Taking your “dating status” out of the equation, having a stoma as a fact on its own and/or mental health problems can definitely be enough for one person to take on. However, it is also something that many potential partners would more than happily support you with. I’d say with either of those matters taken into account, dating is a very personal and different experience for the individual & should never be done before you feel ready.
So you’ve had stoma surgery, when will you know you’re ready for dating?
As mentioned above, this is something that will differ for everyone. I wouldn’t say there is set criteria to look for that ticks all the “I’m ready” boxes, but more of a feeling you will have. As troublesome as your gut has been, I’d still always say to trust your gut! You will know when you feel ready. That doesn’t necessarily mean 100% ready. I was in a relationship when I got my stoma, so dating wasn’t something I had to think about until quite a while down the line post-surgery, but when that day came I definitely had my doubts.
3 common worries when dating with a stoma & how to overcome them
- When do I tell a potential date I have a stoma?
Telling a date can understandably be very nerve-wracking! I’ve found that the worry of telling them is more than likely a lot worse than the reality of it. With online dating being very popular & the main way of communicating being via messaging, this can actually make the worry less if you’re concerned about telling them in person or whether you’ll stumble over your words. I’ve always told people early days as I’ve found conversations have naturally evolved when getting to know someone new. I would always advise someone to mention their stoma early on (by the second date maximum, preferably before the first if you can!) This way, the other person knows about something that makes up a big part of you (but doesn’t define you).
- I don’t know how to deal with any negative comments… What if they find me disgusting?
It’s so important to remember that anyone can get rejected at any point during dating, whether they have a stoma or not.
Personally, I’ve never had any negative comments when I have made my stoma known to someone which has been pleasantly surprising. Looking back, I would have asked myself how I would react if someone told me they had a stoma, then apply that to my own experience. There can be nasty people out there, but there are also a lot of people who are open minded and willing to try and understand and get to know someone for who they are, stoma bag aside. If you do get any negative reactions, you know that there is no point in wasting your time getting to know that person further or want to go on a date. Negative reactions will hurt & it will be hard not to take them to heart, but my advice is to surround yourself with people who can help you to embrace your stoma journey. Let’s face it, you want someone in your life that will learn to value everything that encompasses you, not just for the things they choose!
- What if we get intimate?
Getting intimate can be a huge fear when living with a stoma. There is no set rule about what length of time you should wait after surgery to have sex, but this is something you should discuss with your surgeon and remember that when you do start, to start off slowly & engage with someone you trust so you can discuss your concerns with them & know you’ll feel comfortable if you have to stop at any point. If you’re struggling with body confidence post-op, that is completely understandable & it is perfectly okay for you to take your time to build that confidence back up. My stoma nurse said something when I was worried post-op which still makes me giggle to this day but is so true. That something was that during sex, the last thing people will be looking at is your stoma bag! If you’re worried about your bag getting in the way, then make sure you empty before sex & wear underwear or a support garment that will hold your bag in place, without restricting the stoma. I have an upcoming post for Valentine’s on my own blog covering stoma underwear options which I will post when it goes live.
Bag leaks may, unfortunately, happen from time to time, but I have only had this happen once slightly since my surgery in 2011, and as soul-destroying as it can be in the moment, ensuring you have an understanding partner can soon help reassure you.
Mental health when dating with a stoma – is a problem shared a problem halved?
We all have baggage – whether literal stoma baggage or mentally!
There are a lot of positives of having someone to hold your hand through life with a stoma and through mental struggles as follows:
- Sharing your problems can make the “weight” of the problems seem more manageable
- Having someone who wants to hear about all the things in your head can be pretty amazing
- Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can help to show you that someone will stick around & want to be with you even if your mental struggles make you feel unworthy & unlovable
- Someone can help you to want to move forward and get past the dark times
- Other things/coping mechanisms you may not have thought about can be brought to the table
- Being “chalk and cheese” in some respects can actually work in your favour e.g. if your partner is more confident in social situations and you aren’t, they can help to compensate for days where you struggle to be as talkative and be your 80/20 when you really need it!
Useful links to read into for dating with a stoma & dating with mental health problems
- Dating After Ostomy: 4 Of Your Biggest Concerns
- Dating Life
- My Anxiety, Dating & My Boyfriend
- Relate – Relationship Support For Everyone
To view my other blog posts in the Mini Mental Health series, please follow the links below:
- Mini MH series – post 1: What is mental health & what does it mean to different people?
- Mini MH series – post 2: Mental wellness & mental illness