Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a lifelong Connecticut resident, avid reader and animal lover who has battled several chronic illnesses since her early twenties.
Considering the myriad of people milling around us every day, it’s pretty amazing to think about just how hard it is to find that special someone. And even when you do, romantic relationships are hard enough without throwing illness or disability into the mix.
Although a journalist’s life might seem rich with opportunities, I never met a potential Mr. Right during my years as a reporter. People always talk about meeting someone at work. You always see it on TV and in the movies. Yet somehow, there never seemed to be anyone eligible, either at the paper itself or along my beat.
Wait, that‘s not quite true. The one place I actually could pick up a man was the city police department. This is one of the things I miss least about being a journalist. For some insane reason, many of the folks stopping by to take care of various criminal matters became rather flirty. More than one guy seemed to believe that if I was taking down names for the police blotter, and they told me they’d recently been on the police blotter, we had something in common.
But, in most normal situations, I had the serious dilemma of what to tell people I was meeting for the first time. Unlike diabetes or a heart problem, it was difficult to hide that something was wrong with my legs the moment I stood or walked. In addition, it was also clear that I was in pain, varying of course depending on the day. Should I tell people outright I had an illness? If so, how much detail? It’s pretty much a given that most people — especially young ones without much life experience — are afraid of the unknown, and would likely get frightened away by the idea of chronic illness, no matter what I told them about it.
Obviously, I wanted guys to get to know Joanna the inner person and judge her, not her physical challenges. So I decided to give online dating a try. I was a bit skeptical, but consoled myself with the success stories. Just about all of us have a friend, or a friend of a friend, who truly hit it off with someone they met online. If it could happen for them, why not for me?
Getting to know someone via email, I could set the tone. I could be smart and snarky, in that way I knew most people I met seemed to get a kick out of. Then we could meet in person. I figured that on a first meeting, I could always tell people I had a sports injury. Not only did it seem refreshingly normal to me, it also provided instant common ground. Who hasn’t had to deal with a temporary handicap because of something utterly stupid, like leaping awkwardly for a volleyball or baseball? It was practically un-American not to have a few good stories on your resume.
Unfortunately, we rarely got to a second meeting. Despite my giving it a real try with at least ten different guys, I didn’t get many repeat invitations. Perhaps we simply didn’t hit it off; perhaps the men could see I wasn’t being entirely honest about my situation. Regardless, *I* didn’t like that version of myself. Although I didn’t think most people would fault me for the reasons behind it, I was an overall honest person and didn’t like deceiving anyone, even if it was only temporary.
Obviously, these few men were just a microscopic sampling of what was out there. I knew I shouldn’t take it personally. But it was exhausting. I had to put so much work into the effort of sifting through potential candidates, then trying to set up a base relationship via correspondence, then hopefully get to the point of a face-to-face meeting…which inevitably didn’t work out. It could be overwhelming for the average healthy person, but for someone who also had to deal with chronic pain and exhaustion, it wasn’t helping my physical state whatsoever. While I don’t have a choice about living with my illness, I did have the option of not piling undue hardships upon myself in other ways.
I decided that internet dating just wasn’t for me. For a time, I also decided that dating wasn’t for me, and I would singlehandedly bring back the word “spinster” into the 21st century. (In my mind, it evoked the Victorian era, which, having been an English major, was entirely not unpleasant.)
I focused on the general business of life…going to work, maintaining a home, attempting to keep up relationships with family and friends, all the while hoping to have enough energy and pain medication to get out of bed each day. It took up a good deal of focus, so I didn’t think about anything else too much.
Thus when I finally met someone, it was entirely unexpected. He’d crept into my life unobtrusively, becoming an instant friend. I liked the way he knew a little something about everything, so I never knew where our conversations would lead. We shared the same slightly strange sense of humor, and often, seemingly, a brain. Sometimes someone would say something ridiculous or strange, and I would purposely try not to look at him because I knew with certainty he too was biting back either laughter or the same sarcastic remark as me.
Because I had never thought of him as a potential significant other, I had never bothered to present myself in any specific way aside from just being Joanna. He seemed just fine with that.
I have no idea what will become of us, or me, in the future. But that’s okay. No one else does either. There are people who stay together for decades, while others break up a month after marriage. These are people with health problems and without, and perhaps other problems that are just as serious to them. Everyone has their own life struggles, after all. But, single or partnered, the only thing we can do is keep moving forward each day, trying our best to make it through.
Follow Joanna on Twitter @castlesburning
Follow National Pain Report @natpainreport
Editor’s Note: We’ve been exploring the concept of relationships and chronic pain. Do you have a story?