses are from those without them. and that these differences may not be the worst thing in the world. Love doesn’t exclude those with difficulties, disabilities or disorders of any kind. Though Dylan may be unfortunate to deal with his medical complications on the inside, he’s still the same nacho cheese Dorito-eating, 2K-playing, chocolate frosting-loving sweetheart that I know and love. And that could never be changed by a couple of doctor appointments.  

Emma Saks

Cincinnati '20

Soft smile ~kween~ with a passion for writing, reading Harry Potter, and binging Broad City.
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