by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/01/09 10:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2008/01/09/6994636.aspx
From the recently pre-recorded blogs collection...
Warning -- not even remotely technical, and thus entirely skippable for people wanting that sort of thing.
You see, I've gotten some questions via the Contact Link recently from people wanting real information about the differences that multiple sclerosis can cause in a life when it comes down to the actual business of living. Perhaps not a regular "series" but I'll try one and maybe some of the other issues will be a subject for future posts.
The question I was asked via the Contact link by Jon (though he admitted it was not his real name):
I'm a regular reader here and I have MS myself (Dx 1998, Tx Avonex, relapsing/remitting) and I have found it has started to impact dating more than it used to.
You seem to hint a lot about old relationships and how MS has influenced and not influenced some of them. I wonder whether you would be willing to talk about more directly about how it impacts you.
There is one thing about multiple sclerosis that is kind of haunting -- its effect on new relationships.
Note that none of this applies to relationships that started before the MS Dx -- that is a whole different set of dynamics that I will may talk about another day....
Some of this applies to pretty much any kind of potential disability problem, and some is specific to MS.
Because multiple sclerosis isn't a phrase, and it isn't a noun. It's a sentence. And when I say sentence, I don't mean a death sentence, I mean a life sentence.
The disease itself, at first glance, I'm not shy about. And it is not as big of a blocker as you might think. I mean, it does put some women off, sure. But it inspires a bit of a maternal instinct in others -- so it kind of averages out in terms of how I do, socially. A friend of mine (who is much cooler than I am) thinks that I've got game which isn't true, but it was sweet of her to say I guess, and I suppose I get some interest. And there is some attraction in the MS, with the whole broken man thing; the "nursing a wounded spirit" concept does have appeal, to some.
Once in, there is a whole "Chuck Yeager" phase that some women go through. You know, trying to test the MS out and see what it can "withstand", what I can feel and what I can't, what works and what doesn't. Sometimes this aspect proves to be quite novel and it can at times be a rather interesting distraction.
Anyway, following all this, it would be about the time that the "honeymoon" ends.
After all, the roommate won't always ome in and say the room smells like sex and candy; life demands more from us than just disco lemonade.
This, my friends, this is about the time that the wheels come off the wagon. This is when MS can and will scare women who are otherwise interested.
The reasons vary but generally fall into two categories, that are essentially age-related.
Younger women might be thinking about the future -- a future they may never had to thought much about seriously, before, stuff like having kids some day, etc. Even before I found out how serious the problem might be in relation to both the person with MS and where the child is raised (ref: 30-40 times more likely to pass MS on to the next generation), I knew it was something to be considered. A younger woman thinking about the future can find that issue to be pretty blocking. Especially since they might prefer relationships that (if there are obstacles) tend toward the more fixable type, under the premise that since men in general are works in progress, fixable problems have a way of sometimes actually getting fixed. At least it is possible. With MS, there is less to be fixed1.
In fact, post diagnosis, there are only four people I have ever dated who were younger than me -- they were all essentially net negative experiences as romantic relationships, in the end (sometimes we found a more stable level in friendship, sometimes not -- with only four examples it is hard to establish patterns or draw conclusions!).
Even when I was younger, I tended to be more attracted to older women, in no small part because of this very issue.
Older women, on the other hand, have usually learned that men can't be fixed, really -- that men are basically bears with furniture and you have to find one who you like as they are since mostly they don't change. Thus the unfixable nature of MS does not daunt as much. But they will have drive and direction, and they certainly tend to think longer term over life as a whole. In that context, the visual of a one-in-three chance of being the one pushing a wheelchair is one that has scared off more than one potential long term partner over the years. Especially when I don't have a lot I can say to disavow the possibility. What can I say --- that I would make it a powered wheelchair, or an IBOT? Holy missing the point, Batman!
Either way, in the end, the boy in the chair don't get busy with the au pair2, and I don't mean that in the generically appealing "he won't stray" sense, either. Though I won't, of course. Look, it was just an expression!
Plus, in all cases women will get advice from their friends, some of which can be about thinking hard about the price they would have to pay to be with someone with MS. Even I have trouble selling the notion that the pros would outweigh the cons, and I have the benefit of knowing that my agenda is to genuinely be with the person. How likely is the other random friend of hers to support the idea? There is a non-zero cost to consider....
Hell, many times I am that friend -- and I can't lie to them, or I am not really being much of a friend, am I?
And this is before you get into my personality, the effect of which tends to belie my friend's claim about me having game, seriously. Although I do have a blog groupie or two (and used to even have the occasional CompuServe or newsgroup groupie), the attempted conversions have been bad enough experiences to shy me away from meeting anyone online for purposes of forming a relationship. I simply can't live up to the guy who writes this blog, even though he happens to be. :-)
These days, considering all of the above, I most often decide not to take the chance of trying to move things to the next level. I treat it as flattering, but I hold back, so afraid that the juice won't be worth the squeeze in the end that I decide go thirsty no matter how attractive or interested the fruit appears to be. That is easy for guys -- just act clueless and you don't even have to reject a person. Women expect guys to be clueless anyway, you know?
In the end, I wind up with a lot of friends. And a couple of ex-girlfriends. And occasionally, people who are both.
But significant relationships? Few and far between. I just don't take those kinds of risks anymore.
Popping the stack to get back to the original question, I'd say I allowed myself to let MS beat me more than I really should have -- it makes me too cautious, too unwilling to deal with the way people will react to it. My best advice I can give would be to not do that -- because once you do that then you need to find a truly exceptional woman to be willing to break through all those barriers and as the above might imply they are dealing with enough without all that....
1 - It is kind of ironic to me how much women are frustrated at being unable to "fix" the MS given that guys are the ones usually thought to have a tendency to really want to fix things even when women often just want to be able to talk about a problem without trying to have their guy try to jump in and solve it. Because sometimes (in fact usually) for women it isn't about saving the day, it's about spending the day -- you know, being there, and being supportive. Given that wry fact, that women don't tend to take that same approach here seems worth noting.
2 - The latest incarnation of my answer to my ex-fiance's girls with glasses gets no passes, with previous answers being boy with stick gets no chick and boy who scoots gets no beauts.
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# John Cowan on 9 Jan 2008 7:50 PM:
"There are some women (or boys if you prefer them) that you can't get without taking pains; but first you must fall in love -- then the pains take care of themselves."
--Mary Renault, _The Praise Singer_
When I was 21 and first involved with Gale, she warned me of the downsides of taking up with an older woman. I wouldn't have a life of my own first, and I might end up having to take care of her. Now I'm 49, she's semi-disabled in ways that couldn't be foreseen at the time, and you know what? I would do it all over again.
# Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Jan 2008 8:26 PM:
Hi John -- I think you might be ignoring a fact that people who know us both might agree with (the fact that I am a lot less lovable than you are!).
But you're right, it is hardly unique to MS that issues can exist, and love does tend to, if not conquer it ALL, give ALL a good fight....
# Shauna MacKinnon on 10 Jan 2008 7:05 PM:
Your honesty is to be commended, Mike. I think you should be a little less hard on yourself, though.
Do you not take risks anymore because you really aren't interested in pursuing a relationship or because of the possible complications MS offers?
# Michael S. Kaplan on 10 Jan 2008 7:27 PM:
Hmmm.... I think one negatively inspires the other -- MS adds complications, people mess up how they react to them --and then either they leave because of that or I kind of end up judging people for how they react to those complications .
I know that is terribly unfair, but it is very hard to be with people if you can't trust them and few are honest in this space (though for very different reasons as hinted at above)....
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