“Invisible illness” is a term that covers a very, very, VERY broad range of illness, pain, and life interference. Where one invisibly ill person’s “bad day” is feeling sore and abstaining from physical activity, another person’s may be a trip to the ER. It is impossible to write any sort of guide on how to be the significant other, or “dish,” to a chronically ill individual, or “spoon.”
So dishes, remember that your spoon is a unique individual with special needs that can NOT be found on the internet! It will take years, perhaps a lifetime of talking openly and honestly to build up your manual on “How To Love Your Spoon.”
And spoons, you are truly a beautiful and unique snowflake, and the ideas I outline here may not work for you. Or maybe only one of them will work for you. Or maybe all of them. I excitedly invite your input and ideas in the comment section. While there is no one size fits all answer, your tips are invaluable to other spoonies and dishes just starting out.
So perhaps a more fitting title here would be: “Tips on dating and spending time together when you just plain do not feel like it.”
1.) Get Creative!
Before the diagnosis, my dish and I were very good at dating. Our favorite date was going to this place called “ADVENTURE LANDING” where we would play mini golf, race go karts, ride bumper boats, play intense laser tag mono-a-mono, and play arcade games like DDR and air hockey to accumulate enough tickets to buy the biggest teddy bear in the place.
So a big challenge for us was finding something “fun” to do…without laser guns and race cars?? Not that we had to cut this out of our life completely. When I’m feeling good, we still love that stuff! But for a while I made the mistake of thinking that not feeling well = no dating. (Well, just look at my idea of a date!) It was my dish who brought it to my attention that we needed to find other fun things to do together, even on days when I wasn’t feeling well. Now Spoonies, I know what you’re thinking! What couple doesn’t love to snuggle up with popcorn and a good movie? Or just sit and talk over dinner? Those things are great, but Dish was getting tired of staying in every night, and we don’t go out to eat very often because we’re frugal types, so what to do?
Ahh, I have forgotten a big part of this story: I had just had my very first surgery for endometriosis. There was a gaping (okay it had stitches, but it felt gaping to me!) hole in my torso! And it huuuurt. And I was on all kinds of medicine that made me sleepy and lethargic. And it was hard to get me to eat food at home, so Dish hadn’t made a priority of dinner dates. Pretty much all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch Barbie movies for the rest of my life. Understandably, Dish said enough is enough!
So my poor Dish was begging me to go out on a date, but I just had to turn him down. I just wasn’t up to it. Spoons, you understand! But Dish promised me he’d come up with a date I could do, even with stitches, even on meds, and I’d even have fun. I was skeptical, but went along with it. He ended up taking me to a nail salon, and we both got spa pedicures. It was truly perfect – I could sit and relax in the massagey chair, and we were giggling and joking the whole time because Dish was such a big goofball, everything tickled him and he was the only guy in the place. I’ll never forget that date – it was one of the best in our whole history, and I was recovering from surgery! The two can co-exist!
So Spoonies: Never think that you’re too sick to date, you just have to get creative! Don’t ever tell your Dish never, especially if he’s really wanting to be with you. He may not always be so enamored! Your relationship has to come first, and love finds a way!
And Dishes: You may have to reeeeally strain your brain to think of some “sick day dates,” but don’t give up! And don’t be afraid to get a pedicure if that’s what it takes.
2.) You can “date” at home if you have to!
Now, believe me, I know, when you’re sick, it’s easy to get cabin fever. But sometimes, leaving the house just isn’t an option! And, like I said, movie nights are great, but I think that, especially to Spoon/Dish couples, movie nights become the norm, and get taken for granted really fast. So, how can you have a date at home? It’s a lot like playing pretend, I’ll admit, but it can still be really fun.
What about that movie night? If you watch movies together all the time, you’ll need to make it extra special for it to count as a date. One of my Dish’s favorite things to do is to make a big pallet on the floor. He moves all of our furniture away from the TV, then gets out all our pillows and blankets. He then proceeds to create a fluffy cuddle wonderland pile, not unlike a slumber party type set up. This is great for really, really bad days, not only because it’s a comfy place to lay down for a long time, but also because unlike the couch, I can move around and readjust my position to almost anything, and stay totally comfortable the whole time.
Another fun spin on movie night is to have a “sing along” or “quote along.” Dish and I are huge fans of musicals and Disney movies, and we love to sing, but I know that’s not for everyone. But I know you can all quote at least half of the Princess Bride and Star Wars, so give it a try! It’s fun to see how well you really “know the material.”
