Dating can be an adventure, even if you’re not living with a chronic illness, so what more can you expect if you do have one!? It can present new challenges, but also, some new opportunities.
When we meet someone (and we think that we may like him or her), we want to share important details about our lives. More specifically, we want to share details that will impress someone or get them more interested in who we are. But what does that mean when you have a chronic illness like rheumatoid arthritis (RA. What do you share and when do you share it? And how do you keep up with the dating scene when you know that there will be times when you don’t feel well?
First, the fact that you are living with a chronic illness is not something to be ashamed of. It is part of who you are, and the right partner for you is someone who should be capable of handling that information. Sure, it may take some time for a partner to understand what your illness entails and how it impacts a potential partnership, but how he or she responds to learning about the news can be quite telling. Since everyone is different, I don’t recommend a particular script for disclosure, but many people with RA have written about their experiences:
Angela Lundberg, a patient advocate and blogger who has RA, also wrote about this balancing act – and its limitations – in one of her blog posts. She said, “My usual method of disclosure veers toward saying less than more, and the more I think about this, I wonder if it's been the right approach all of these years. While I don’t think it’s a great idea to blab your entire RA history and story right after you first meet someone, I think there is also a risk in not saying enough, or downplaying the seriousness of the disease. I don’t think I downplay my RA, I just think that when I'm trying to date someone I want things to move along without RA having to be a big deal. But sometimes it is a big deal and if you want to have a healthy, honest relationship with someone, he (or she) needs to know that. It's a tricky balance."
This statement could have easily been reversed. Even if someone discloses early and explains everything in great detail, there could be challenges with that strategy, too. Just know that there’s no perfect way to navigate disclosure – it’s a delicate dance that will change from person to person and partner to partner.
“I don’t think I downplay my RA, I just think that when I’m trying to date someone I want things to move along without RA having to be a big deal.” Angela Lundberg, Patient Advocate and Blogger Living with RA
Maybe it’s time that we are more thoughtful about how we date. For example, you don’t need to overexert yourself for someone who you may not be compatible with. Think about it: first dates don’t need to be long, drawn-out events; instead, make sure that the first meeting is in a place that is familiar and comfortable for you. Make things convenient until you disclose and/or believe that this person would be understanding if you needed to make a game- (or date-) time change.
It should go without saying that before you start dating, take time to think about what you want and what you really need. Dating can be wonderful but exhausting, especially if you aren’t certain about what you are looking for. You should ask yourself, “Am I ready?” and, “Do I want to share my life with someone right now, or am I happy focusing on myself?” Honest answers are necessary, because they will set the tone for your future interactions. Sometimes answering the tough questions is one of the biggest hurdles in dating. But knowing what you want sends you down the right path of getting what you want, chronic illness or not. Dating should be fun!