Dating with a Chronic Illness
Imagine. You’re single and you have decided to dive back into the dating pool.
This time around, you are carrying Multiple Sclerosis (MS) as extra baggage. Who will even want to take that on? What’s going to happen when you go on a date? When do you mention the Multiple Sclerosis? Do you even mention it at all and if yes when? And how do you find the right person? It’s been a long time since I last dated, the dating world has gone digital since then. There were so many unknowns for me and I was putting a lot on the line. I approached this venture with trepidation, but it was time…so I took the plunge.
I started by giving myself some parameters, I decided anyone near or in my social and professional circles were off limits. These people are integral parts of my support network. I didn’t want to shoot holes in my own boat, I have made that mistake before. Bars, clubs, etc? No, not suitable since I don’t drink anymore. Try being the only sober one in the room. It’s not a fair start for someone trying to make their first impression. Social events? I tried a bit of that but found that it was mostly the same people over and over again. Online dating…I dunno??? Am I really going to meet someone over the internet? I’ve seen way too many true crime stories to be comfortable with that idea.
After having people reassure me that online dating is quite common these days, I decided to be brave and try the online option. I knew that I’m a cautious enough person not to end up sending money to a Nigerian prince. For someone with fatigue, online dating ended up being the most appealing option. I can get through the preliminary introductions with limited exertion. The most valuable lesson my Multiple Sclerosis nurses taught me was to budget my energy like I would with money. Through online dating, I was able to allocate my energy for meeting people I already felt a connection with. I had a preliminary look at free online dating sites and apps. I almost went running for the hills and abandoned the endeavour altogether. As I said, I was dealing with limited energy resources. This option was not presenting me with opportunities I wanted to spend my energy on.
The quality of the person you are looking to date is crucial when you have a chronic illness. It can take a lot to love yourself at times; little lone ask someone else to love you back. You are making yourself very vulnerable after spending all your resources building yourself back up. I can’t afford to give my heart to someone that will check out once they realise the reality of being with someone with Multiple Sclerosis. Not again, people will say it’s ok. Having MS doesn’t matter to them, but when you’re dating, the reality of my MS and the implications it will have on the relationship are as invisible as my symptoms. I may not always be able to be there when you want me to, and that hurts me as much as it does you. By the time he realises that I can’t be the partner he wants me to be, it’s too late to back out without someone getting hurt. Even though I feel I’m emotionally stronger these days, I still have a lot of scarring when it comes to matters of the heart. No matter how resilient I have become, I still can’t help feel like I don’t want to go through that again. It’s enough to make me go and adopt 6 cats and become a recluse. However, I’ve reached the stage where I feel the reward of love is worth the risk. So I’m putting on my war paint and
I’m signing myself up.
After giving myself a pep talk I decided to join a paid dating site, and this turned out to be a really positive experience. I got to speak to people looking for the same things I was, with similar interests. All the sifting for ideal matches was done for me, and I was able to avoid the really active people as that would never have worked out. I found that bringing up my Multiple Sclerosis ended up becoming quite an organic process. In chatting and getting to know people I found the right times and the right people to disclose that information to. And I only did if I felt it was relevant to the situation. In my opinion, disclosing your health status to someone you are dating should be like with an employer. It’s a personal choice as to when and who this needs to be disclosed too. And guess what else I found out? Everyone has baggage! I’d bring up mine, they’d bring up theirs, and everyone felt more comfortable now that was out of the way. Once I understood that I felt less stressed about bringing up that part of my life. In the end, I did find a match, and despite my worry, the topic of my health ended up being a complete non-event, he is very understanding and supportive. Maybe I was lucky, or perhaps my selection process had made this a positive experience. We are approaching one year together, and I am always amazed at how he takes my MS in his stride. He reminds me of my achievements whenever I’m too hard on myself. He recognises the strength it takes to achieve what I do every day. And I support him through my strengths. We’ve talked about living together in the future. I’m sure that will raise all new realities for the both to consider. Hopefully, I’ll be able to update the result in a future blog.
Finally. For me, relationships and finding love after being diagnosed with a chronic illness was more about me accepting my condition than finding a partner who did. When I was diagnosed, I would have described my life as perfect. For a long time, I would just focus on getting that life back. That was not only unhealthy for me, but it was also unrealistic. It was holding me back, and I couldn’t move forward in my life. I had to reach a point of acceptance of my diagnosis and had to learn to master the ebbs and flows of my condition. Before that realisation, I was emotionally unstable, which made my relationships, both romantic and amicable, very rocky. I could never have done this while I was still dealing with depression from the grief of the life I thought I’d never have.
Once I learnt to be strong on my own, it gave me the self-confidence to move forward in my life. My advice to anyone in a similar position as me is to work on yourself first. Build up a strong foundation, a good relationship needs a strong base. If you have an illness like mine, you will have sick days in your future, no matter how hard you try to keep yourself in good health. A good partner should understand that and not make you feel like you haven’t been doing enough. You need to be ready to walk away if the relationship isn’t a healthy one. Walking away is frightening when you feel that you are not worthy of being loved by another. This is why realising my self-worth had to be the first thing to happen.
In the wise words of Madonna:
‘You deserve the best in life
So if the time isn’t right then move on
Second best is never enough
You’ll do much better baby on your own.’