After I underwent emergency surgery to remove my large bowel after living with ulcerative colitis, and being given a stoma in the process – there were many insulting phrases regarding my partner that came from the mouths of multiple people who couldn’t quite believe the operation hadn’t left me single.
‘Wow, he must be so strong to want to deal with everything you’ve been through’, said one.
‘He must really love you to not care about the fact you’ve got a stoma bag’, said another.
And three, probably most alarmingly: ‘Are you sure he still wants to be with you, or is he just staying out of pity?’
I’m not going to lie, the comments really hurt. They hurt for a number of reasons.
One, because the surgery had happened to me, not my boyfriend. It was me who was dealing with it, and while I was leaning on my partner for support, I wasn’t relying on him to look after me.
And two, my confidence had already plummeted following the surgery. It had left me feeling insecure and unattractive as I struggled to come to terms with having a bag attached to my stomach.
The last thing I needed was to be reminded that maybe my boyfriend might not like my new body.
But lastly, what I couldn’t get my head around was the fact people saw my boyfriend staying with me as a revelation. As though he was some kind of hero for not wanting to walk away from me as soon as my body changed and I’d become more in need of support.
It was as if people had forgotten about what I was dealing with and instead felt the need to commend my partner for ‘putting up’ with me.
The truth was, there was nothing to ‘put up’ with. After the surgery, following a few weeks of recovery, I was very independent. I didn’t rely on my boyfriend for anything other than a confidence boost.
And because of this, our relationship never actually revolved around the surgery. We never let it be a prominent factor within the relationship.
We never saw it as being anything other than a really negative thing that had happened, but we were getting over and moving on from.
And I think that was important in helping me get over it – and building up my confidence to know that my partner wasn’t staying with me out of guilt, despite what other people thought.
But that doesn’t stop me questioning why other people’s first thoughts in relation to my surgery were about how my boyfriend could not want to break up with me.
Why would he have wanted to break up with me? The surgery didn’t change who I was, how I acted or how I treated him.
The surgery didn’t make me suddenly unlovable or too much to ‘handle’.
His feelings for me weren’t just going to change because my body looked a little different – and if they had, then he wouldn’t have been worth it anyway.
The fact is, my partner wanted to stay with me because he loved me, he wanted to support me and he wanted to help me get through an awful time.
And that is called just being a decent, loving partner.
It doesn’t make him worthy of a reward or a pat on the back. He wasn’t doing me some huge favour by deciding I was still worthy enough to date despite having a bag on my stomach. So why were people so intent on treating him that way?
The only explanation I can come up with is that people who think or feel this way have never been in a situation where their long-term partner, the person they’re truly in love with, has been on death’s door.
They’ve never been with someone whose body has changed due to no fault of their own, and therefore they’ve never had to really comprehend the fact that when you’re in love with someone, all you want to do is be there for them, support them and help pull them through.
I’m not saying I don’t understand that for some people, they feel as though they can’t be an emotional support for their ill partner, and therefore they decide to leave. It doesn’t seem fair, but it’s life. Everybody’s strengths are different.
What I am saying is that we shouldn’t treat those who do choose to say as some form of hero. Not only is it totally demeaning to the relationship but it’s incredibly insulting to the person who’s actually ill.
Hearing someone commend your partner for wanting to stay with you despite being unwell makes you feel like a burden. It makes you feel guilty for being ill even though it’s completely out of your control.
It even makes you question whether you should take matters into your own hands and walk away from the relationship, convincing yourself that it’ll save the one you love from upset and aggravation – even if that’s not what they want.
And that’s not okay.
When a person has experienced a life-changing illness or surgery that impacts them both physically or mentally, the last thing they need is comments from people who are more concerned as to how they could still be loved than how they can continue to grow stronger with the one who loves them.
And the very last thing is to hear people acting as though you’re nothing but a shelf for your partner’s trophy, a prize for being the best partner in the world because they didn’t walk away from you at your most vulnerable.
Deciding not to break up with someone who’s had life-saving surgery which may alter their lifestyle or appearance does not make you a hero. It makes you a decent human being – and I’m sick to death of hearing otherwise.