Dating isn’t what it used to be. Apps, online dating sites, texting and late night booty calls have really changed the scene, making dating complicated even under the best of circumstances. But for those who are chronically ill, sometimes dating and relationships end up being much more draining, both emotionally and physically.
Some people get lucky in the sense that they were already with their significant other before they became ill, but others get the experience of trying to find that special someone while carrying a load of emotional and physical medical baggage around with them every day.
5 Dating Tips When You Live With a Chronic Illness
If you’re in the dating pool, but need some help, here are five tips to make it less daunting, from people who have been in your shoes.
You Can Disclose Your Illness On Your Own Time
If the thought of laying your diagnosis out there on the table, on top of all the other small talk that comes with a first date, don’t feel pressured, says Jacqueline Raposo, 35, who lives with Lyme disease, Epstein Barre, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Celiac’s Disease and runs a dating podcast called Love Bytes.
“It depends on the person, and how I’m feeling on that given day,” she says. “If I’m feeling well on the date and nothing comes up that makes explaining necessary, I don’t bring it up.”
But sometimes, you don’t have a choice but to spill it all, and shouldn’t be afraid to do so. It may even lead to deeper conversation.
“[Living with chronic illness] often come up on a first date because it affects many parts that make up the totality of who I am. If we order food, the fact that I have Celiac and will vomit profusely if I eat dairy often leads to conversations about why I can’t eat those things,” says Raposo.
Be Prepared for Confusion
Just as it often takes time for friends and family members to understand what you’re going through, it may also take time for a new romantic partner to “get it,” say Raposo. The reality is that you can’t always control your date’s response to your disclosure. Just remember: you are prepared for this conversation, but they probably are not, and that’s OK.
“They may not have the history or language to ask questions,” says Raposo. “Questions may come later. They may not say the right things.”
You Don’t Always Have to be Tough
While it can sometimes seem easier to put up a front, you might be surprised by the response you get when you’re open with new people about what you’re going through, says Allie Cashel, 25, author of Suffering the Silence: Chronic Lyme Disease in an Age of Denial.
“My instinct has been to put on a brave face and let that be the person people get to know,” she says. “But since I’ve started being more honest about where I am at during harder times, I’ve been so grateful for the empathy and the support that I’ve found.”
Be Clear About Your Limitations
When you live with a chronic illness, you have good days and bad days, says Cashel, and it’s important to be honest with yourself about your own limits.
“If one day you are hurting and need to miss a date, or aren’t feeling up for intimacy, that’s OK,” she says. “Don’t beat yourself up.”
It’s also important to make sure your significant other understands your limitations, too. “Sometimes you are going to be a better partner than others and that is something that can be really hard to accept for both people involved.”
Explore New Ways to be Intimate
If you’re living with chronic pain that makes sex or other touch painful, it might seem like intimacy is off the table. But discomfort during sex shouldn’t make you write off romance altogether, says Ashley, 27, who has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Her advice? Listen to your body, don’t force it and be willing to get creative.
Remember: You don’t always have to have intercourse to feel sexually connected to the other person. Different forms of sexual stimulation can be just as satisfying, she says think of hot and heavy make out sessions, sensual massages or simply taking a warm bath with your partner. You may have to switch the time of day you engage in these activities to a time of day you feel slightly better — candlelit breakfasts anyone? — just don’t give up in making an effort.
Swipe Right: The Takeaway
Dating while chronically ill is definitely not a one size fit all experience. But with the right tools and mindset, navigating the dating world can actually be fun and rewarding.
Do you have a tip or trick that’s made navigating the dating world a little easier? Share it in the comments below!