Just in time for Valentine's Day tomorrow, we've got some insight to share about dating and diabetes.
Not from Mike and myself, of course, since we've both been married to our respective partners for many years now, but we asked our newest team member, twenty-something Cait Patterson, to offer some personal insight on the topic of the "mating dance": What's it like being out there these days, especially with diabetes in the mix?
(You may remember that last month, Cait shared her story about being diagnosed a few years ago when she was just starting college at age 18, and also being hit with celiac disease at the same time.)
Being diagnosed in college and trying to figure out my new life with diabetes while meeting new people was tough.
But multiply that awkwardness times 10, and you pretty much can get an idea of what my college dating life is like. When first diagnosed, I would hop into relationships thinking that I'd tell the lucky young lad about my diabetes, and he would automatically spring into superman mode, be a partner in my management and diabetes would be all better. Well, no, it doesn't usually work that way.
During that first year, I would start dating a guy, abruptly bring up my diabetes, and then it would suddenly feel like an awkwardly taboo topic.
If I didn't get much of a response, I would hound the poor guy with questions: "Are you OK that I have diabetes? Are you okay with me taking shots? Does this freak you out?" And so on. In accordance with almost every social psychology concept in the book, the more uncomfortably I presented my life with diabetes, the more uncomfortable my date was with it.
Most, if not all of these men, had never been aware of what a person with type 1 diabetes deals with everyday. And as you might expect, the way I brought this up led to questions from him: "Do you have the 'your fault' kind or the 'not your fault' kind?" (The correct answer being neither is a person's fault). So it was all backwards: here I was expecting the guys to know everything as soon as we started dating, when in fact all of their knowledge and first impressions of diabetes were coming from me.
Expecting them to be in the know just wasn't fair or realistic.
Of course, there's also the fact that some people just aren't going to be compatible with my life with diabetes and celiac (which can also complicate dating). If someone's needle-phobic, then he might not be a good fit because I am on insulin injections and my need to take shots and his fear of needles are two non-changing factors.
There's nothing wrong with me or him, we're just not compatible. I'll never apologize for my diabetes. And to be fair, I can never punish a man for being incompatible with my diabetes life.
Once diabetes started becoming more routine after a year or so, I felt more comfortable with it and that helped in my dating life. That's when I started realizing that the calmer I was about my diabetes, the more relaxed and understanding my date was going to be with my lifestyle as well.
The negative experiences mostly came when I wasn't open. For example, there was a guy I dated about five months after being diagnosed that I didn't tell about my diabetes for the first four or five weeks of seeing each other. I left it as a vague, "I just have medical stuff going on." Then one day he asked me if he should be concerned about my medical stuff, as in whether my "secret medical issue" was contagious. So then I had no choice but to tell him I have type 1 diabetes, and that I take four shots a day and have to monitor my glucose levels. He then continued to ask: "Well, can I catch that?" Needless to say, the relationship didn't last long enough for me to give detailed lessons in endocrinology and diabetes.
On the flip side, in one short-term relationship, I just decided that instead of explaining anything up-front, I'd just "do my diabetes stuff" as I normally would. So without explanation, I tested my blood sugar in front of the guy I was seeing, and he asked: "What are you doing?" I took that opportunity to say, "Well, fun fact about me: I have type 1 diabetes." And his big, dramatic, earth-shattering response was "Cool." Then he continued to tell me about a friend that was diagnosed in high school. And then, guess what? The date went on without a hitch.
The bottom line is that once I stopped making my diabetes a relationship 'make-or-break,' my dates did too. The more I'm able to relax and joke about my diabetes, the more willing my date or boyfriend is to get involved.
(Hint, hint: I always like to hear that I'm diabetic because I'm so sweet; it's much better than the "shooting up" jokes)
In the past two-and-a-half years, here are the top three things that I have learned about dating with diabetes:
- Don't feel like you have to tell your date at a certain time/after a certain number of dates, etc. Tell him or her when it feels comfortable; it has always helped me relax during the conversation if the topic just flows naturally.
- If you don't want to put your mealtime routine on display on a first date, suggest doing something more active. Between my diabetes and celiac, and being kind of hyperactive, I like to do things such as mini-golf, bowling, going to baseball games, checking out local museums, etc. Sometimes that's better than sharing a meal on a first date.
- Always be prepared to treat your diabetes. Bring your stuff to treat lows, treat highs, etc. Just because you are on date doesn't mean your diabetes is taking a few hours off.
These are just some tips I use to manage my diabetes and dating, but the one thing that doesn't change with dating and talking about diabetes, celiac, or whatever your 'fun fact' is, is the Golden Rule: make sure to treat others the way you want to be treated, AND to treat yourself the way you want to be treated.
Everyone kisses a few frogs and experiences a few awkward dates along the way, but the good thing to keep in mind is that every experience is something to learn from... and hopefully something to laugh about later.
Thanks for sharing, Cait. We hope you continue to enjoy "the field," and of course find some frogs that turn out to be princes!