Heart-shaped GI tract

Falling in Love, Even with UC

I met Z in 2018 over a dating app where I hadn’t mentioned my ulcerative colitis on my profile. I liked him instantly and we met for a drink the same night we matched. As much as I liked Z, I wasn't sure if I should tell him about my UC right away, or if it was okay – ethical, even – to wait. I decided not to say too much right away. After all, I wanted to figure out if Z and I even had something real before I shared the thing I was sure would scare him away.

Dating with ulcerative colitis

At first, our relationship felt "normal," in the sense that I didn’t have to talk about my UC. I was drinking at the time, so when we went out and were social with friends, no one noticed me abstaining. I wasn’t in a flare at the time, so I didn’t have to run to the bathroom all the time. But after a while, I realized that Z and I were really, really dating. We had gotten serious, and fast. I knew I had to tell him more about my UC, because at some point I would flare, and I wouldn’t want to shock him or make him feel like I’d been keeping something from him.

I mentioned my UC casually, as if it was no big deal to me. I told him I had some "digestive problems, a disease, actually" and that it sometimes made me feel sick. I told him about the mesalamine pills I took every night. He took that in stride, but we didn’t talk about it much more. One day in the future he would tell me, "I don’t even really know what UC is." I’d gotten away with revealing the truth without really revealing it.

When UC starts revealing itself

Of course, I did flare within the first year of our dating. We’d been together for a little less than 6 months, and I started to see blood. It was right before Z and I were going to be apart for the holidays. In a lot of ways, my UC was explained without me having to explain it. Z saw how I ran to the bathroom. He saw that my stomach hurt and that I needed to stay in bed. He saw me avoid alcohol. Though it wasn’t the worst it could be, it became clearer to him that UC wasn’t like getting a cold every so often. It had an impact on my, and now our, lives.

I started to explain more about UC. I talked about inflammation and about what my triggers might be. I talked about the fact that I could get even sicker and that I might need surgery one day. I told him about the possibility of an ostomy bag. I needed him to know what he was getting into. Better for him to leave now than later, I figured.

Z didn't leave. He didn’t leave as I got sicker, as I needed to get a colonoscopy, as I started a new medication — 6-MP — that put me in the hospital for 7 days in June 2019 and then another 4 days in July 2019. We’d hit the year mark and we joked that it felt like we were married because we’d actually done the "in sickness and in health" thing. A few years later, we did get married. Now we get to call each other husband and wife.

Relationships are about true support

A lot of people praise Z for sticking around through my illness, but we don’t see it that way. Being in a relationship means supporting each other. He supports me in my illness. I support him in his own struggles. We do what any married couple does: we give as much as we can to each other and lean on each other. UC is in an individual difficulty, but it doesn’t make me harder to love than others. That being said, I’m deeply grateful for having Z in my life and always will be.

In the end, I am not surprised that Z didn’t leave after he found out about my UC. I fell in love with Z because of his kindness and the way he sees everyone in the world as special. I fell in love with Z because he isn’t afraid of opening up his heart to people and walking beside them every day. I guess what I mean to say is that not everyone is willing to be with someone who is chronically ill — but why would I want to be with that kind of person? Why would I ever want to date someone who thinks people like me are disposable or disgusting?

In a way, my illness proved that Z was who I thought he was: sweet, empathetic, and strong. And my illness proved to Z who I am: brave, thoughtful, persevering, always laughing. Through the experience of my flares —and worse — we knew the promises we made to each other were real.

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