Dear Wendy: “I’m Afraid My Medical Condition Will Scare Him Off”

At the age of 24, I suffered a Pulmonary Embolism (blood clot in the lung). To make a long story short, I have multiple genetic blood clotting disorders that will force me to stay on the blood thinners for the rest of my life. Being on blood thinners has made my relationship life hell for three reasons: My period is like a flood, it comes hard and fast and lasts three days longer than it used to; I cannot take any form of hormonal birth control, as they all promote blood clotting; I will likely never be able to carry a child to term. I can conceive, but my combination of disorders will likely cause a miscarriage. This is the part I have the hardest time sharing with other people. This news crushed me, it crushed my dreams. It destroyed the relationship I was in, and it nearly destroyed me. I’ve spent the past four years learning to live with it, to live with myself, and figure out how to rebuild my dreams.

Recently, a guy I really like asked me out. He wants kids and a family, and it is refreshing to go out on dates with someone who wants the same things that I do, and who actually cares about the future. It’s been three dates, and I know I am going to have to confess at some point. He keeps saying, “Gosh, what is the catch with you? You are perfect.” It makes me feel guilty. Unlike in the past, I haven’t told him anything about my disorder. I keep the pills hidden, and he hasn’t asked about my medic alert bracelet, like most guys do. It’s been nice actually, to not have to think about it, and to go about my life in a normal way. But I realize that I have to tell him the truth, because it isn’t fair to him to keep him in the dark.

I don’t know whether to give him the whole story about how it changed my life, or if I should only give him the cold, hard, facts, or what. I don’t want his sympathy; I just want someone to understand what I’ve been through, and to understand that I am still committed to my dreams of having a family, but it will never happen the way I once imagined. I want him to know what he is getting into, as most people my age never have to even think about any of this. How do I even bring this up? How do I minimize scaring him with this? How do you tell someone you have just gotten to know that in case they ever wanted you to carry their children, you probably won’t be able to? How do I give him an out without looking like a desperate freak, in case he doesn’t want to stay? — Not Naturally Selected

First of all, kudos to you for not letting your medical condition destroy you, for spending the past four years learning how to live with it and figuring out how to rebuild your dreams. That’s a huge feat and one you should think about whenever you’re feeling beat down or like this disorder has gotten the best of you. It hasn’t it. It hasn’t destroyed you — on the contrary, I bet it’s made you so much stronger — and it hasn’t destroyed your chance for a happy, long-lasting relationship and family of your own one day. One thing that will help you as you pursue a relationship — whether it’s the one you’re currently starting or another one in the future — is to think not so much of your condition, your history with it, and the effect it has on your ability to reproduce as a “confession” you have to make, but as another layer in the story of who you are.

See, the word “confession” has a kind of negative connotation to it. It’s typically thought of as a revelation of something we feel ashamed of. You have no reason to feel ashamed of living with a genetic medical condition. If anything, you should feel proud of being a survivor — of being dealt a tough hand at a young age and facing it with strength and grace. This is one part of who you are and it doesn’t define you. It doesn’t define your future. And it isn’t some “catch” that has to make you less desirable as a potential life partner to someone. Sure, the effects of the condition may deter some men, but I promise the one who is meant for you will gladly take them if it means getting to spend his life with you. Like I told Debt Leper the other day, there will always be things about us that are dealbreakers to other people. Whether that dealbreaker is outrageous debt, a serious medical condition, or, I don’t know, having red hair, if we allow ourselves to get hung up on what might turn off or scare people away, we waste the energy we could be spending pursuing people who are happy to accept us just the way we are.

In a way, NNS, your disorder is a gift. It will help you weed out the guys who are truly committed to a future with you from those who are simply looking for a good time. It can help you determine the value a guy gives your presence in his life, how well he copes with adversity, and his ability to be a supportive, loving partner. These are things it can take some people years to figure out, but you sort of have a built-in system that can help you figure where you stand with a guy pretty quickly. And if you’re ready to find out where you stand with your new guy, it can be as easy as pointing to your medic alert bracelet and saying, “You’ve never asked me about this. Most people do pretty early on. Have you not noticed it before?”

Of course, he probably has noticed it, NNS. And he probably hasn’t asked about it yet because he wanted to peel off the outer layers of who you are first. So if you feel like he’s sufficiently peeled those layers and has a good sense of the “outside” you, let him start to see some of those inner layers. Let him in on how you fought back from a devastating diagnosis and won your life and dreams back. Let him see how strong you are. Tell him how you have plans to start a family one day and though you won’t be able to do it the way you once imagined, you know you have lots of different options for making it happen and you’re excited to take that adventure with someone whose inner strength and commitment to family matches your own.

That’s not a “confession.” That’s a beautiful, wonderful revelation that the right guy — whether it’s this one or someone else in the future — will be honored to hear from you. And don’t worry too much about giving anyone you’re dating “an out.” There’s always an out with dating. It’s called breaking up or fading out or simply deciding you’re not right for each other. It happens to all of us … until, finally, we’re lucky enough to find the person who accepts us and loves us for who we are — flaws and complications and all — and who wants the same things in life we do, who makes our heart flutter, who gets us. And when that happens, NNS, as it probably will for you one day — maybe soon! — it’s a wonderful thing, and it makes all those earlier hurts and failed attempts so very worth it.

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