Navigating the Dating World with a Chronic Illness

Cropped shot of a couple in a coffee shop, focus on hands and cups of coffee on tableA 28-year-old woman sits across the room from me. Recently diagnosed with bipolar, she is slowly but surely accepting her diagnosis. With a perplexed look, she asks, “But what, exactly, am I supposed to tell guys when we go out? And when should I tell them? And do I even need to tell them at all?”

If you have a chronic illness and are in the dating world, these questions may sound familiar. Whether you have an “invisible” condition (think arthritis, HIV, diabetes) or a chronic mental health diagnosis (think bipolar, obsessive compulsion, major depression), it can be difficult to know when or how to disclose sensitive information about yourself to romantic prospects.

The realm of online dating has brought about fast and efficient ways to meet new people. Online dating can take away some anxiety and stress when meeting others, and it can open up a world of possibility. Online profiles generally allow users to disclose as much or as little as they want. Similarly, users can often make checklists of must-haves and deal-breakers. So you may put it out there that you don’t want to date someone who smokes, but do you want to tell the dating world about your battle with fibromyalgia?

People who have been rejected by friends and family because of their diagnosis may feel even more anxiety when it comes to sharing it with a date or potential date. It’s a quandary, no doubt! So how do you decide when to tell a prospect about your diagnosis?

Perhaps these guidelines can help you navigate the world of dating with a chronic illness:

  1. Inform yourself about your condition and find acceptance. First and foremost, educate yourself about your diagnosis and empower yourself in your treatment. Once you have accepted your condition (at least on most days!), your confidence and self-love will shine through to others. If you need help with this step, find a therapist who can help you move through the stages of grief when it comes to chronic illness.
  2. Know what you want and what you need in a partner. You are not looking for a caregiver here. You want a partner who will physically help you when needed, one who will be supportive and understanding, and one who is empathetic to your condition. Don’t settle for someone who can “put up with” you. Look for someone who will accept and love you for who you are. Remember the 80/20 rule of relationships: you get 80% of what you really want. Maybe your new date doesn’t like hiking or going to the movies, but the 80% of things you do have in common is really great.
  3. Share your information thoughtfully. In other words, don’t dump out your purse or pockets on your first date. Think about the important facts of your diagnosis and be able to share them in a succinct way. If your new date has questions, answer them accordingly. If not, that’s OK, too—some people need time to process or may not, in fact, have any questions. Allow the other person time to digest the information, and be open to answering questions if he or she wants to talk more about it later.

In my experience, the vast majority of people who follow these guidelines when disclosing their chronic illness are welcomed with open arms. It’s a rare occasion when a new person is turned off by this kind of disclosure, but if it happens, then he or she simply isn’t the right person for you.

Think you want to share your chronic illness with others on dating websites? There are dating sites, such as PositiveSingles.com, NoLongerLonely.com, and Prescription4Love.com, that cater to people with chronic medical and mental health conditions. The idea behind these sites is that you will be in good company and can more openly talk about your experiences with others who understand.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andrea M. Risi, LPC, therapist in Denver, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Rachel

    Rachel

    May 20th, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    I know you might not want to dump it all out on the first date, but don’t you think that in time you will have to share a little bit of your information?
    That only seems like it would be the fair thing to do.

  • Andrea Risi, LPC

    Andrea Risi, LPC

    May 20th, 2015 at 1:01 PM

    Agreed Rachel! I do encourage my clients to disclose the diagnosis when they are ready. It’s rarely helpful to keep secrets from others, especially when you’re trying to build a trusting relationship.

  • Eden

    Eden

    May 21st, 2015 at 3:35 AM

    There are going to be some things that you can hide and then there are others that some of us wear like a badge. But just because you are enduring something like this doesn’t mean that you let this define you- you are who you are, and you choose to accept yourself as is. And I want to be with someone who accepts me the same way.

