Even before this whole cancer thing hit, I couldn’t help but laugh at the slow “degeneration” of my life, where just a year prior it seemed like I was on top of the world when the ravages of time and responsibility slowly took their toll, eroding away the foundations of my financial, physical and emotional security. I had gone from a happily married man with a solid job to a shaky individual daring not to whisper, “well, I’ve finally hit bottom”. To be truthful about it all though, there was a release in the degeneration, where over time the stresses had slowly built to a point that I was becoming miserable at an equal rate, so when everything started to fall apart, it was like I was let go from so many emotional bindings that kept me from a greater personal happiness….which is probably why I’m ok putting all this down for you to read.
Like I said, I did not dare whisper, “I’ve hit bottom”, because honestly I was scared, knowing full well that this was NOT bottom. And I didn’t want to tempt the fates, to throw it in the face of life. “Hey life, I’ve hit bottom and guess what…this is cake! I’m only going up from here!” Because, of course, that WASN’T bottom. So much as THINK you’ve hit bottom and life will hear you. It will hear you and say, “Oh really? You think THAT’S bottom? Well, try THIS!” And next thing you know, you’re scraping the sides of a dumpster for sustenance…and not in the way punks and anarchists have made it cool. So I didn’t say, “I’ve hit bottom.”
What I did, however, was make an amusing list for myself in terms of romantic attraction. It was a completely light-hearted mental list, where I tallied all the ways in which my life had become stereotypically UNATTRACTIVE to the opposite sex, relegating me to a life of solitary, psuedo-single parenthood…which, believe me, I was perfectly ok with. I was not doing this in any sort of “Oh woe is me, such a pity that no one will ever love me” sort of Morrissey song lyric sort of way. I was just evaluating the changes in my life and having a good laugh at it all. Because as far as societal standards and what makes an individual attractive to others, this is what I had working against me.
1. I have a child.
2. Said child lives across the country, lending to the idea that I’m an uncaring/deadbeat parent.
3. I have a tenuous relationship with the child’s mother.
4. I’ve been recently divorced.
5. I just got laid off from a job of five years.
6. My new job pays an insultingly low wage.
7. My debts dangle me over the cliff of financial ruin.
8. I sold my car and now ride a bike everywhere. (Hey, I’ll pick you up in my trailer at 8?)
9. I’m an obsessive runner with LITERALLY 2 hours a day of free time. (Meet me at the coffee shop between 9 & 11 for a date?)
And so there was all that. I couldn’t imagine what sort of woman would find that sort of lifestyle attractive, but here’s the thing. I didn’t care. I didn’t have a drive to be in a relationship with anyone, knowing full well the very logistical problems my lifestyle created to even having an effective relationship. I wasn’t going to give up work. I wasn’t going to give up running. So, how would that even work? Whatever…like I said, I was completely ok with it. I continued on, walking the tightrope of obligations I had created for myself day in and day out…until my stomach hurt.
What did you say about “hitting bottom”?
I had to laugh, again. If my previous life raised every obstacle against developing a fulfilling and stable relationship, well, here was another one for the list that took it from laughable to downright absurd.
“Hey, can I pick you up at 8? You can ride in my trailer. I’ll take you to the hospital and we’ll have a nice discussion about our future as I have poisons dripped into my body during one of my chemo treatments. On the plus side, if the chemo doesn’t work, we won’t have so many decisions to make about our shortened relationship!”
Come on, laugh with me. It’s absurdly funny. My life had become a country song…without the dead dog.
On the other hand, this whole consideration of my past “unattractiveness” (societally speaking anyways) has compelled me to think more deeply about relationships in the face of cancer, which I had the pleasure of discussing further with a friend who has also found herself in the land of illness, fighting off the effects of chemo and fumbling through the complications of building a relationship in the midst of both cancer and its surrounding issues. I’m told it’s hard to make-out when the effects of cancer on your body are constantly interrupting your attempts at romanticism and physical intimacy. I’ll take her word for it.
