A man asks Eli and Josie if he should put his needs aside to support his girlfriend through her cancer recovery.
Dear Sexes: My girlfriend had breast cancer, a total mastectomy, and is still going through a long, painful reconstruction process. Since the start of it, she’s told me that she didn’t want me going to appointments with her, or seeing her during hospital stays, despite me wanting to (her aunt accompanies her). Our sex life has understandably been put on hold, she almost never shows any physical affection, and I rarely even see her anymore. I suspect I’m losing her. At the risk of being clingy, what do I do?
She Said: Out of a few hundred questions we’ve been asked, I can say with confidence that this is the hardest one I’ve ever had to answer.
The best way to answer something like this is with a “What’s the worst that could happen?” scenario. First, let’s look at what would happen if you made a big stink about your needs: the worst that could happen is that you would be a selfish jerk and she would feel like you didn’t really care about how she felt and what she needed, during the time when she needs support most.
Second, let’s look at what would happen if, just for a while, you tried to put your needs aside in order to be there for her: Ultimately, even if it didn’t work out, you would know that you were a good friend to her, and that you gave her what she was able to accept at the time.
To me, the second one is the only way to go. However, that doesn’t mean you do this for a long, extended time, unless you can be happy and mostly fulfilled living this way. Hopefully the mastectomy removed all the cancer, and when reconstruction is done she can get on with her life and become the partner she probably truly wants to be.
He Said: First of all, you’re not being clingy for wanting to spend more time with your girlfriend, or for wanting to see her more. Unfortunately, there’s much more at stake here than a clinginess perception. Forget about your sex life (not forever, but definitely for now) at the moment, your girlfriend has all she can handle with life, period. Not only is she working on staying/getting physically healthy, her identity (to herself and others) is also in a great state of flux. I’m sure She Said can speak on the subject in more depth, but a woman losing her breasts is a life-altering event. Your girlfriend may not even know how to articulate to what exactly what she’s feeling.
The most important thing you can do to help your relationship right now is to keep the lines of communication open. Your girlfriend might not want you going with her to appointments, or seeing her during hospital stays. She might withdraw and need space and time to herself. But these changes aren’t a reflection of you. Just keep letting your girlfriend know you’re there for her – however much or little she needs. And while you shouldn’t be afraid to communicate your needs, realize they may have to take a back seat to your girlfriend’s recovery (at least right now).