Your chronic illness is just one piece of what you’re all about.
Modern dating is hard enough, but dating when you have a chronic illness can add a whole new layer of anxiety to an already emotionally risky process.
One of the most common questions facing daters with disabilities is when and how to disclose their diagnosis to a potential partner.
There are a lot of assumptions that are made about disability, thanks in part to a narrow and inaccurate representation of disability in the stories we’re told.
It’s bad enough that movies and TV have taught us to expect fireworks and perfection. But when movies and TV fail to include disabled people as romantic subjects or sexual beings, the public is left with the impression that people with disabilities aren’t interested in — or capable of — romantic partnerships.
That’s completely ridiculous, of course.
But with the seemingly endless supply of options available to online daters, it can be easier to look for what’s wrong rather than to swipe right on something that’s unknown, at best, and stigmatized, at worst.
While the chronic illness community continues to work hard for representation, inclusion, and status, the reality is that in the dating world, disability will continue to be a deal breaker for some.
If you find yourself up against this mentality, don’t waste your time.
Chronic illness is tough. Not everyone can handle it. Move on.
The good news is, there are people who can roll with our differences, and those are our people. Not because they’re heroes or unicorns, but because maybe they’re a little more open-minded, a little less afraid, and a little more willing to say “yes” to life’s uncertainties.
Knowing the lid to your pot is out there doesn’t make disclosing your complicated health history any easier, but there are some tips for telling your future lover that you have a lifelong commitment to an incurable illness.
There’s an argument to be made for establishing a connection with someone before unloading anything that might complicate a relationship.
If your chronic illness is non-apparent, you have the luxury of a little more time to keep things classified.
Even if your illness is obvious, it’s up to you to determine when someone else deserves to know such personal information. If there’s one small advantage to love in the time of COVID-19, it’s that Zoom dates can leave a lot to the imagination as you figure out how much you’re comfortable sharing.
You might feel that putting it all out there immediately can quickly weed out the Nervous Nellie’s, thus protecting yourself from the pain of being dismissed because of your diagnosis before you’re too invested.
Or, you might feel like waiting too long to tell your truth can be a barrier to building trust.
Either way, it’s your choice. You don’t owe an explanation to anyone you’ve just met.
Most of us have traded privacy for social media, and it’s pretty common to do a little internet sleuthing before meeting someone IRL.
If you’re already open about your illness on Instagram, be prepared that the internet may have already revealed your health status for you.
When you do decide that your date deserves to know the scoop about your health, avoid scheduling a We-Need-To-Talk moment.
How you tell your prospective partner will have a lot to do with how they interpret the news. They will mirror your attitude, and if you believe your chronic illness makes you a less desirable partner, chances are they will, too.
Meeting new people can be an opportunity to redefine ourselves. How you tell someone your story can be a powerful message to yourself, and a new opportunity to define your illness on your own terms.
You are not damaged goods.
Don’t let anyone allow you to question your worthiness of finding love. You are a prize with unique talents and gifts, so if you meet someone who doesn’t recognize your value, don’t take it personally.
Your potential partner might have their own secrets to confess. Vulnerability begets vulnerability, and you may find yourself hearing all about your consort’s bad credit, hoarder tendencies, or unfortunate tattoo.
Good. This kind of emotional intimacy can put you on the fast-track to building a trusting relationship.
Plus, there’s nothing quite so rewarding as laying your cards on the table and feeling seen and supported.
Be ready with some resources you can recommend to help explain your illness. Remember, not everything on the internet is legit and you don’t want anyone deep-Googling worst case scenarios.
It probably took you a while to come to terms with your diagnosis. Thoughtful people who consider all possible outcomes make good partners, so allow some time for your date to figure this out.
While it’s true that some people will be scared off by disability, that’s their journey. Drink a glass of wine with your bestie and continue swiping while you remember that everyone faces rejection.
Even George Clooney has been dumped.
It can be tempting to blame everything on our illnesses, but sometimes, they’re just not that into you. Most people have to kiss their fair share of frogs before they find their happily ever after.
Dating is about getting to know someone, and that takes time. Your chronic illness is just one piece of what you’re all about.
Romantic partnerships and loving relationships are an important and healthy part of the human experience, one that people of all abilities deserve to enjoy.
Ardra Shephard is the influential Canadian blogger behind the award-winning blog Tripping On Air — the irreverent insider scoop about her life with multiple sclerosis. She’s a script consultant for AMI’s television series about dating and disability, “There’s Something You Should Know,” and has been featured on Sickboy Podcast. Ardra has contributed to msconnection.org, The Mighty, xojane, Yahoo Lifestyle, and others. In 2019, she was the keynote speaker at the MS Foundation of the Cayman Islands. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, or hashtag #babeswithmobilityaids to be inspired by people working to change perceptions of what it looks like to live with a disability.