This one is not only fun for Spoonies, but for anyone in Texas during the summer! Two words: Indoor. Picnic. Now, I know what you’re thinking – I thought that was just a way my mom could trick me in to eating when I was a toddler? Well, it’s not just for toddlers anymore! For our wedding, a dear friend of ours gave us a very fancy picnic kit, and informed us that there’s some wivestale lore saying that a married couple who goes on picnics will never be without love or some such sweetness. So we decided to make a point of having picnics! But if you’re sick (or in Texas) the idea of eating outside is not always appealing. So, we like to spread out a blanket on the floor and have a picnic indoors! It can be a fun and fancy free event full of giggles and pecks on the cheek (and if it’s nice enough outside, it’s fun to throw open the windows and let in some fresh spring/fall air), or it can be very romantic. Perhaps at nighttime, by candlelight? The possibilities are endless. Fun sandwiches and juice boxes, or a delicious and elaborate home-cooked meal. It’s no wonder that picnics are said to keep couples together!
And finally, a sure-fire fun at-home date: read a book together! My Dish and I discovered this one quite by accident. In fact, we started doing this long before I got sick. It all started when the seventh Harry Potter book was released. We were both avid fans, and knew we couldn’t NOT read this together – there was too much potential for horrible accidental spoilers that would surely ruin our relationship forever. So at first, we listened to the book on tape together…but somehow, we wound up picking the book up ourselves and reading aloud, British accents and all. At the end of every day we’d race home to see what happened next (and to show off our Hagrid voice that we’d been working on all day). Of course, towards the way too sad ending, we did have to return to the book on tape again because we were both crying way too hard to speak anymore.
And after that….we just kept reading books together. It was too fun to stop. We even mastered being able to read through our tears (our proving ground: Where the Red Fern Grows). And as time went on, and I began to need surgery and lots of rest, Dish began reading aloud to me alone, not minding that I couldn’t join in. And that is one of the most romantic things he ever does for me. We’re currently in the middle of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
3.) Play a game.
Whether you two totally love to go head to head in a little friendly competition, or you just love some light-spirited fun, nothing can take my mind off feeling sick faster than immersing myself in the world of a game. Any kind of game works, too!
My Dish and I are big on video games. When we first started dating, I quickly made a list of “NEVER AGAIN” games – things like Halo, or any game really where he could not tell me how to play, then hide somewhere and shoot me to death over and over and over….
But he won me back through a love of RPGs, and one year for his birthday I got him an n64. We could play Pokemon Stadium for weeks on end! It turned out that “friendly competition” worked for us…when it was actually friendly! So Pokemon won, and Halo lost. Later on, we’d get a Wii, which has a nice selection of both competitive games and more RPG type games.
And guys, you may not believe me on this one, but…. Monopoly is fun. I know, I resisted it for a long time, but one day we sat down and I learned how to play, and WOW. It does take a long time to play, but with just two people it usually doesn’t go too too long. We love all kinds of board games. I’ve even developed rules for a two-person version of Clue! It’s not always garunteed to have a winner, though, because EVERYONE CAN DIE, which, if you ask me, is much more like a real murder mystery. Dish thinks my Clue game is a bit silly, but he’s always up to brew some tea and put on an accent for me anyway. (UPDATE: Want the rules for two-player Clue? Click here!)
Board games that are a bit more intricate than say, checkers, is a great thing to get in to together. The plot of a good game is a great way to take your mind off a sick day. And even simpler games, like connect four, can be a lot of fun over tea and a good conversation.
And really, anything can be a game! A “game” I came up with in high school to play with boys when I was first dating them is “The Question Game.” I ask a question, and you must answer truthfully! Then you ask me a question, and so on and so forth. This is a great game to play if you find yourself waiting at the doctor’s office or to lighten the mood over dinner after a bad day. My Dish and I still play it from time to time, and we love getting to share fun stories from our childhood or funny quirks about ourselves. It’s a fun way to just…talk!
Another great talking game is word association. We play this a lot in waiting rooms or if we’re waiting in a long line. It can get going very quickly – I say “cat,” he says “dog,” I say “slobber,” he says “gross.” But sometimes, when it gets going really fast, one of you will blurt something totally random out, and then you have to explain how you got there. It can be a really fun way to pass those not so fun times.
So, there you have it. This should get you started in the right direction. It’s no fun when illness interrupts your life, but it can be a chance to discover something new and entertaining that you’ve never tried before! You may start a new tradition (like mani/pedi sundays!) or find a new way to be romantic (reading to your Spoon when they’re sick in bed) or you might just find out something about your significant other that you never knew before (like his strange habit of comparing politicians to various species of dinosaurs).
Above all, love eachother. Whether you just started dating someone with an invisible illness, or you’ve been in a “healthy” relationship (get it??) for a long time when a diagnosis turns life upside-down, never give up on date nights.