3 Pieces of Advice for Dating With a Chronic Illness

Whether you have an autoimmune disease or not, being single and navigating the dating world can be challenging. Trying to find someone who vibes with your interests and values, who will be there to support you through the ups and downs of life, and who will love you even on your worsts days isn’t always easy. Unfortunately, many of the difficulties of finding the right match are magnified when you have a chronic illness, especially when your partner is living that blessed non-chronic illness life.

Lucky for you, my love life, albeit a ghost town at the moment, is anything but boring – and I have had enough experiences dating with chronic illnesses to hopefully shed some light on this topic.

Disclaimer: Admittedly, I don’t always date the best people, or at least the best people for me. Even before I got sick, I didn’t know how to pick ’em, and that’s something that I’m working on. As such, I don’t want to paint all non-chronic illness partners as demons or garbage cans, because I see plenty of people who have chronic illnesses in happy, committed, and supportive relationships, and that gives me hope.

1. When do you tell them you have a chronic illness?

Well, if you’re me, you’ll tell them up front because I don’t hide who I am or what my health situation is for anyone anymore. Granted, I don’t divulge every single facet and symptom of all of my illnesses until I feel like I’ve earned the person’s trust, otherwise I believe they’d be running for the hills.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out when you think it’s the right time to tell your love interest about your illnesses and how much you want to divulge. And I completely understand the fear behind sharing this personal information with someone. Before opening up, I’ve asked myself:

“What if they’ll think I’m a freak?”

“What if they won’t love me anymore?”

“What if they leave me on the spot?”

But after someone bounced on me mostly for health-related issues, a lot of people helped me check myself before I wrecked myself.

Look at it this way, if someone isn’t going to accept you for you, meaning everything that comes with you, including your illnesses, and love every facet of you – then that person isn’t worth your time. If they look at your illnesses as a burden or have little to no compassion for your well-being, then do you really want to be with that person? The answer should hopefully be a loud and roaring “NO!” but please know that as I give this advice, I’m also trying to follow it myself. It isn’t easy.

2. Where do you go on a date when you have a restrictive diet?

One challenge, at least at the beginning of a relationship, is picking a place to go on a date. I cannot eat out anywhere, and while I do drink tea and tequila, I prefer to not drink a lot of either on a regular basis. So, finding a place to go on a date can be hard when someone is hard-wired into thinking you must go out to get drinks and food on dates.

Thankfully, I am able-bodied enough to do different things and I have a lot of interests. Here’s a list of date ideas that don’t revolve around the same chicken entree and bottle of wine for the 700th time:

1. Do something outside, weather permitting. Go for a walk in the park or on a waterfront, a bike ride, hiking, star gazing, or other outdoor seasonal activities.

2. Appreciate the arts together by going to a live music show, a local art exhibit, a museum, a documentary screening, a musical or play, or a stand up show.

3. Go see a movie and bring your own snacks with you. Of course, be stealthy about sneaking in your plantain chips and dehydrated apple slices.

4. Organize a picnic and bring all of your own food and drinks.

5. Revert back to childhood and go play some video games or laser tag. Keep it light and fun!

3. How to recognize your partner isn’t worth your time.

Point blank: Some people just aren’t equipped to handle someone else’s health crisis, or even a health blip. Either they lack the empathy and don’t have a nurturing bone in their body, or perhaps they feel like this isn’t what they signed up for. I’ve been with people who channeled both of these attitudes, and it wasn’t easy.

Here are some red flags related to my illnesses that I wish I would have caught earlier:

1. They make insensitive or rude comments about your diet.

2. They use words like “crazy” or “difficult” to describe you when you’re experiencing a health crisis.

3. Their lifestyle completely contradicts yours.

4. You’ve had the same conversation with them about your illnesses and how they can help 100s of times and nothing has changed.

5. As you start to get better, they try to hold you back out of fear or jealousy.

For people who are worth your time and energy, I recommend explaining what your bad days look like when you’re having a good day and aren’t feeling vulnerable. Obviously, it’s impossible for the other person to fully understand what you’re going through, but even if they understand somewhat, it should make for a better and more supportive relationship.

For example, I’ve explained what depression and panic attacks look like for me, why I can’t eat certain foods, and why it’s difficult for me to sleep over at someone’s place because of my sleep issues. I’ve had to explain why sometimes I seem completely “normal” one day and then the next day my health has bottomed out, or why I get burnt out in high-sensory environments. The list goes on.

But, you might also want to ask your partner how they best receive information (some people prefer verbal to text and vice versa), whether they have any questions, or how they’re feeling. It’s a partnership, remember?

To close on a positive note, I think that all of my chronically ill brothers and sisters are worthy of all the love the world has to offer, romantic or not. That being said, you can find me turning my love inward for the time being until I find someone who is able to handle everything I bring to the table: sweet potatoes, sunflower butter, and a whole lot of beets.

Follow this journey on Chronicles of Yoolie.

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