A while ago, I met a man who wanted to date a female version of himself. His complaints about potential matches usually revolved around their way of speaking, dietary choices, hobbies, opinions, romantic needs, taste in media, etc. Basically, he was dissatisfied with each person because they had a personality of their own. He would go on dates and make his unhappiness with everything outside of the woman’s looks, known. If they weren’t quick to alter their behavior, the connection would end. If they did change, he would find something new to harp on and the relationship would swiftly implode.
He, genuinely, could not believe that he was asking something of his dates that was unacceptable. He couldn’t understand that he was looking for someone who does not exist.
When you live with chronic pain and health conditions, you are always hoping to see a part of yourself in the people around you. You don’t want them to hurt, but the levels of empathy and understanding that are involved with being in any type of relationship with a sufferer, are incredibly complicated. It is selfish, but a part of us wants you to experience just a taste of our pain and symptom management.
If all-around healthy Bob stubs his toe and shares his tale of woe with his equally healthy friend Billy, there’s a high probability Billy knows that pain. His empathy would be easy, honest, and soothing. They could commiserate and even poke a little fun at the experience. If May has severe migraines and shares a story of that pain with Billy, the level of understanding shifts. It’s no fault of Billy’s. He could generally empathize and deeply care about May’s pain. But, he won’t be able to grasp the nuance of a migraine and her fight.
Between wanting, desperately, to feel normal and accepting your current reality, the search for people who “get it” is never ending. You want someone, anyone, to offer you a knowing smile or a word that perfectly encapsulates your experience. With rare and invisible conditions, that search gets even trickier. You have to work through pleasantries and formalities to even begin a timid prodding into the lives of possible corroborators.
Seeking out relationships with people who share similarities with you is natural. We want to share interests and morals with the people in our lives. Wanting your replica is different story. We need challenges and differing opinions in order to see the world. Living primarily behind your filtered reality isn’t going to help you heal. It isn’t going to offer access to new ideas and tools that could bring you major benefits.
Pieces of sameness are enough. Seeing reflections of yourself instead of a mirror image is the best way to set yourself and your body up for success. As for the guy who wanted to date himself, he is still single. His world is closed to most of the amazing people and characters that cross his path. He won’t experience radically different ideas that might shift his own perception. His own morals won’t be put to important tests. Worst of all, he will never be content with his friends, partners, or colleagues.
I am working on being grateful for the small strings that connect me to others. Those little similarities and understandings of pain that shine a light on our shared experiences. We could be divided on every other issue, but sharing those perceptive nods and stories of our bent bodies is enough to bring us together.