I’ve always asserted that my health challenges have brought more positivity into my life than they have taken away, but I can’t fail to acknowledge the gaping hole under my life resume of success where a significant relationship could be. It has left me wondering what part, if any, my heart condition played and if others living with chronic conditions have felt the same.
The reality is that I have always struggled when it comes to forming deep and intimate relationships. I am not talking about close friendships, where I feel blessed to have my share of beautiful and nurturing individuals in my life who bring me everything I could need, but the depth of love which we can only have with a true soul mate and life partner.
Putting my heart into it
I certainly can’t blame everything about my singledom on my lifelong heart condition, but I think it has had more of an influence than even I would like to admit 🤔.
Firstly, my deep set need to prove myself has given me a fierce sense of independence and an unshakeable belief that I can do pretty much anything if I want it badly enough. There are definite pluses in my approach as it has helped me to lead an exciting and fulfilling life, but the undertone is that I ‘should’ be able to do everything on my own.
I admit to being rubbish at asking for help, even when I know it would make my life so much easier. Somewhere in my psyche is the deep-set belief that it is an admission of weakness to ask for help.
I am pretty sure where this misguided idea started to form in my head.
As a child with a known heart condition, I became aware of people treating me differently and maybe considering me to be less robust or capable than others of my age. I distinctly remember being excluded from participation is school sports, especially in the run up to my first surgery, and how inferior that made me feel.
It set up a lifetime of independence and the desire to push myself, sometimes even beyond what would be considered normal, just to make sure that nobody could ever single me out again. Unfortunately, of course, nobody can achieve everything without asking for, and in turn accepting, some help.
I still struggle to show weakness, even to those closest to me.
The reality is that an independent life can be a lonely one, especially if it leads to pushing other people away in the process. I’ve certainly been guilty of that, and that stubborn streak has damaged several close relationships where a partnership was required.
Feeling worthy of love
The second ‘strike’ against the possibility of having a meaningful relationship is that deep down I have not always felt worthy of being loved. Part of this stems from an early relationship where my then boyfriend broke up with me saying that he was worried about investing more of his feelings in case I ultimately died and that left him heartbroken. The rational part of me knows that he had his own issues, having lost a brother to childhood cancer, but his reaction still left its mark.
Was I damaged goods, already too broken to be worthy of love?
Maybe I have since shunned the kind of intimate relationships which I know I deserve out of some misguided desire to protect my partner from having to watch me go through any form of struggle. My life over the last few years has been peppered with medical challenges, and somehow it just seems selfish to expect anyone else to travel that road with me.
Although I am emotionally very strong, I secretly wonder if having to witness someone else’s worry and distress will weaken my own resolve. I have always felt the need to allay the fear of others when it comes to the worst-case scenarios, so perhaps even subconsciously I find it easier to go it alone.
I did get married in my late 20’s but found myself divorced just over two years later. There were many reasons, but one was undoubtedly my inability to really commit 100% to the relationship. That feeling that I was holding back ultimately destroyed the necessary sense of emotional investment which it takes to sustain a marriage, and my husband undoubtedly deserved better.
At the time I don’t think I was self-aware enough to understand the contribution which I made to things turning out as they did. Worse still, the failure of my marriage left me all the surer that I was better off alone, and I seem to have been successful at sabotaging all the limited opportunities I’ve had since to have a life partner.
Kiss and tell?
There are other issues to consider when it comes to forming a meaningful relationship with a ‘significant other’. There is the vexing question of when in a new relationship to bring up my health condition; should it be on a first date so a prospective partner knows what they might be getting into, or should I wait until later in a relationship when undoubtedly during the clothes off stage my scars would give the game away?
I have always erred on the side of being up front, discussing things in as matter of fact way as possible – neither sugar-coating the realities nor making it out to be the most important thing about me. I am after all, far, far more than a heart condition.
For ladies younger than me, there is also the question of if, when and how to have children. These decisions can be complicated for any couple, but when you have to consider whether your body is capable of sustaining a pregnancy, the effect it might have on your health, and worries about being capable or even alive to nurture that child into adulthood, there is so much more to consider. In my case, at 47, that ship has sailed and my feelings about that will be a post for another day.
I like to tell myself that I’m happy on my own, and although this is true a part of me still yearns to be loved and indeed to give love to someone special.
It is easy to blame my health or find reasons why I have not been successful at sustaining a relationship, but the reality is that I’m simply coming up with excuses to cover up my own insecurities. I am not seeking platitudes as I know that I have just as much to offer as anyone else, but it is hard to overcome years of conditioning and reinforcement.
It brings a wry smile when I contemplate that medics have been clever enough to ‘mend’ my broken heart, but that I in turn now need to trust it and open myself up to the possibility that I can be a meaningful part of a positive relationship.
My years of vehement independence have not been wasted, but my acknowledgement and acceptance of my own flaws, and by default compassion for the same in others, has prepared me perfectly for where I am now. Only by putting myself out there and being open and receptive to the idea of finding my life partner can I ever achieve that goal.
I am far from perfect, and of course any potential partner won’t be perfect either. Does my health perhaps mean that I come with a little more baggage than other people? Maybe it does, but it certainly doesn’t mean that I am not worthy of at least trying.
Best of all, I am not unhappy as I am (quite the opposite), so finding that special someone will be like a fabulous icing on a cake; it tastes fine without but even better when it is included 😀.
I am pragmatic enough to know that we can’t choose when or with whom we fall in love, but undoubtedly by putting up barriers and making it clear that I am ‘off the market’, then it is very unlikely to happen.
Only we can choose whether to stay shackled to the behaviours of our past, or to acknowledge that our old beliefs are no longer serving us and that it is time to move on. I’m determined to make 2020 my year to do something about it.