I am 34 years old and at the point in my life where I am looking at relationships through the lens of “could this be a long-term commitment?” Frankly, it’s what I’m hoping for from dating at this point. My personal twist is that my family tree has a history of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, which does have a large genetic component. There’s about a 40 percent chance that I’ll be mostly unemployable in my late 50s or around age 60 (no way this will be a problem since America has such a great social safety net), forgetting about the people I love before I’m 70, and dead soon after.
By all means this future isn’t a sure thing, and end of life is always scary and painful, but this is a uniquely challenging possibility. It wouldn’t be great for me and having been a part of an extended family where this has happened several times, I know it’s worse for a spouse. If it develops, I’d put serious consideration into my own euthanasia options at some point—that seems so much better than the crushing slow suffocation of long-term memory care.
Dating partners get a sense of the situation if and when they meet my mom, and we have to talk about it at least some then, but I wonder how you might approach this situation with someone who you’d like to consider a long-term commitment with. Obviously if I’m dating someone who’s also in it for long-term partnership, it’d be cruel and irresponsible to lead them on too far without laying the cards on the table about what my possible future is, at the same time it’s not exactly third date conversation material. Should I just have us watch The Notebook and at the end of the movie go with a line like “What a great love story! You know, if you liked that...”?
I Had A Good Name, But I Forgot It
After reading your letter I went over to my bookshelf and hunted down my copy of John Bayley’s Elegy for Iris—a tremendous account of his decades-long marriage to novelist Iris Murdoch which started with the lunatic certainty of love at first sight and ends in the absolute devotion of caring for her as she suffers from Alzheimer’s. It’s a wonderful book that I remember loving when I first read it many years ago and I thought perhaps it could grant me some insight into your question.
I found I couldn’t read it. I got to the second chapter and was completely undone by a single image. Bayley takes Murdoch to a spot where they like to swim, and after struggling to undress her down to her bathing suit she takes issue with the removal of her socks. She wants to swim with them on. As this is all happening a few younger people go by on a boat, and Bayley briefly imagines how ridiculous they must appear to anyone in the prime of their life: an elderly woman in stocking feet and an old man trying to get her in the water. It is a silly image, but it was also, to me, at the moment I encountered it, the most beautiful thing in the whole world.
Perhaps a year of solitude has made me dreadfully sentimental, but it’s beyond my imagination to think of letting some terrible thing that could happen far in the future stand in the way of anything that brings joy and love into my life right now. I assume most people would agree with me. After all, even the most unromantic pragmatist must concede by now that planning your life around a stable and reliable future is a sucker’s bet.
Besides, love always takes courage. You never know what might befall the person you chose to make a life with: they could get conscripted into the Climate War, or be run over by a self-driving Amazon Human Resource Carrier, or one day you could walk in on them laughing along to an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Love isn’t about knowing what will happen but choosing to face uncertainty together.
Which is not to say your concerns are unwarranted. It’s considerate and responsible to think of the toll this could take on a partner and to want to make sure they are walking into a future with you with their eyes open. But this needn’t be a formal conversation you have one time that takes the form of a confession. Rather, it’s simply a fact about you that will come up naturally in different contexts, like when you talk about your family or your greatest fear or why America is such a cruel place.
And you’ll probably manage to make it funny! Your letter, in addition to revealing a real concern for others, made me laugh. In truth, you seem like a great catch. Like someone it would be nice to sit next to along a river, even if they demanded to keep their socks on. Someone it would be a joy to remember.
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