So, the New York Times ran an advice piece titled; “Is it okay to dump him because of his medical condition?” (Found here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/magazine/is-it-ok-to-dump-him-because-of-his-medical-condition.html) If you’re snagged on the paywall or other reasons, the TLDR version is; someone is dating someone else with Crohn’s Disease. Crohn’s, for those of you who don’t know, is a chronic intestine issue that can be managed, but it is considered incurable. For some reason, this sort of thing tends to make able-bodied people go crazy in a way that, “I have diabetes” or “I have arthritis” doesn’t, largely because of all the fine work Alabama has done on diabetes awareness, and grandma has taken time to describe why she can’t play football with you.

There are a few issues embedded in this question that I’ll have to tackle separately, but, full disclosure, I’ve been rejected based on my medical status, so, I’m hardly a neutral party here (and we’ll get into that shortly, too). The first point to be made is that there is no such thing as a valid or invalid reason to reject someone. Society has decided to stigmatize individual decision-making in romantic issues to the point where we seek external validation for our decisions. Let me be the first to tell you, if he beats you, leave him. If she’s bad in bed, run. If they’ve been divorced a dozen times, but you feel they’ve learned and are really putting in the effort, stay with them. If you need strangers’ approval for your decisions, then you’re going to make the wrong decisions consistently. I don’t want to scapegoat another already-marginalized and stigmatized group, but, if they had an STD of some sort, we’d all kind of shrug and say, “We get it, they’ve got cooties, you don’t want to get them, too.” It’s a form of ableism, but, under infectious disease conditions, we understand it and accept it (again, it’s ableism, but we’ll tackle racism first, as a society). To me, and I’m not up-close-and-personal, and I also have skin in the game, what this person was asking for was validation/rationalization when they tell their friends that they left the guy with Crohn’s. Which brings up a whole host of other questions, chief among them being, “Why not just tell your friends he went out for cigarettes and never returned?” The major benefit of cutting someone from your life is that you can make up any story you want and let the dead bury the dead.

What I think this person is getting at is, “Will I find love again if I abandon someone because they might have a potential fatal disaster looming on the horizon?” To which I’d say, no. If your relationship is one catastrophe away from ending, not only do you not have a relationship with them, you’re probably not ready to be in one. You shouldn’t date BIPOC because they’re an angry cop away from death or a wheelchair. 45% of the US population currently has a chronic condition of some kind; that percentage is going to skyrocket as we discover more long-term/latent side effects of COVID infections. Your dating pool is going to become an ever-shrinking number of people who aren’t at-risk for some grave disaster which is… let me check… No one? Tech workers are out — they’re one Elon Musk decision away from unemployment. Billionaires with most of their assets in the stock market are out; they’re a stock market crash away from poverty. Women are out because they’re tremendously more at-risk of violence of all sorts. You’re going to trim down that dating pool until it’s just the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island, but good luck learning the language. And, god forbid they should be exposed to modern microbes for which they haven’t developed any sort of immunity, they’ll be dead, too.

Instead of pointing out that our dating choices are shallow, irrational, and mercurial (we walk into a bar and find the best-looking person, which is something Disney films warned us against, but I digress), so you might as well run with it, the NYT writer brought up the issue of caring for your partner. It’s a big issue, make no mistake (and we’ll get there very shortly), but if you’re not willing to go for that one; you’re not ready for children. Crohn’s Disease is a walk in the park compared to cystic fibrosis, any number of fatal childhood cancers, or even just drunk driving. The fascinating universality of tragedy is, it never happens to anyone who expects it. I think that all of this is anchored in a deliberate, Puritanical misreading of Aesop’s fable about the Ant and the Grasshopper, that, by careful planning and luck, we can avert tragedy. Folks, the ants didn’t enjoy winter, either; they just prepared for it and weathered it well. Right now, whether you know it or not, there is some truly awful nightmare heading your way. Even if you live a relatively uneventful, painless life, you will, eventually die.

On the issue of being your partner’s care-taker, well, that is a thornier one for all parties involved. The idea of consent is that any and all parties involved are free, at any time, to say “No” to any activity at any time, without any major repercussions. In a caretaker-patient relationship; the power dynamics are so magnified that it makes consent issues a very gray area. We might need a ride to the infusion center and we don’t want to risk pissing you off, so we sigh and sadly agree to something we wouldn’t if we were healthy. Which doesn’t mean that people with debilitating illnesses who are relying on other people can’t consent; it just means that a little extra care, consideration, and empathy has to be employed in this area by care-takers. And we will inconvenience you. We will be a burden. Let me apologize for everyone with any illness or disability, and let me reassure you, it bothers us more than it bothers you. Again, you may not be happy about our deteriorating bodies; we are actually trapped in them, usually not by choice. And we get it; changing colostomy bags isn’t for everyone, tip-toeing around a port-a-cath isn’t anyone’s idea of foreplay, no one starts life seeing themselves as being or needing a caretaker, which is a deeply-rooted cultural problem that we will have to tackle when we start taking ableism seriously.

My concluding advice to the person who wrote the New York Times is, if your partner’s medical condition and/or the thought of being a caretaker really freaks you out, or if it’s just the final straw in an already-flailing relationship, just run. But be prepared to be inevitably treated in kind.

“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” — Rosalynn Carter

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Science journalist, cancer survivor, biomedical consultant, the “Wednesday Addams of travel writers.”

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