There’s a lot to love about falling in love, and while the process of dating someone special is exciting and intoxicating, it can also be filled with uncertainty. There are many stages of getting to know a person and sometimes the path to intimacy includes learning about life with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (MS).
MS is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40 — often prime dating years. For those who live with the illness, day-to-day life can be difficult, and dating presents its own set of challenges. As a significant other and potential long-term partner, the best thing you can do is be open, supportive, and informed.
No one knows this better than Dan and Jennifer Digmann. Together, they have taken on MS for over 20 years. Jennifer was diagnosed in 1997; Dan two years later. The two met at a national MS event, discovered a mutual fascination with fantasy football and Bruce Springsteen music, and fell in love. They have been happily married for over a decade. Here’s their advice for dating someone with MS.
So, the cat’s out of the bag and you’ve learned that the person you’re dating has multiple sclerosis. First of all, you should feel honored! The fact that this individual has opened up to you about his or her menacing monster within means you’ve reached a new, trusting stage in your relationship. Now, what’s next?
If you want to know what you can do to continue to build trust and keep your relationship moving forward, here are some tips from a husband and wife who both live with MS.
Late, but not forgotten
Don’t be offended when your date is late. MS often makes getting ready to go out take waaaaay longer than it should.
Give gifts, not challenges
Forget the earrings, necklaces, and ties. A romantic gift for a person with MS should be something that doesn’t require great dexterity.
Netflix and chill means exactly that
Contrary to the phrase’s social slang definition, dating a person with MS means you literally will watch movies and rest, as fatigue is a common MS symptom.
If your date stumbles after having one drink, it probably has nothing to do with being a lightweight drinker. That’s the MS, which can cause balance and gait issues and effect the way people walk.
Similarly, if your date isn’t interested in one more round of drinks, it’s not because the conversation is boring. It’s more likely the restroom is calling, since bladder issues are common with MS.
It’s fun to eat at 4:30 p.m.
Not that you need the early bird dinner discounts, but be open to starting your night earlier in the evening. Such scheduling helps to battle the MS fatigue.
Live in the now
Shy away from making long-range plans, but if you do, stay flexible. MS is unpredictable and can change within minutes.
Who needs amusement parks?
Check before booking a trip to ride the roller coaster, Scrambler, and Tilt-a-Whirl. People who have MS-related vertigo are already spinning on their own.
Careful with caressing cheeks and long-lasting kisses
Trigeminal neuralgia, aka chronic pain along either cheek, can be caused by MS and can make your magic touch seem more like a flaming torch.
Sometimes they truly just aren’t feeling it
Holding hands is all kinds of loving and romantic, but when your date doesn’t want to or seems somewhat less responsive, chances are his or her hands are either sensitive or just plain numb because of the MS.
It’s not an escape route. It’s a relief route.
Don’t read into it when your date asks to sit closer to the fire door because it will make it easier to walk out on you. The seat is most likely also the closest to the restroom.
Remember you are dating the person, not the person’s disease
Have an interest and curiosity in MS, but stay focused on the qualities that attracted you to the person in the first place.
A ‘hot date’ isn’t always a good thing
Extreme temperatures can have an adverse effect on people living with MS, so it’s best to avoid spa sessions, beach days, or trips down the ski slopes.
Getting lost in their eyes isn’t always good, either
Double vision, eye pain, and blindness also can be associated with MS.
Don’t be a hero
For example, if the person you’re dating is struggling to cut a piece of chicken or zip his or her jacket because of MS-related numbness, sit tight and be alert, but always wait to offer assistance. Few things make a person with MS more upset than when somebody steps in and essentially prevents them from completing a task on their own.
But seriously: You’re interesting too!
Don’t let MS be the focus of your relationship and conversations. You have interesting perspectives and experiences as well.
It’s not contagious
You can’t catch MS from your date, and his or her intermittent itching is not because of infectious bugs or rashes. Sudden scratching could be a side effect of the disease.
Friend with benefits
Such a saying takes on an entirely different meaning the closer your relationship gets to marriage. MS can be an expensive disease to treat, and having health insurance really is a benefit.
Function trumps fashion
No matter what heel heights are ‘en vogue’, flats are fashionably fine for a woman living with MS who struggles to maintain balance with every step she takes (cue the music: The Police circa 1983).
Don’t joke about getting an MS hug
Seriously. It’s not funny. Google it.
Stick ’em up!
Don’t be alarmed if you’re asked to shoot the person you’re dating. Several of the MS disease-modifying drugs are injectable medications, so you may be called to assist with administering a shot.
Honesty is key
Talk about any fears, questions, or concerns you have about MS. Chances are your date has them too. Sharing these conversations makes it feel like you are battling this disease as a team. Teamwork makes the dream work, right?
Ask questions if you are curious or confused about anything related to MS. It’s all part of staying honest.
Watch what they eat
Evidence is constantly evolving regarding dietary recommendations and MS. Be supportive and flexible. As science learns more about MS, treatment options and nutritional suggestions change too.
Take a deep breath
Be patient with yourself and the person you’re dating. Life is unpredictable, and so is MS. You can both make it through the ups and downs … together.
Take another deep breath
Exercise is good for everyone. Stay active, stay in shape, and stay committed to an appropriate exercise routine. It can be fun for you and the person you’re dating, and isn’t that what dating is all about?
Access to adventures
Be mindful of fluctuating physical abilities in the person you’re dating, and make sure any of your dating plans will be easily accessible for him or her. Call ahead to double-check that the five-star restaurant is fully handicapped accessible (yes, people in wheelchairs are fun to date!) or that the parking lot doesn’t require long walks from your vehicle to the front door.
Nobody is perfect
Cut the person you’re dating some slack if he or she isn’t up to 100 percent. And don’t be so quick to blame the MS. Bad days happen to everybody, whether or not they are living with a chronic disease.
Just staying in
Believe in the beauty and convenience of take-out and to-go. And, if offered, take restaurants up on the free paper plates and plastic silverware to avoid having to do the dishes.
Believe in free medicine
Trust the healing power of laughter. Life’s too short to be serious all the time.
Foresee your future
Go into the relationship feeling that there could be a future with this person. Believe in yourself and the person you’re dating, and do not give MS more credit or attention than it deserves.
After all, we foresaw our future and we both have MS. Oh yeah, and we just celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary!
Dan and Jennifer Digmann are active in the MS community as public speakers, writers, and advocates. They contribute regularly to their award-winning blog, and are authors of Despite MS, to Spite MS, a collection of personal stories about their life together with multiple sclerosis.