Dating after Cancer

Entering the online dating scene in my mid-to-late thirties has been quite the experience. I’ve gifted my friends and family with many hours of amusing tales that have left us all bemused, hopeful, shocked, and amazed. While it would be wonderful to meet someone ‘in the wild’ (as a good friend of mine says), I think the convenience, variety and safety of rejection from behind a ‘keyboard’, has meant that online dating is well and truly the norm. As a participant in this fascinating and often strange world, there are a lot of factors at play. Being a cancer survivor has certainly added some additional layers to my experience.

In the dating arena, our life experience is often labeled as baggage. I think this is an outdated perspective. In a day and age where therapy is the norm, a holistic focus on growth and health, means that our challenges/traumas etc. have the potential to contribute to our own betterment as a human and partner. Now I certainly don’t recommend having cancer. However, having been fortunate enough to survive the disease, I’ve been able to learn from it and thrive in my life, post treatment.

The online dating scene is tough, no matter who and what your circumstances are.

The benefit of dating at my age is that I now know who I am. I was just shy of 20 when I met my ex-husband – I didn’t have a clue who I was, or what I wanted in a partner! Now, I’m confident and know what I’m looking for. I have a wonderful and full life, with amazing friends and family. While I look forward to meeting that someone special, I’m happy to wait for the right person to come along, whether that’s tomorrow, next year or beyond. 

The pitfalls of online dating are well documented and accurately so! Entering the scene was a crash course in ‘wow the dick pic thing, is a thing’, ‘who on earth taught you that speaking to anyone like that is acceptable’, and it’s absolutely a case of quantity over quality.

Fortunately, you work out pretty quickly how to sift through the profiles that read as a glaring warning sign and the guys who go from ‘hi’ to ‘can I lick you from head to toe’ in a nanosecond. Once you complete your mandatory training in how to sidestep these fools, I would have to say, the majority of people I’ve been on a date with are really good people. Each experience has also served to teach me more about myself and clarify what I’m looking for.

I wish I could say that I walked confidently into each date, with the attitude that having had cancer didn’t make me feel less-than. In all honesty, it took me a little while to hit my stride in this respect. Some of the feelings that came up for me were inadequacy around being unable to bear my own children returning, feeling unsure of how to share that I’ve had cancer, without wanting to invite pity, and navigating certain aspects of sex.

I’ve often said that I found losing the ability to carry my own child, harder to come to terms with than having had cancer.

There were layers of complexity that I’ve actively worked through, including feeling less feminine. Logically, I understand that as a result of radiation and a subsequent hysterectomy, I can’t have children. But other than a few little scars, I can’t actually see that any of the essentials are missing. The grief was also so severe, that I felt it physically. Even as I write this post, I can feel the sting of tears, and the lump in my throat form, eight years on. It isn’t because I haven’t processed the pain or come to terms with the shift in my life’s journey. I just remember how much it impacted me at the time.

I was genuinely surprised when the feelings of inadequacy resurfaced as I scanned the profiles, viewing the number of people in their late 30’s to early 50’s who selected ‘I want children’. Filling out my own profile, the drop-down options are limited. How do you say, ‘I can’t have my own children, but it’s cool if you have your own’.

In my experience, first dates fit into one of two categories. You either turn up and the other person is in the zone and wants to cover off on all the key things up-front. It can feel like a job interview, but I respect that people don’t want to waste each other’s time. In my age bracket, time can be of the essence, especially when it comes to having a family. The other category of first date is that you don’t cover off on the serious topics. You just have a good time and see whether there’s solid banter and chemistry. There’s pros and cons to both. For me, I like to turn up and just see what the vibe is, following the natural direction the date takes.

When your date is keen to get to the nitty-gritty and quickly establish whether there’s compatibility, I get it.

You may be surprised to discover that as someone who’s created a blog about a very personal topic, I’m an open book type personality 😉 Even so, working out how to answer some of these questions has been interesting. While it’s been eight years since I was diagnosed, the impact of having had cancer has been profound on my life. To answer some of these initial date type questions authentically, requires a certain level of disclosure about my experience. The one thing that I don’t want when I share my story, is sympathy. Yes, it was shit, yes it was hard, but everyone has their stuff. It’s been interesting working out how to respond without making things awkward. Oftentimes people are just unsure of how to react to this kind of information. I also don’t want to place myself in a position where I’m not being myself, to simply make someone else more comfortable.

As I’ve dated, I find that responding to these types of questions is all about the delivery. I found that when initially answering questions that naturally included the big C topic, I would almost answer from a place of embarrassment or shame. This was surprising to me and certainly highlighted some things that I’ve since unpacked. Depending on the vibe I’m getting from the person I’m meeting, I’m now able to confidently and peacefully communicate my truth.

Initially, I was also self-conscious that someone may have seen or read my website and formed an inaccurate impression of who I am prior to meeting me. I was particularly concerned about publishing topics regarding sex and dilator use etc. I decided to be brave. The importance of publishing the information outweighed the concerns I had. I also know in my heart that anyone who negatively judges me for this work is not my potential person. Though, it can still be challenging to truly accept this and fly in the face of the fear.

No matter who you are, dating is tough. Surviving cancer has meant that I’ve had to work out how to navigate some additional dating hurdles. In doing so, I’ve deepened my connection to myself, and it’s been an opportunity to unpack and progress beyond some of the surprising thought bubbles that have appeared as a result.

If there are topics you’d like to hear about, let me know.

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