“For better, for worse … in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” We’ve watched our loved ones make that commitment to one another, the biggest promise we can make to another human in this life.
But what if one person gets sick — very sick, the kind that won’t get better — 2½ months into dating?
I’m getting ahead of myself. To begin with, I never should have dated him in the first place. Many tried to warn me off: “He will wine you and he will dine you, and one day he will be very mean to you, and he will drop you,” one friend predicted.
He did, in fact, wine and dine me, a rarity in the L.A. dating scene. He sent me matzo ball soup when I was sick. He took me for nice meals. He bought me things — nothing with a significant monetary value, but enough, enough to show he cared. Early on, he even introduced me to his son.
But there were also many red flags.
By far, the biggest came during a Vegas trip in early spring, when he unexpectedly lashed out at me. He was rude and demeaning, and I was left feeling isolated and alone. I spent the next day at the pool by myself. He didn’t speak to me during the drive home. When we came together days later to finally talk it out, his harsh words were so physically jarring, I found myself in his guest bathroom, dry heaving.
I’d discovered what didn’t take long for my loved ones to label. “He has a mean streak,” they said.
With friends, over several days, I tossed around the idea of ending it.
Then, he got sick.
For several years, his body had functioned on a transplanted kidney, one that ought to have worked for much longer, by doctor’s estimations. The transplanted kidney was failing, and his body was in end-stage renal failure.
In just a few short days I went from deliberating whether to end the relationship to being sucked into the next phase of our relationship: hospital beds, cafeteria food, spending hours every other day holding his hand during dialysis, to the biggest decision yet — donating one of my kidneys.
I know, I know. You probably think I’m crazy for even considering it. But for me, organ donation was never a question.
It was an offer I’d made before we even started dating seriously, and I’m good for my word. Besides, in this troubled world, I’ve made it a point to look at problems with a childlike simplicity: If someone needs help, you help them. Not doing so only hardens your own heart.
I was not thinking about the health of the relationship. To me, there was nothing more important than his health.
And you certainly don’t leave someone when they’re sick, right?
In the next 10 months, his mood swings intensified. It became more difficult to see what could be blamed on him and what could be blamed on his illness.
But I saw in myself the ability to make it all better.
We started the donation process. There were stacks of paperwork and trips to see my own doctor. Then, a conference call with a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center social worker who asked me a series of questions over an hour including, “What if the relationship doesn’t work out?”
I had answers for everything.
From there, I was given a blood pressure monitor to wear for 24 hours. Because my activity had to be limited, I spent those 24 hours in bed. Then there were urine collections, multiple trips to the lab, fasting, and lots and lots of blood work.
I was so happy the process was moving forward after months of stagnation that I had become blinded to what was happening in our own relationship. His behavior continued to worsen. The “mean streak” had taken over.
And at 10:27 p.m. on a Friday night, one appointment away from the surgery and two days after he no-showed at my grandmother’s memorial service, he sent me a text message ending our relationship.
Perhaps he was overcome with guilt and shame. Or a feeling that the transplant would solidify a future he wasn’t ready for, despite telling me otherwise. Perhaps he felt he could never give me the love I was ready to give to him. Or perhaps it was the most loving explanation possible: He simply wanted to release me from it all.
Or maybe the plan was always to wine me, dine me, be mean to me, and drop me.
I’ll never know, since he refused my requests to sit down together with a therapist, out of respect for all we’d been through, so I could find some level of understanding. Although we’re no longer in touch, I’ve heard through mutual friends that he remains on dialysis.
Still, with that therapist’s help, a team of friends on the ready to pick me up each time I fell apart and approximately 100 yoga classes, I started to learn some truths about myself.
The most obvious among them: I, alone, cannot fix everything, and it wasn’t my job to fix him.
And, the most important lesson of them all: Unlike a kidney, a heart can heal itself, no matter how many times it’s given away.
The author is a middle-school teacher living in Valley Village who enjoys kindness and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
L.A Affairs chronicles the dating scene in and around Los Angeles. If you have comments, or a true story to tell, email us at LAAffairs@latimes.com