  • carnie

    carnie

    May 21st, 2015 at 2:26 PM

    In all likelihood, I would suspect that if someone is holding back on sharing their illness with someone they know that this is someone who might be scared off. And really, much of the time, they just want to have someone in life that they can care about and who will care for them and the thought of losing yet something else in their lives can be just a little overwhelming.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    May 22nd, 2015 at 9:05 AM

    Agreed, Eden and Carnie! Working toward self-acceptance is so important for many reasons. When we accept ourselves, others will too.

  • margaret

    margaret

    May 22nd, 2015 at 10:38 AM

    And I have never heard anyone say that burying their head in the sand helped them solve a problem!

  • Mike

    Mike

    May 22nd, 2015 at 4:34 PM

    Sometimes in an online profile I’m considering, I’ll discover that the woman has written something like “If you’re on psych meds, don’t bother contacting me.” That always hurts even though I don’t even know the person, but of course they aren’t a match anyway if they write something as callous as that.

  • Rhonda

    Rhonda

    May 23rd, 2015 at 12:58 PM

    I have skin cancer and although my prognosis is pretty good, I am still undergoing treatment right now. I just met a great guy online and while I have shared with him a little of what I am dealing with, and he seems pretty good about it all, I am still not quite ready to meet him in person because I have this fear that what the future will hold for me may not be so great.

    I feel like I have to invest most of the time and energy that I have right now in getting better and that when I can do that then I will be ready to dive into a real relationship with him. On the other hand I am afraid that if he thinks that I am shutting him out now that he won’t be there at the end of this journey for me.

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    May 24th, 2015 at 9:34 AM

    You’re right Mike…if someone has preconceived ideas about mental health, then she is not going to be a good fit for you!

  • Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    Andrea M. Risi, LPC

    May 24th, 2015 at 9:41 AM

    Thank you for sharing your dilemma, Rhonda. I’m sure this is a difficult place to be. Taking care of yourself first is most important…the better you feel, the stronger your relationships can be. Perhaps working with a therapist can help you figure out what’s best for you right now.

  • James

    James

    May 24th, 2015 at 12:17 PM

    I am the webmaster for one of the sites mentioned in this piece: nolongerlonely.com. Thank you for picking up the story here. We’ve helped out a lot of people and plan on helping more in the future. Look for a major site re-design and big marketing push. I want to make more people “no longer lonely”.

  • Rhonda

    Rhonda

    May 25th, 2015 at 6:47 AM

    Thanks Andrea! I need that kind of support right now and while I am sure that he is up for it, it still makes me a little scared to become too invested in it and then something bad is going to happen.

  • sheila

    sheila

    May 26th, 2015 at 1:45 PM

    You do things as you feel comfortable with doing it. If you feel like sharing on your first date then why not? If they are going to be scared off by anything then this is as good a time as any to find out!

  • Cheyenne

    Cheyenne

    May 27th, 2015 at 4:42 PM

    Of course you will be scared to share this with someone if the people who are supposed to be the closest to you, like friends and family, have already turned away from you because of this

  • Andrea Risi

    Andrea Risi

    May 28th, 2015 at 8:06 AM

    Sheila and Cheyenne made great points! I have found that people share their experience when it’s right for them. If someone rejects you because of your illness, then he or she is not the person you want in your life anyway. We all need supportive and empathetic people in our support network.

  • Mike

    Mike

    May 28th, 2015 at 12:24 PM

    I like to wait a little bit to share details about my illnesses only because I want to make it clear there’s a lot more to me than illness. I can have fun, I have all sorts of interests that go way beyond that. But there’s another way entirely it can go. And this is how it has gone for me for the past two years. I have only dated people who I already knew as friends first, usually for a while, so they already know everything about me.

  • Ike

    Ike

    April 7th, 2017 at 11:39 AM

    Hi. I ended up with end stage kidney failure in 2000 and habe been a worrier to this day. Still sctive at work etc. Relstionships only last a few years and they get tyred of me and hospitals. It hurts not to be exvepted as i can still give my all to my full potential un these conditions.my story is a long one if i can find that person that will listen.
    King regards

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