‘Empathy is a choice and it is a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling’ – Dr Brene Brown, Professor in Social Work at the University of Houston.
I was thinking about why so many people lack in empathy. I considered how beneficial it would be if more people were empathetic when meeting prospective partners with chronic illnesses, particularly fibromyalgia.
When I first moved to London I was keen to make new friends. I had met other people from around the globe who had come here for new opportunities and fresh starts. One of them was a guy I went out with. He too had come here seeking something. He was running away, like me. We were not so different from each other. Yet he lacked in empathy when I told him I live with fibromyalgia and depression. Despite proclaiming his feelings for me, he ran the other way once I made the revelation.
In the end, he admitted that he too lived with a mental illness, and that he didn’t think he could manage dealing with me being unwell.
It was even more befuddling.
Empathy, as Professor Brown states, is a vulnerable choice. I understand. We don’t want to feel vulnerable but we limit ourselves and our possibilities when we avoid making that choice.
On forums and dating sites, people are raising concerns over dating someone with fibromyalgia or other chronic illnesses. One person asks if it is a healthy choice.
It was difficult reading that because it is the harsh reality that fibromyalgia patients like I live with every day. Faced with flawed thinking and rationale, that cause people to turn away from the idea of pursuing relationships with us.
People with fibromyalgia are people first. While fibromyalgia affects us on a day to day basis and limits our abilities, it is not our defining quality. Many fibromyalgia patients still lead fairly decent lives through the management of symptoms. It is an affront that we should be judged on something that we did not choose to have.
Still, I understand the fears, the concerns and the worries.
On fibromyalgia forums, I find that patients are concerned about not ever finding partners who will stay, or scaring away a prospective partner. One person says ‘no one wants to date a sick person.’ It is sad that on top of having to deal with a debilitating illness, patients also have to worry about frightening off a potential partner.
It’s no surprise that google’s SEO keyword tool indicates that people are searching for fibromyalgia dating sites. I think the presumption is that if someone is walking the same path, they will be more aware and understanding, and consequently, not easily frightened off for lack of knowledge.
But my own experience proved this notion wrong. I have concluded that a big missing piece of the puzzle is empathy. For with it, men and women would be more understanding. They would see the human behind the illness, with much to contribute. Without it, the other person remains disconnected.
The road is long…
I cannot pretend that being in a relationship with a chronically ill person is easy. No relationship is easy. Fibromyalgia just presents a challenge. A challenge to understand and empathise. It is not to be feared any more than unwelcoming in-laws or other potential problems that may arise in relationships.
It is sad to think that possible relationships never end up happening because one party does not stop for a moment to remember that fibromyalgia is not a choice. Chronic illness is not a choice. Just as a person doesn’t choose to have a visual impairment or cancer. Love in itself is a vulnerable choice too.
Imagine a scenario where a happy couple settle down, and in later life one party develops a chronic condition as a result of a traumatic experience. Or perhaps loses a limb in war. How awful would it be for their partner to walk out just because they’ve been impaired.
Living with a chronic condition can be a long, lonely road. But oftentimes, with the right support many fibromyalgia patients find fulfilling relationships.
Oftentimes, it is empathy that makes the difference.