Practical advice: should I leave my partner because of a medical diagnosis?

Philosophy as a Way of Life
5 min readFeb 3, 2022
[image: in sickness and in health, from returntowellness.co.uk]

C. writes: I started dating my girlfriend last September and we got along well. However, in November, out of the blue, she contracted a mysterious illness. Her condition is not severe, but persistent. After seeing many doctors, she was diagnosed with having a chronic illness which has neither known causes nor effective treatments. Moreover, today, she was told by her gynecologist that she should avoid pregnancy in the future because of her age and her current illness. So she asked me quite frankly whether, given her situation, I still want to continue the relationship. She said to take the time and think it through. ‘Whatever you decide, I can take it and I will wish you well.’

To be honest, because we live in two different cities, I already got a bit tired of the long commute every weekend to see her before she fell ill. (Neither of us can move easily because of our jobs.) Now after being in a relationship for while, I can also see that I don’t have a strong urge to stay in it except perhaps for the reason of starting a family. But given my girlfriend’s illness, it’s not likely that we will be able to adopt children. There is also the issue of the restrictions her illness will impose on us. For example, she has stayed mostly at home since last November. So from a selfish perspective, I do not want to keep it going anymore.

On the other hand, I feel very bad about breaking up with her at this time. I can see that she likes me a lot. A breakup will hurt her deeply, especially now. It is for this reason that I have been trying to play the role of a caring boyfriend in the last two months as best as I can. You once wrote that a Stoic has different roles which define what we should do. But some roles are given to us, some are chosen by us. Should I still choose to play the role of a boyfriend?

The very fact that you pose the question does not, I think, bode well for your relationship. But let us go through the different aspects of it and unpack the problem carefully.

The first thing to notice is that your girlfriend deserves at the very least your respect and admiration. After all, she is the one being diagnosed with an incurable and rather mysterious illness, and yet she is the one that has raised the issue and prompted you…

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Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at https://massimopigliucci.org/essays/