To date or not to date? Many of us put hurdles in our way, and catheters are just one such barrier. If you’re imagining a giant barrier made of catheters, good – because we’re about to try and push through it. Turns out, they can be quite flexible really, so hopefully they won’t slow us down for long.
For a decade and a bit, I tried the dating thing. I’ve stopped now, because I’m married, and it would be rude to keep doing it. In the long run then, dating has been good to me. In the short run, of course, it could be a nightmare.
While caths were a bit of a ‘dating block’ that I’d put up for myself, it took a while to realise that I didn’t have the monopoly on these blocks. Many people have worries that scare them off dating: anxiety, lack of confidence, issues with mental or physical illness. One of my dates had agoraphobia, so simply getting her to the restaurant was challenge enough. For many, it’s a past hurt – after all, if you’re dating, it’s because previous attempts haven’t worked out. It’s no surprise that we go into that first date with reservations (and not just for a table by the window).
British vs American
The British style of dating is what I’ve always thought of as the ‘befriend person, gradually drift into a relationship after about a decade’ type of scenario (though it’s evolving thanks to apps and websites). The advantage is that you know each other better, so this might be someone who already knows of your ailments and may have even met your old buddy, the catheter. Then again, awareness is one thing – taking that to the next level can be just as daunting whether you’ve known each other for years or whether you’ve just met...
Which is what I mean by the American style of dating. The stranger. The ‘go up to someone in a bar or café, ask them out, because she doesn’t know me, and that might help’ scenario. I was dating in a pre‐Tinder age, so nowadays we can lump app‐dating and the like in with this. It’s ‘getting to know you’ dating. In my case, many of my dinner dates I never saw again, but some became girlfriends, and one became my wife. In each case, there was that dilemma: when to mention the cath?
Timing is everything
Dating as someone who uses catheters can feel a bit like there’s a third person who’s invited themselves along to your date – you’re just waiting for the awkward moment to introduce your quirky pal, worried he’ll go and spoil it by embarrassing you. You’d rather have left your flexible friend at home (though for obvious reasons, you really need him here). But it’s just a matter of time before he’ll need to be introduced, so it’s more a question of how long you can put off the inevitable.
Mention it too early? It can throw the date. Lead with this before you’ve ordered drinks, and it shapes the rest of the evening. So I’d advise talking about a bunch of other things first. Your favorite band. Your mutual interests. Ask them a load of other questions.
Where do they want to travel to? ‘Oh! I’ve been there and here’s a funny story about it.’ Whatever. Just don’t go cath‐loading the date before your starters have arrived.
Leave it until later? Well if you leave the first date without mentioning it, then you’ll worry about it until date number 2. You start thinking, ‘She likes me – this could ruin it!’. Whereas if you’ve talked about on date number 1, then whatever happens, you know you’ve been up‐front. I’ve left it ‘til date number 3 before – there was a sense that maybe this could have come up sooner.
In the next blog, we’ll look at what happens when you leave it waaaay too late, and actually reach the bedroom before even mentioning this. Yikes.
It’s difficult to crowbar urology into first date conversation, and especially tricky to frame it in a fun, non‐off‐putting way. If you’re blessed with scars, use ‘em, I say. It’s halfway through the meal, you’re having a nice time, you’re getting on – stir things up a bit with a scar. If you’re the type to elaborate with a joke, you could refer to some shark attack or prison knife fight… although I’ll take no responsibility for the backtracking if your date believes you.
Finding the user‐friendly testing ground was crucial for me on my dates. Some people get icky just at the mention of hospitals (my tip: these are probably the wrong ones for a cath user). But either way, no need to drop the C‐word (that’s ‘catheter’) when you have some more accessible manifestation of your ailment.
Five reactions to the ‘bellybutton’ tester
In my case, I have no bellybutton. Never had one. Happy with that fact. To almost all of my dates, I’d mention this somehow. It was like dipping my toe in the swimming pool, testing the water. I’ve had every reaction:
- “What? No bellybutton? Urgh! That’s horrible!” (Put off her food – wrong for me. If she’s averse to bellybuttonlessness, wait till a year’s time passes, and I’ve got a vomiting bug or something, let alone the cath)
- “…Right, yeah, so I’ve got, like, fifty pairs of shoes…” (Ignored me/Didn’t hear/Just loved shoes so much. Not interested – but not in a ‘it doesn’t phase me’ type of way, but in a ‘I don’t want to engage with this’ type of way. Best avoided, I found.)
- “Oh, that’s kinda cool. Are you a clone or something?” (Yes! Interested enough. Forgive any reaction that you might find rude. I’ve had it suggested that I’m a clone, an alien, a Victorian freak‐show attraction, a test‐tube baby, and even a marsupial (but I have no pouch – so that can’t be the answer). I saw each as a positive response that showed a bit of interest and humor around the issue. Worth sticking with.
- “Oh, my cousin’s got that!” (It turned out that her cousin had something completely different, but someone who’s got family with unusual medical conditions might show a bit more understanding than those who haven’t been near a hospital since birth. So this bodes well.)
- “Oh, so why’s that? (I explain: organs born on the outside) Oh, right. Is that called ‘exstrophy’ or something?” (I dated a couple of medical types: that short cut to knowing the condition was easier to navigate. My wife was an ex‐nurse, who hadn’t heard of my condition, but was curious enough to look it up after our first date. By our second date she knew more about it than I did. And crucially, she wasn’t freaked out.)
The list of me
My crucial revelation during my time dating was that my urological issues were just part of a long list of attributes to accept or reject about me. Some girls don’t like redheaded guys. Some don’t like beards. Some prefer men without tattoos or piercings. Others prefer men who can pee without help. Each to their own. It’s all part of The List of Me. Find someone who goes for a tall ginger guy, who doesn’t mind a love of 80’s power ballads, bad jokes and urological assistance, and I’ve got myself a keeper.
While I’ve married an ex‐nurse, other catheter users I know have paired off with teachers (good at dealing with people of all background and types), engineers (interested in how things work), and all sorts of others besides. I know one couple who are both catheter users, both with the same rare bladder condition – they met at a summer camp. For them, no need to explain their background to each other – their challenge is not to mistake each other’s caths in their bathroom.
The previous blog post has thoughts and tips on navigating the social side of going to the loo for longer than average, pretending to be on the phone etc.… all useful mini‐deceptions for a first date!
Next time, we’ll take a look at what happens when the date goes particularly well. So, um, er... expect blushing.
The opinions expressed here are of a personal and anecdotal nature, and are in no way a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult your doctor or nurse if you have any questions.