How do I tell a date I've got an ostomy? How to emotionally reveal what's under wraps this Valentine's Day…

How do I tell a date I've got an ostomy? How to emotionally reveal what's under wraps this Valentine's Day…

Even before my surgery in 2011, dating has been something that has always made me anxious.

Having a bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease) since the age of 7 meant that there were frequent times where I couldn’t make it to the toilet in time, I often had a lot of pain and trapped wind and I struggled to feel loveable and sexy, even to myself. However, even when it came to dating, I made a deal with myself that I wasn’t going to let the illness that would later try to take my life in 2011, take everything away from me.

I’ve dated a number of people and been in several relationships in just over 30 years of being on this planet, although it honestly feels like I’ve only been alive as in feeling able to make the most of my life as much as I can for the last 9 years. I had my ileostomy formed when I was 19 and it was a good few years before I started to feel I could start to shape and live my life day to day without feeling bound by Inflammatory Bowel Disease and the things it left in the trail of devastation. I’ve met potential dates online which haven’t gone anywhere, met people through common interests and also been introduced to dates through friends.

Stepping into the dating world after ostomy surgery

When I had my surgery in 2011, I was in a relationship at the time and as things turned out, we went our separate ways several months after my surgery, though no reasons to do with having my ostomy.

When I became single, I suddenly had all these fears and worries that I had not had to deal with before to such an extent. I feared dating people who were not from the bowel disease or ostomy community. I worried that people wouldn’t find me attractive because I had a bag of poo permanently attached to my stomach then after a few days of burying myself in my pit of gloom and despair, I had a sudden realisation that everybody poos! Just how I poop is different (and arguably more efficient and hygienic, but that’s a topic for another day!) When we have to let wind, we can contain it in a bag until we choose to let it out pretty much (unless you’ve got an ostomy bag balloon which is more urgent), but even then, these are things that understandably people worry about when it comes to using the bathroom around other people, potentially romantic interests. Flip that on it’s head and remember that any romantic interest you may have and any human has to excrete waste somehow, and in no way, shape or form, is it going to smell of roses! If anything, I’ve been able to control the smell more with my ileostomy through useful ostomy accessories such as deodorant drops where as with my Crohn’s Disease, I had no say-so!

When I finally stepped foot into the dating world and left bowel diseases and ostomies aside, it was such a scary and daunting yet liberating and empowering experience. Sure, it was a huge learning curve but the more time I spent in that “world” (for want of a better term) , the more confident and empowered I felt and so much more accepting and embracing of my own body, ostomy, scars and all.

I wasted so much time prior to this worrying about things that, in all honesty, I didn’t need to worry about. I had these horrible visions in my head that having an ostomy would give people the power to tear me down when actually, it’s the opposite. If anything, it made me feel in control of the direction I wanted my life to go in and who I wanted to surround myself with. Those who couldn’t accept my ostomy evidently weren’t deserving of a place in my life and those people have thankfully been few and far between. Whether it’s an ostomy, interests, lack of connection or other reasons, some people you just don’t work out with and it’s clear that that person isn’t right for you. There are so many reasons dating doesn’t work out and I had wrongly put all that reasoning around my ostomy when it has never been a reason that dating or relationships haven’t worked out for me.

An ostomy does the hard work for you

If and when you decide to tell a friend, potential romantic interest, date or partner about your ostomy is completely your prerogative. I’m going to share how I went about telling people and when but please note that this is just my way and you should never do something you don’t feel comfortable with. Sometimes, I believe you do have to step outside your comfort zone to possibly get some of the best experiences in your life, but again, whether you can push yourself or not is a very personal decision that only you will know the answer to.

I’ve thankfully saved myself a lot of awkward small talk, time and energy when it comes to dating by being up front about my ostomy early days. The first few times I did this, I felt sick to my stomach with nerves, but I soon realised after talking about my ostomy that I didn’t need to feel this way because there was nothing to be scared of. I’ve always told people about my ostomy bag early days, as in within the first few days of talking because then we’ve both known where we’ve stood early doors. “How did I bring your ostomy up?” you may be asking. A lot of the time it naturally materialised in the conversation eg if they spoke about their health. Other times, I would ask “tell me a random fact about yourself” and when they asked the same in return, I would take the opportunity.

Never change yourself or dim yourself for someone else’s comfort. Of course, be willing to change and compromise slightly because this is a big part of relationships but never lose sight of who you are. The right person will love and embrace you and help you to celebrate who you are. People who are meant for you won’t mind about your ostomy and people who mind honestly don’t matter and don’t deserve to be in your life, heart or headspace.

Most people are just curious and most people are willing to learn

Allowing yourself to share one of the most vulnerable experiences in your life can feel really strange at first but it is something to be proud of. A few months into dating, I’d got myself into a headspace where I was embracing myself for who I am with my ostomy bag. For some people, this can take months or years, but know that you are deserving of love. People I spoke to often had loved ones who had bowel problems or health problems and most weren’t phased in the slightest when I told them about my ostomy. Many of them were curious, not negative about it, and this is how it should be. Sure, we are inquisitive as human beings and it’s okay to ask questions to understand something and someone better.

In a world that often focuses on “bad people”, there are also a lot of nice and genuine people out there who will approach someone with an illness, who has had surgery or simply is just another human being in the right way. An ostomy personally doesn’t define me, it is just part of me but the part that saved my life and I will never be ashamed of that.

Meeting my husband

In 2017, I met my now husband who proposed to me in 2019.

We were due to get married in August 2020 but had to postpone because of the pandemic. We eventually got married last Summer and it was, hands down, the best day of my life, joint with the day my life was saved, yet both with very different emotions.

He had heard of Crohn’s Disease and an ostomy before he met me, but he has learnt so much from being with me such as there being different ostomy types (I have an ileostomy) and what having IBD could mean for the person who has it and those involved. He also understands that every case of IBD is different in how it affects someone's life and to what extent. He is always willing to learn and open to everything ostomy life involves, good and bad.

Photo credit to Fawn Wood Photography

At no point in our journey has the fact that I have an ostomy a or a chronic illness pushed him away. If anything, it’s brought us closer and he is always finding ways to help me in my daily life and make things easier. He pushes me to be who I am today, encourages me to follow my passion and take up singing lessons just before the pandemic & is always there to hold my hand come rain or shine. We now also have a dog together and a lovely house and continue to create so many amazing memories.

The right person will love you more because of your ostomy, not less.

Happy Valentine’s/Self Love/Galentine’s!

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