Being a Single Man and Dating with Epilepsy
Many people worried about what epilepsy will do to loving relationships, but I think the majority are very genuine with the marital vow, "In sickness and in health." Actually, for me, it was getting to that point that had some grueling obstacles – things taken for granted by the non-epileptic community.
I didn't get married until I was 41 (having already been epileptic for 39 years). Now, I won't blame epilepsy for denying me the chance at love, simply because I believe things happen for a reason. In other words, my prolonged bachelorhood made me available for an ideal woman.
Dating with epilepsy as a teen
Oh, there were lonely times, don't get me wrong. I was raised in a farm village with only 100 kids in the high school. Bah! That in it of itself was an impediment to anyone getting a good girlfriend or boyfriend. Even if I got a date, it meant a 20-mile drive for movies, pizza, bowling, or other teen activities. No one was interested in going to prom with me, so I watched TV at home.
Revenge was sweet for the homecoming dance. The town's funeral director Don – whose lawn I mowed and did odd jobs for – liked me. When he learned there was a girl I would like to ask out and my reason for not asking her, Don pledged himself — and his limosine — to chauffeur us for the evening. It was grand, being the only ones not going out in used cars or pickup trucks. Even if I wasn't crazy about Sherri, she loved my creativity and grandeur.
College was different. Many more girls interested me and more things could be done within walking distance. My only concern about driving was getting to the supper market. Seizures were nocturnal, so few people knew my secret.
Not driving was a dealbreaker
Epilepsy wouldn't sink its full claws into me for several more years. I was living in Greater Chicago, and a man's car said about as much to a young woman as did his clothes, choice of restaurants, and cologne. I drove without incident for 3 years until seizures started during my waking hours and caused wrecks. My car was frequently being repaired.
Educated, professional young women were as cruel as anyone ever had been – as loathsome as the farm girls. They were even more painful because it was a period when friends of mine were frequently getting married.
Scared of dating a man with epilepsy
Three women were so blatantly cruel that I remember them above all others. It wasn't my way to ask a woman out until I thought I was already familiar with her character. It made no difference if we met at work or were introduced by friends. These 3 I've dubbed as "Sabrina," "Jill," and "Kelly" (like "Charlie's Angels").
Each one of the "Angels" had been laughing and excited when I asked them out on the telephone. There was plenty of mutual laughter and discussion about the restaurants, movies, or other activities we'd do. A business lawyer would say that we'd established an oral agreement.
The entire time, I'd carefully think of places nearby. Then came a big moment that was harder than ever asking a girl out on a date when I was a teen. "Would you be able to pick me up at 6:30?" The phone was silent.
My sales coaches said that the first person to speak after a question loses – but the silence was too unbearable for me. "I don't drive, uh, so would you please give me a lift?" Twenty-twenty hindsight, I should've simply said that I didn't have a car available at the time which wouldn't force me to reveal my curse yet. But in the 1980s and 90s, people's primary assumption why anyone didn't drive was because their license been revoked for a DUI conviction.
The silence loomed! I explained, "It’s that I have epilepsy, and it's best that I don't drive." BA-BA-BOOMP!
The general public was only just becoming aware of epilepsy and even educated people still weren't aware that it wasn't a contagious disease. At last, "Kelly" and "Jill" ended their silences with the transparency that they didn't think we should go out... and they said, "It won't be a good idea for you to call me again."
I can't believe what kind of fool "Sabrina" took me for, though. She answered, "Oh, you know something? I forgot, but my ex-boyfriend and I decided we are going to try to get back together and we've already made plans for Saturday night. I'm so sorry."
During the 90s, things changed. Women were becoming more willing to drive (and I was more tactful), and the attitude of the women I was interested in was more mature. Until I brought up epilepsy, and it was usually bye-bye.
Finally finding the woman I love
Ironically, it was a woman from a country that's attitude about epilepsy is primitive compared to America's whose reception of me was impressive enough to win my heart. When I taught English at 3 universities in China, I was fired because of administrator's fear of infection, ignorance, and national security.
But mass transit was a dream there and all of a person's needs are within 1 block! As our affection grew, I told her about it so she'd understand when I had to take medicine.
Embracing all of me – even my epilepsy
My now-wife Yan still hadn't seen me have a seizure by the time we decided to get married, and I cautioned her what life would be like when I couldn't drive in America. I gave her a pamphlet prepared by the Epilepsy Foundation. She excited me when she told me about her researching it online. Her parents did, too.
"Charlie's Angels" had just left me with the assumption that intelligent, sophisticated women I'd like were illiterate regarding anything about epilepsy. But Wang Yan loved me for who I was.
Today, being a husband and father with epilepsy is my greatest joy!
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