Recently I was talking to one of my single girlfriends who was telling me what she wanted in a partner.  She wanted someone to go on romantic trips with to exotic vacations.  Someone to go hiking with and do outdoor activities.

I asked her “but what if you find this guy and a year later he’s in an accident and becomes a paraplegic?  Then what?”

I get it, most people don’t think like this but it’s what happened to me.  I had my list too when I was newly single and thinking about meeting someone.  That’s what online dating profiles are all about right?  We need to list out our criteria for a partner and the best description of ourselves.  Often when we’re scrolling through Tinder it’s about finding someone who matches all our interests, whether that’s someone who loves outdoor adventures or quiet evenings at home. 

When my current husband and I met on Match our profiles reflected the people we were at that time, but little did we know how vastly different we would be in just a few short years.  Then, my husband was a former pro-golfer who loved outdoor activities.  That appealed to me.  I wanted someone who was calm and kind and would be a partner to me on spontaneous adventures.  He fit the bill in every way. 

Until life threw us a curve ball in the form of Primary Progressive MS.  Within a very short time this man who had been the high school football quarterback, star hockey player and pro-golfer lost the ability to walk.  He suspected what was happening shortly before our wedding.  For many years he had been misdiagnosed with Lyme but was quickly realizing it was something else.  Having grown up with a friend’s dad who had MS I had a vision of what could be in store for our future.  My vision for a partner to have outdoor adventures with and travel was evaporating and was being replaced with the idea that I would be tied down caring for a man who might need help with the basic activities of daily living.

Friends questioned if I really wanted to take this on.  Afterall I was already caring for my son with intellectual disabilities who would need my support for the rest of his life.  And it certainly wasn’t what I had planned.  I can honestly say however that there wasn’t a moment that I questioned my decision to marry him.  As I said to my friends, if the positions would have been reversed and I was the one who was ill I wouldn’t imagine him leaving me (and I know that’s true.) 

I will admit, however to an overwhelming sadness that the future I had envisioned was no longer in the cards. I mourned the adventure trips we wouldn’t take and a partner to spend weekend afternoons on hikes or bike trips.  I know that the divorce rate is high for many people with chronic illnesses – the caregiver just can’t handle the responsibility and the loss of a future that they had planned.

That’s when I realized that no one person – even a life partner – can fulfill all your needs.  There are times you need girlfriends and there are times you simply need yourself.  At first, I thought about meeting other people with disabled spouses and going places or doing things.  But then it occurred to me, I already have people in my life to do these things with.  It was at that moment that I realized that I have different sets of friends for various parts of my life.  I have my “cheer mom friends” who I travel with and spend a great majority of the winter months with on the road for my daughters’ All-Star cheer competitions.  There are my  “deep thought” friends who I have philosophical and spiritual conversations with.  And there are my spur-of-the-moment outdoor friends who I can go paddle boarding and hiking with.  There are also those friends who get to see me the raw, scared me – the ones who just listen to me when I worry about the future and will share a glass of wine.

Do I still have moments of sadness? Sure. Recently we were at a friend’s wedding and everyone was paired off on the dance floor. It’s the slow dances that are tough.  I’d love to be sharing an intimate moment like that with my husband.  But we’re learning there are “fix its” as we call them.  I can sit on his lap and simply enjoy the music.  And when I want to go crazy on the dance floor I’m perfectly content dancing by myself and having him watch.

The point is don’t give up on the life partner if he/she doesn’t meet all the criteria you set forth.  No one person can do that and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.  Find your circles.  Be OK with dancing by yourself.

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