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The Ups and Downs of Dating With Multiple Sclerosis

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Ah, the days when dating was easy. When I was 17, all I had to do was wear some daisy dukes and a surf t-shirt to turn a guy on. Neither of us cared about anything besides whether the other was cute and cool. There wasn’t much more to life than that for a teen, was there? Did the guy care if I was charitable and smart, or did he just like the fact that I was blonde and captain of the water polo team?

I think you know the answer.

Now at 36, dating is drastically different, and not just because of the modern evolution of technology. I’m a mother now, divorced, with more baggage than an airline. One of those bags being stamped with two huge letters.

M. S.

Multiple sclerosis, y’all. I was diagnosed with it at 33 years old, before I ever entered the single world a second time. It weighed heavily on my mind while contemplating divorce, namely the question of whether anyone would want me again. I was tainted goods, after all. Damaged. Oh, young self…if only I knew back then how wrong I was.

Sure, I feel the sting of the disease, and on a regular basis. Afternoons can be tough; I’ve been known to practically melt into the couch once 1:00 p.m. hits and blame it on not enough sleep. My legs are wobbly after hiking for an entire day. There are times when my hand and arm get all tingly and weak for no apparent reason. And the heat…don’t even get me started on this blasted Arizona heat. I think God laughed when He created the desert. Or we misread the instructions; I’m fairly certain the desert is meant as a place for those being punished. Anyway…

My point is that although I have issues I deal with regularly, I’m also a functioning person with just as much to give and love as anyone else. Whether I’m at full strength or not, my personality will be completely intact and I’ll still have these fingers to type all sorts of articles that trick people into believing I actually know what I’m talking about.

For example, dating. I’m on a completely different level at my age and stage of the game. There was this one guy who suggested we go on a hike as a first date. In August. In Arizona. I laughed out loud and said I wanted ice cream instead.

Should I have told him why I couldn’t hike in the heat like that? Maybe, but I tend to wait until I think things are going somewhere before telling them about the MS. Which leads me to my experience of sharing it for the first time.

I’ll call him “Spectacles,” in honor of the black-rimmed glasses he wore. I was crazy about him, and supposedly he was for me, and I knew he needed to know about the MS. I was literally shaking and couldn’t look at his face; I’m sure the guy thought I was about to admit I was a wanted felon or something. But after I told him, he just shrugged and was like, “OK, whatev.”

I stared at Spectacles like he was nuts. Surely he’d have a problem with it, because duh, it’s multiple sclerosis. But wait – gasp! – it turns out that most people don’t look at it like I do. It was obvious to good ol’ Specs that I was an awesome, capable, undamaged person and that MS was a stumbling block, but not enough to make him push away someone he cared about.

Turned out Spectacles was a cheater at heart, and so I found myself dating again. And back came the disease anxiety. I just couldn’t help it. I’ll admit, I get a fair amount of attention from men. I take care of myself and have been using wrinkle cream since I was in my early 20s, so I look decent. And I’d like to say I’ve got a happy personality. So I get many, many offers. And each one leaves me worried that he’ll freak out about me having MS. Every. Single. One.

Will Dan the Fisherman be annoyed that I can’t just hang out on his boat all day during the summer? I mean, I could, but then the heat would leave me feeling so crappy I’d be swearing at him by the end, and I’m thinkin’ it wouldn’t go over well.

Computer Guy Mike was around long enough to have me consider telling him, but he got all super weirded out by the idea of my four kids and what life would be like with them as step-kids, so I said buh-bye. Can’t handle some kids in your life? You ain’t got no time for MS, dude.

Then there’s Tall Robbie; the one I like so much who happens to love hiking. (Side note: I think “enjoys hiking” is a requirement for every single dating profile in this country. I see it way too often; it’s got to be some conspiracy.) I, too, enjoy hiking. But not on a daily basis. And not when it’s over 75 degrees. And not for more than like 45 minutes at a time. How do I explain this to Tall Robbie when he’s excitedly telling me about the “legit trails” we can go on together? Do I play it off as me just being lazy, or do I tell him the truth?

The truth, idiot. Tell him the truth.

It’s the right way to go, the truth. And the way we go about it is important as well. What I did with Spectacles was lame – looking down all sheepish like I was confessing my sins to a priest, shaking, terrified he’d take off once he knew my shameful truth. Pffft. Screw that! He was OK with it!

Now I admit this isn’t always the norm. Some people would’ve had a problem with it. Some would have run away. There are guys who’d feel like I lied to them or was deceitful. And some people would forever look at me like I was a freak. They exist. But they’re the exception, not the rule. What I learned is that most people don’t react like such idiots. And if they do react like an idiot…well, then they can go to you-know-where.

Own it, people! Once I decide it’s appropriate to tell someone about it, I need to be all in. Loud and proud. Because when someone cares about you, sees who you really are, the things that come with you, like MS, are just afterthoughts. And besides, who is anyone to judge when everyone has something going on with them? Multiple sclerosis, mental health challenges, chronic back pain, addiction, etc….what’s your issue?

I have MS, but she’s got lupus. She’s got Lupus, but he has an abnormal heart rhythm. And someone else has liver damage leftover from alcoholism, and then there’s the girl with a sexually transmitted infection, and they’ve got irritable bowel disease, and she and he and me and they and we all have something. Everyone. Even Dan the Fisherman and Tall Robbie.

So although the dating world is scary, it doesn’t have to be extra scary just because I’ve got MS. More complicated, yes. But terrifying it is not. I’ll admit, I’m work in progress when it comes to this, and I’m improving with each new dating prospect that comes my way. But dang it, I’ll own it more and more and (hopefully) will find Mr. Right to be my wingman in this journey we call multiple sclerosis.

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Originally published: April 21, 2017
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