A 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.