What everybody ought to know about dating when you’re chronically ill


Disclaimer: Before I jump into this, I want to preface this article by saying this is based on my personal experience living with chronic pain and illness (Lupus and probable fibromyalgia as well). This piece is not meant to speak for how others experience these conditions or any other type of illness. Nor do I think these suggestions are necessarily universally applicable or useful for everyone. At the end of the day you know yourself & your body best.  I struggled with whether I wanted to write this for a while, because I don’t often talk about my health issues publicly. In the end, I decided to write this because I hope some of the things that I’ve figured out along the way can be of benefit to others. [/disclaimer]

Dating is never an entirely easy pursuit. It’s not easy to put yourself out there, make yourself available, and to navigate the sometimes-tumultuous seas of getting-to-know-you with someone you’re romantically interested in. When you add in living with a chronic medical condition to the mix, suddenly the difficulty setting on the video game of life gets cranked up to Hard.

This article is written directly addressed to those living with chronic illnesses and who are dating or who are wanting to date. If you are not sick yourself but are dating someone living with a medical condition, you can take something away from this too. In either case, below are some special considerations that you may want to think about.

Conserve your spoons & spend them wisely

If you’re not already familiar with Spoon Theory, go here and read this first. If we follow this analogy, spoons represent the energy it takes to perform every task you have to do in a day. For a person with chronic illness, they have a finite number of spoons for each day which is often less than what a healthy person would have. Having finite resources means being somewhat selfish (or self-preserving if you prefer) and selective about how they spend their energy.

If you have a chronic illness, you quickly learn that one of the most self-caring thing you can do is to streamline your social engagements. When it comes to dating that could mean limiting the total number, or frequency of the dates you go on. If there’s a positive to be had from this, it does force your prioritize the invites that are most important to you.

No matter how much you like someone; it’s almost never worth sacrificing your energy reserves and potentially aggravating your condition to go on a date. If you don’t have enough spoons to go, you can always tactfully cancel and reschedule for another time. If the other party does not understand, they’re not worth your time anyway.

Learning to put yourself first and foremost, which brings me to my next point.

Don’t be afraid to say “no”

Preserving your spoons so you can get through your day-to-day activities is the most important thing.  In putting yourself and your precious spoons first (feel free to act a bit like Gollum about your spoons if you really must) you actually make yourself a better partner for the right person.

You can always say no to any invitation presented to you, even if you are interested in the person asking you out. If that’s the case, you unfortunately do need to put forth a bit of extra effort and may need to be proactive and be the one to extend the next invite.

You can even phrase your polite decline of a date as having other plans, needing to do a scheduled raid with your WoW guild, or just not feeling up to it – the list goes on. It’s up to you how you word it, but do remember to express your interest to see this terrific person at another time. Not being able to see someone because you need rest is a legitimate reason to decline.

Sometimes when you have a chronic illness you might need to bail last minute. It may feel flake to do (I’ve beat myself up over this before), but your health and well-being are not trivial and not worth jeopardizing. Don’t make a social commitment martyr out of yourself to impress a date. Stay home if you are having bad flare of pain, you’re on a new medication that you’re adjusting to, or you generally just need a night to relax.

Etiquette wise, canceling a date last minute is not ideal, but occasionally it’s unavoidable. If and when this does happen, express your sincere apologies and follow up to figure out another time to get together.

Choosing how and when to disclose your condition

One of the most nerve-wracking experiences about dating when you have a chronic illness is choosing how and when to tell the person you’re seeing about it. There’s an accompanying fear of rejection that is often tied together with disclosure.

For myself, I’ve found that earlier is better to do it sooner than later, to get it out of the way. I try to be very factual, non-emotional but also casual about mentioning it. Often people are surprised when I tell them, because I don’t “look sick” according to them. My issues fall into the category of invisible disabilities. For some other people with chronic health problems, there may be more visual clues that they are not entirely healthy.

When I have disclosed my illness to new people in my life, sometimes they ask for more information, other times they don’t. My approach is that is someone is scared off by something about me I cannot change then they aren’t going to be a good match for me. It does suck if you are rejected over this, but it can save you more heartache in the long run. That has rarely been my experience, most people are either sympathetic, or it just doesn’t bother them.

If you don’t feel comfortable disclosing your condition right off the bat, that’s entirely okay too. Some people prefer waiting a bit and seeing how serious things are getting before opening up and sharing this type of information. You are never under an obligation to share sensitive or personal medical information if you do not feel comfortable doing so. Do what feels right for you, every case is different and you’ve probably had to tell other people in your life about your health issues before so you might already have ideas about what works.

Do you have a dating & chronic illness story you’d like to share? Coping mechanisms? What have you found to work well for you when dating?

Need some extra help with these issues or anything else related to online dating? As always, the GDG team offers a wide array of services including dating coaching, custom profile writing and photo feedback. 

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