Rosie Green: My love is like a red, red nose…

There’s a reason in sickness and in health is included in the marriage vows: illness is testing not tempting. Granted, there are some people who manage to make it alluring. I’m just not one of them.

I currently have a cold and, as always, I had hoped I could style it out like an Austen heroine – all ivory skin, flushed cheeks and heaving bosom. Sadly, the reality is deathly pallor and a nose the colour of a baboon’s bottom.

Image: David Venni

I have a degree of trepidation in revealing my flu-ridden, pasty, depleted self to my new(ish) boyfriend because I’m not yet entirely comfortable with showing such vulnerability. Will he still like me when I’m not the glossy, freshly blow-dried, peachy-skinned person he first met?

As time progresses it’s harder to avoid my on-repeat ailments surfacing. At the moment, the Victorian-style chilblains that plague me every winter are on show. The twitchy eye from tiredness that makes me look like a serial killer is flickering. And the biannual occurrence that is my big toenail falling off (caused by squeezing my flipper feet into too-small shoes in my 20s) has already happened.

I kept these things on the down-low for as long as I could because I know that when you are choosing a mate it makes sense that you don’t go for the one with the metaphorical broken wing. When you are dating – aka, picking a partner off the shelf – you want the good packaging, not the one that’s shop soiled.

But now we have been together long enough to have both succumbed to a few illnesses. The Boyfriend recently had terrible toothache and is currently hobbling on a swollen ankle from an inadvisable (but, I’m informed, heroic) move during ‘fat dads’ football. I have the aforementioned cold. Oh, and the broken, blemished hands of a builder.

It all makes me a bit nervous because I know, from experience, illness can be a friction point in relationships. It was in my marriage. There were three of us in it – me, him and his cough. For years it was there, a shadowy presence that appeared on birthdays and Christmases, on high days and holidays. Annoying for him. Annoying for me. I was frustrated that he wouldn’t seek medical help; he was frustrated I couldn’t be more tolerant. Now don’t cancel me for gender stereotyping, but it seems to me that quite often men are averse to seeking professional advice. ‘Oh, this small spot on my bottom that is now the size of a molehill? Yeah, it means I have to sleep on one cheek but I’ll just see how it goes; no need to bother the doc.’

A friend told me about forcing her husband to go for a prostate check as he was driving her mad with multiple night time wees. She met him at the surgery for moral support (so he couldn’t back out), but neither of them realised it involved an internal back passage examination. He didn’t speak to her for a week. And he still pees four times minimum in the night.

The boyfriend has had his tooth fixed, but can still only eat on one side. While I remain snotty, with a flickering eyelid. It’s not ideal but, on the plus side, there is something lovely in having reached that level of familiarity and trust. To care and be cared for.

So how have my nursing skills been? Well, I’ll never be Florence Nightingale (the centre parting and bonnet combo is a hard look to pull off), but in my new relationship I would like to be more tolerant and patient than I was in my marriage. And so far I’ve provided counsel, tepid foodstuffs and kisses. And him? He’s got an A-star in empathy and advice.

I realise that our illnesses are low level, but reassuringly the signs are good. If we can go from cool dates and hot nights to downing Lemsip before bed (and – gasp– going straight to sleep) and still keep our relationship on track, then I think we’ve got a shot at surviving future sickness-induced squabbles.

I’m feeling better already.