Monday, December 2, 2013

Dating With Baggage

Jennie David is a writer from Canada, a recent graduate of Boston University, and an ostomate.  Jennie is writing from her experience with a topic that is not often talked about.

Jenny is an active contributor to
Living Beyond With Guts 
The Gutsy Generation

This is Jennie's story, re-posted with her permission

Dating with Baggage
By Jennie David

I was sitting at the dining room table, across from a home health nurse, and my parents were talking in the kitchen down the hall. I was about 1.5 weeks out from my ostomy surgery, a little sore and tired, but finally out of the hospital and looking forward to starting my sophomore year of college. The nurse had been asking me about school and my friends, and then she leaned across the table, reached her hands out towards mine, lowered her voice and said, “And you know, you can still have a boyfriend and stuff.”

I remember smirking at her, nodding along, but the thought had been far from my mind. I hadn’t been thinking of dating and first kisses when I had decided to have surgery, and to be perfectly honest, had not thought twice about it. To use a phrase I have since heard, those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.

I recently met a mom of a girl who has Crohn’s and an ostomy, who is around my age in her early 20’s. This woman’s daughter is not completely comfortable with her ostomy, and she looked at me – her eyes squinted but slightly desperate – and asked if I’d had any experiences with boys or if I was nervous about it. For me – and many of us with ostomies – the pouch is merely a physical reminder of a disease that affected me long before my surgery and will continue to do so. In other words, even if I didn’t have an ostomy I would still have Crohn’s and would still have a chronic illness.

If dating and falling in love were like it is in the movies, all we would need would be a good-looking person, a well-written script, and a perfectly chosen song. But since we live in the real world, things are not so direct. My point is that we forget the complexities of dating and that it’s not just about finding another person, but finding the right person, and that is tricky ... illness or not. Of course it complicates matters to have to bring up serious medical realities in the early stages of getting to know someone, especially when our peer group may not have had the same intimate interactions with the medical world as we have.

And all of this was theory and conjecture watching from the sidelines until this past May. I had held a movie fundraiser to benefit a Crohn’s organization, and one of my good friends brought along a friend of hers who also went to school in Boston. I had met him before and he was very sweet, but did not know him well. A day or so after the event, he sent me an email asking me to dinner. Because I am incredibly na├»ve, I at first thought he was inviting me along to dinner with our mutual friend, but gently replied that he was in fact hoping to have dinner alone.

And so here was a college boy – adorable and smart – who, knowing that I had Crohn’s and an ostomy, had decided to ask me out. As I was headed to the restaurant in my carefully planned outfit, I thought about whether or not I should bring up my disease and my surgery. But then I decided this – he had asked me out – the Jennie who does research and wants to be a psychologist and who bakes cupcakes and loves the color purple. He did not ask my disease out. That is certainly a big part of my life between dealing with the medical aspects and advocacy work that I love, but at the same time it does not define me, and I have plenty of other things to talk about. We had the loveliest time talking and teasing one another, and when I eventually did make some reference to my ostomy on our second date, he didn’t even flinch.

In trying to do some ‘research’ on the subject, I once asked several of my close guy friends what they would think if they were dating someone who had an ostomy. Most of them replied that it wouldn’t matter (truth: it doesn’t matter), but one friend replied that it would make him “hesitate.” At first, his response frustrated me – hesitate, I thought, why would you hesitate? What makes me so different from any other girl? Ultimately I decided that not every person will fully get it, and their hesitation is a reflection on them, not my worthiness of being in a relationship.

I unfortunately don’t have foolproof advice or a line-up of certified girls and guys to offer up for dates. I do, however, firmly believe that there are amazing, understanding, empathetic people out there who will see you as the whole person you are. As it is for everyone, I think it’s about finding the right person. You cannot change the scars on your body, but you can choose the people (as friends or partners) who see those scars as testaments to your strength rather than as faults. Share what you are comfortable with when you are comfortable doing so, and remember that everyone has baggage in one form of the other, even if it’s not stuck to their sides.


  1. Great Article! I am in my mid 30's had surgery a year and a half ago and was suddenly single and dating again! It is so true that how we perceive ourselves, and our new plumbing system, is what others will reflect back. Anyone who has been through a chronic illness like crohn's or colitis and has undergone surgery IS A COURAGEOUS SURVIVOR! Let's acknowledge that every single one of us is strong, resilient and worthy of all the wonderful experiences this life has to offer...a loving partnership being one of them!

  2. Jennie you always write the most amazing things! I loved this blog and think of it as a blast to the past since I have not read anything of yours for a while. I completely agree with you that it is the question of finding the right person. And these right people are out there! Are you still dating this Boston college man? I wish you an amazing Hanukah!

  3. Jennie such a great article. I love reading your stuff, and see this as a blast to the past, as it has been a while since I have read your work. Also, I totally agree that the question is about finding the RIGHT person, not whether a person will ever fall in love with you! I wish you a wonderful Hanukah! Plus, are you still seeing Boston College Man? -Susie