Personally speaking, I currently have ZERO drive to be involved with anyone romantically, which might go without saying. The very idea just tires me out, because, well, everything tires me out right now. Eating. Walking. Talking. Etc. So to even think of establishing a romantic relationship with anyone sounds downright exhausting…more so than it can already be. There is just no excitement, no passion, no inspiration to even HOPE for it. I’m entirely, if I may use another Morrissey reference, ASEXUAL at this point. See, you have to understand, right now every bit of my energy on a day to day basis is spent just navigating the hours I’m awake, trying to do something that doesn’t entail laying in bed wasting away. Sometimes that’s just sitting on the porch reading a book for hours. Sometimes that’s going to the coffee shop to just BE in public. Sometimes that’s just trying to not feel like crap. And those simple tasks often tire me out, leaving me laid out on my bed for a quick nap to rejuvenate, so to think I have any extra energy to spend worrying about someone else’s emotional state just sounds awful. I couldn’t do that to myself, let alone someone else. And it should go without saying that the need to concentrate on myself so deeply leaves me with no emotional desire to concentrate on anyone else.
That seemingly ever present emotional drive to love or be loved is simply NOT THERE. It has instead been replaced with the most selfish consideration I have ever experienced, where the only thing that matters is keeping me physically comfortable, having private space to revert to and the time to manage all the unpleasantries that come with the cancer experience.
Then there is another fear, admittedly pessimistic, but which is worthy of consideration. Right now I don’t have the drive to consider a relationship, but even if I DID, the person I am at this point is most likely not the person I will be when all this is over. For the sake of this consideration, let’s just assume I make it past cancer and live illness-free. So, to start a relationship as an identifying “cancer patient”, or whatever, is going to encounter serious problems down the line when cancer dies and my identity reverts back to “obsessive runner”. I tried not to identify as a cancer patient when the news first hit, because I still felt very much like myself, still able to ride my bike all out if I wanted, still looking forward to the day when I could start running again. I may have had cancer, but my identity was very much as a distance runner. Over time though, and specifically after surgery, my physical life changed drastically. I can’t run. I don’t know when I will be able to run and what that will be like when I start again. I can barely ride my bike. I can barely do anything without concern, even just walking the grocery store, and the timeline attached to getting better has been extended far off into the future now, which means avoiding the identity of a cancer patient has become damn near impossible. This whole experience now consumes me, and so the person you know at this point isn’t necessarily the person I was pre-diagnosis. Sure, I am still ME, but this cancer identity can’t be denied and how I have responded to the awareness of having cancer will have it’s effect on my identity as well. Without fail, when this is all “over”, I’ll be a different person. I will carry some of this cancer identity with me, but I’ll also be eager to shed a great deal of it as well, hopefully getting back to the person I once was. That type A, hyper disciplined, obsessive distance runner hell bent on taking down my list of PR’s.
And that’s dangerous for a relationship. Who I am now may be very different from who I am post-cancer. Or, to look at it optimistically, maybe not. Maybe who I am now might carry on and make me a much better/more attractive person post-cancer. Who knows?
And finally, there is the concern of starting a relationship in the midst of a life-threatening illness. This hasn’t been my experience per se, but certainly something I’ve considered. My friend, however, has expressed her amusement at friends who have suddenly become “caring” in the face of disease. There is an apprehension of creating a relationship in the midst of one’s vulnerability, which lends to attracting a “fixer” or a “hero”, someone who wants to make you better, who wants to be there because no one else will touch you, who is less reserved in seeking your relation because you’re in less of a position to fend them off. As my friend and I both discussed today, we are both fiercely independent individuals, so although there is an undeniable need to be taken care of at this point, somewhere down the line that need is going to fade away and the foundation the relationship started on will suddenly be gone.
Ultimately, cancer is an abrupt change in one’s life, that takes one from being active and self-sufficient to suddenly an individual of helplessness (to varying degrees), that not only takes its toll on them physically, but also emotionally. Personally, I can’t even imagine how a relationship would work in the face of such physical discomfort, logistical obstacles and emotional bi-polarism, which probably has led me to not feel even the slightest inclination towards romantic aspirations. Hell, right now I’m more concerned about having regular bowel movements than I am making someone feel emotionally fulfilled. Admittedly, this might change down the line, or it might not. I’m ok with that really…right now, I have a bigger consideration to manage, an emotional state to protect and both a 36 and 6 year old heart to fill. Any other hearts will have to wait until both are strong enough to handle life at it’s easiest. Right now, that is not the time.