I was diagnosed with stage IV endometriosis around the bowel area at the age of 25. Ten years later, after multiple surgeries, failed IVF cycles (both with a partner and as a single woman), years of experimenting with various painkillers, contraceptive pills, different food types and lifestyle choices, additional diagnosis of adenomyosis, cysts and fibroids thrown in the mix, today I still suffer from the heavy bleeding, associated pain, and fatigue as much as I always have.
I live in London, a metropolitan melting pot where more people than ever before are single, people of all ages on the lookout for discovering new and creative ways to meet people. The dating landscape has changed. Via social media, we jump on the latest bandwagon of dating apps all in the aim of looking for quick love and we fall into the minefield that is internet dating.
But for me, it is internet dating when you also have Endometriosis.
After the initial swiping, the match, the flirty chit chat on Tinder, Match, Bumble (take your pick), things begin to progress and a date is arranged. First impressions are important and I am mindful I want to come across as my usually positive, easy going, bubbly, excited self.
We agree to meet, and so it starts, the meticulous planning before the date kicks in.
Pick a time and place and actually turn up. Making an effort not to cancel because I am too exhausted or too sore or I am having a flare up or Endo belly has made an appearance or simply because I am too anxious and over thinking things to follow through. Simply turning up to a planned date is a big win for me.
Not eating anything hours before the date in case it causes Endo belly and I cannot fit into the outfit I had carefully picked out on wearing. My aim is to minimise any stomach bloating, keep my stomach as flat or at least as normal looking as possible during the date. I want to look and feel good underneath my clothes. I want to look good naked and not look like I have just gorged myself on a five-course feast beforehand.
Not drinking too much alcohol. In case it causes a flare up or exasperates any underlying Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms I may have at the time. Yet I want my glass of wine or two or three to help take the edge off, to relax and to have a good time.
Ordering food that is gluten free, dairy free, red meat free. Inevitably my date will ask ‘Why can’t you eat bread or dairy or coffee or cake or meat or… like anything?’ On a first date, I either avoid the meal altogether or I make sure in advance that there is something on the menu that I can order without him asking awkward early questions. I avoid the topic of Endometriosis dietary requirements as I do not want to come across as a ‘fussy eater’.
If I get to this point, my date is going well. He knows nothing of my Endometriosis condition and I act and pretend as if I do not even have the condition at all and for a sweet blissful moment, I manage to feel normal, I am relaxed and genuinely enjoying his company.
Cut to the chase, we both like each other and the awkward your place or mine issue is addressed. My mind starts racing and I ask myself the usual hesitant questions: Do I have a swollen belly? Where am I in terms of timing of my cycle? Am I mentally and physically ready for sex? Can I be intimate with him? Will it hurt? Will I bleed, stain the sheets and how will he react? Will he understand?
Whatever decision I make that night, constantly in the back of my mind is the concealing of my endometriosis that dictates that I am my disease. I feel I am misleading him by portraying myself in a light that is not really me. I have only allowed the best of me to be on the show. I look healthy, I do not look sick but I am deceiving him.