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Should You Disclose Your Chronic Illness When Dating?

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As I near my mid-30s and have yet to meet my lifetime mate, dating is on my mind more and more. Most of my friends have coupled up and are starting their families, and I am growing tired of always being the odd man out or the only single one. But dating is just such a daunting task.

In the world of the able-bodied person, dating can be overwhelming and frustrating, with so many games being played, including guessing what the other person is thinking or feeling. Wondering if they like you and are genuine, or if they have less-than-honorable intentions and expectations from your interaction. Take all the normal feelings that come with dating and combine them with the feelings that come from living with a chronic illness and dating may seem like more work than it is worth. It just becomes another task on your “to do” list — something you have to try and find the energy to do rather than something you are doing for fun.

Not only can dating be intimidating and frustrating at times, but there are also so many questions left up in the air when you are chronically ill. For instance, when do you bring up that you are chronically ill? Are you going to be open from the get-go or do you wait a few dates to let them in on the truth? If you are on disability and are no longer able to work, when do you mention that? And what do you say you do for work?

I have learned there is no definitive answer for everyone. Dating will look different for everyone, ill or not. That being said, today I want to discuss some topics that come up in almost every discussion I’ve ever had about dating and chronic illness.

Probably the most commonly discussed topic when it comes to dating is “Do I have to, and when should I disclose my illness?” In my opinion, whether to disclose is totally up to you. My rule of thumb has always been that if you have a condition that could at some point become hard to hide, you should share it. Your illness will be much better accepted at the start of a relationship than months or years down the road when they find out you didn’t tell them.

If you are just dating around and looking for something casual, disclosing your illness probably isn’t that important. But if you are looking for a long-term relationship, disclosing your illness should definitely be at the top of your list. If you are looking for a long-term relationship, waiting an extended period of time to disclose could lead to hurt feelings on their behalf. Which leads to another question that seems to come up a lot.

When should I tell someone new about my illness? I’ve talked to many different people on this topic and gotten a varied array of answers. But most agree with me that the sooner you can share your illness, the better. By sooner I mean early in the relationship, like within the first few weeks or months. Before feelings have really started to grow. I by no means feel that they need to know before your very first date, or even on the second or third date. Get to know them a little, see it they are checking off the boxes on your list for your “perfect” mate and go from there.

I have found that the longer you wait, the more the other person feels lied to. They feel like they don’t really know the real and whole you. Honestly, hiding my health or what I do for a living feels like lying to me as well, and I don’t really like it. When you are trying to decide if and when to disclose your illness, you should always try to keep in mind how you would feel if the situation was reversed.

The last big question I get a lot is, “What parts of my health should I share?” To this I always say, whatever you are comfortable with. In my opinion, someone I’ve just met is not going to know as much about my health or otherwise as someone who I have known for 10 years. So I would encourage others to use that same thought when dating.

The first time you bring it up, you don’t need to launch into a Ted Talk using only medical jargon only people in the medical field would understand. It should be more casual and not be made to feel like a huge deal. If they end up being someone you continue to see, you can slip a little more of your health into the conversation a bit at a time so they aren’t overwhelmed. The goal is to inform them about your illness(es) and help them to see you as a person with a condition, not just one giant problem. You don’t want to overload them and send them running scared, never to be heard from again. As you get to know them more and more and your relationship gets stronger, you can share more.

Overall, one of the best things you can do with a potential new mate is to communicate openly. It is no secret that good, open communication is one of the keys to any successful relationship — whether it’s a marriage, a friendship or someone you just met.  My opinion may not be the popular one, but I feel that it is not best to be open about your health on or before the very first date. I think it is more important to get to know the person and find out if they are worth the time it will take to explain your journey. But once you make that determination, I encourage you to be upfront.

Dating and living with chronic illness are both hard, so if there is any way we can make dating a little easier, we should. Truthfully though, there is no right or wrong way to date when you are chronically ill. What works for me might not work for you. In the end it’s really just trial and error, and you have to do what works best and makes you feel most comfortable!

Happy Dating!

Getty image by Anya Berkut.

Originally published: October 7, 2019
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