Dating and Disclosure

(July 8th, 2014)

During one of my frequent visits to the doctor I noticed an ad in the waiting room. A support group entitled Dating and Disclosure was meeting that very week and in the building I work in. How could I pass this up? Back in high school I invented the sexy locker lean. Take my word for it - and don't look into it - I did really well. But in my more immediate past, things have slowed down a bit. Maybe I could stand to pick up a few pointers.

Actually, I was more interested in the disclosure aspect. From the very beginning disclosing my diagnosis was difficult. I wanted to tell my parents when they were together, but of course when my mother picked up the phone my father was out. I can usually bounce and deflect with ease, but the first words out of her mouth asked about what the doctor had said. I could have done it better.

The week I learned of my diagnosis was filled with hospital visits and phone calls. It was overwhelming. I told my parents to ban phone calls from friends and family. I didn’t want to be rude, but I needed time to figure out what was going on, what I was thinking, how I was feeling. I could have done it better. When I found out that the cancer wouldn't take me out of this world in a couple of months, but rather I was expected to make a full recovery - and only in a matter of months - I decided to not tell people that I didn't think I would see during treatment. I would avoid disclosure.

Avoiding disclosure didn’t work. I’d end up seeing someone. “You shaved your head!” “Yes, I did – well no, um – sort of, yes, well, just not intentionally.” I could have done it better.

I left my desk and took the elevator to the lobby. I found the little room where a few people had already gathered. There was a lot of condensation on the pitcher of water on the table. We soon introduced ourselves telling as little or as much as we felt comfortable. I was younger than everyone else, maybe by as much as 20 years. It was mostly women.

We did discuss disclosure. It was decided that there was no ‘right’ time to tell a date, or, for that matter, a friend. You can and should take your time and disclose when you were ready. However, it was decided that the first date is most definitely not the right time. But past that we mostly talked about other things, deeper things.

It seemed that most in the room were afraid. Dating at 30 is one thing. Dating at 50 is probably another. Dating at 50 when you are covered in scars and missing a breast or ovaries, and have no energy or hair, is daunting. Each person seemed to have a very similar concern. They were afraid of being turned down because they were sick. When the facilitator asked why they thought this would happen, all were in agreement. If the tables were turned they would never want to date someone who had their condition. They wanted someone who was healthy. How could anyone go in for someone who was sick? Who could love them?

It was clear that they hated the cancers that had taken so much from them. But I wonder if some of that hate had gotten mixed up. The cancer may have abated in their bodies yet it was strong in their minds. Could the cancer have become such a part of their identity that they saw themselves, and not just the cancer, as broken and despised?

The facilitator steered the conversation towards a message of encouragement. She wanted us to know that anyone who would be turned off by someone who is sick isn’t worth our time. She wanted us to know that we would get turned down but it would be OK. She wanted us to know that we could do this. She wanted us to know that it would be worth it, that we were worth it.

I’m not sure how much of her words sunk in. The benefit may have come from the other group members. Each one seemed to realize that the other people around the table were valuable and worthwhile. They listened and encouraged and noted how silly it was to worry about having short hair, extra scars, or needing a bit of help. “If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t deserve you.”

It seemed strange to me that they could see the insecurities in their neighbors for what they were yet they couldn’t see their own. They were convinced that they were unworthy of love. It seemed strange to me. Yet I think I do this in my own way from time to time.

I don’t have any visible scars, unless you count the small dent in my gums where cottage cheese gathers. But in other ways I am more similar to my co-survivors. I see my own failings and find myself wondering if I’m made for a relationship, if I’m worthy of love. And my problem is worse than a physical scar.

I can – if I choose – inflict a lot of pain. I can kill, but it is a death by a million paper cuts. I can wound in tiny ways, in inconspicuous ways, such that I can always claim innocence. I can drain all the joy and pleasure from life if I want. In short, I am selfish. I don’t like this about myself. I hate it even.

At times I see this and wonder how I could be worthy of love. Would it not be better to avoid relationship? Would it not be better to avoid the eventuality of inflicting pain? But that is not a way to live life. Furthermore, it might only be another lie to hide another truth. I am afraid of relationship. I am afraid because I will be revealed to be just another human constantly making mistakes, constantly needing to be forgiven, constantly needing love, and still only learning to love. This is truly what I do not want to disclose.

If I had been quicker with my thoughts, if I had been brave enough to share my fears, I think I know what the ladies would have said. Between smiles and laughs, I would have heard that I am still worth it. I would have heard that I am valuable. I would have heard that while I have my own real scars and flaws, I am yet worthy of love.

Worthy of love: it's a wonderful truth. Worthy - and this is a 30 year old that just bought more underwear because he didn't do the laundry!

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