How to get on with your dating life when you have a chronic illness

Dating can be extremely difficult for anyone. You constantly have to put yourself out there, act confident even though you’re probably feeling vulnerable, and just be the best possible version of yourself. Now imagine how hard it would be to navigate the dating field while living with a chronic illness. There is no perfect guide book for those chronically ill twenty-somethings who are looking to mingle and find a partner, but as someone who has been through it all before, I’m ready to share some universal truths with you.

1. Accept that you deserve to find love and happiness

One of the major challenges of dating when you have a chronic illness is self-esteem. Some people, especially newly diagnosed, may question whether they are worthy of having a partner or finding love. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky wrote “We accept the love we think we deserve.” And this is true. So before you put on that lipstick or that nice shirt, look at your reflection in the mirror and remind yourself that you deserve to be loved just as much as anyone else. You don’t have to settle for someone you’re not into, or who doesn’t treat you properly, just because you may have a complicated illness. You are not your disease and you shouldn’t be treated in any way that suggests you are.

2. Don’t be afraid of rejection

No one likes being rejected when they’re dating, but when you have a chronic illness you might take that rejection extremely hard. Sometimes you just won’t click with the person you’re dating, and that’s OK! It doesn’t mean that your illness has anything to do with why it didn’t work out. So get back out there and try again. The more you blame your illness the harder it will be to put yourself out there when meeting others, and you don’t want to miss out on the chance to make real connections due to a fear of rejection.

3. There’s no perfect time to tell them about your disease

One of the biggest challenges about dating when you have a chronic illness is trying to figure out when to tell the person you’re dating about your disease. Some people will tell you that you have to wait until things are more serious between you two before the big reveal about your illness. Other people will tell you it’s absolutely mandatory to inform them up front, because they should understand that dating you might have some challenges so they can decide if those challenges outweigh the awesome privilege of getting to be with you. I say there is no exact science to it. It’s up to you when you tell the person you are dating that you have an illness. For me it varied depending on the person. I told one guy the night of our first date. I waited about a month to tell someone else. My current boyfriend knew I was sick long before we started dating, so I didn’t even have to bring it up during the “get to know you” stage. Just go with the flow, and do what feels right. Remember, whether you choose to tell them right away, or whether you wait to see if the person is more right for you, there is no wrong time to talk about your illness. If you are dating someone and you feel like you cannot tell them that you’re sick because you worry they would stop liking you, maybe they just aren’t the right person for you. You deserve someone you can be yourself with!

4. Don’t make it all about your illness

Even if you find the perfect person who is supportive of your illness and wants an open and honest dialogue about it (which is the ideal!) you shouldn’t make it all about your chronic illness. It’s not that they would necessarily tire of hearing about it, or that you should in any way be ashamed or embarrassed, but you need to remember that your chronic illness is just one aspect of you. Let the person you are dating see all sides to you, and see that your illness only represents a small fraction. It’s wonderful if they want to be educated about your disease and how it affects you, just don’t turn all of your dates into a Web MD session. It can be overwhelming for someone if you make everything about your chronic illness, so it’s important to find the right balance. And, if you find the right person, that balance won’t be a difficult thing to maintain.

5. Your significant other can have bad days too 

Even if you’re not feeling well, don’t forget to check in with your significant other and see how they are doing. They shouldn’t always have to act tough and in control because you have a chronic illness. How you’re feeling affects them too. If you have a health setback, this is a setback for them too. Be caring and compassionate with each other, and understand the impact that your illness can have on someone who loves you. After years of tests and misdiagnoses, I was recently told that I have Lupus. I let my boyfriend know, and one of the first things I did was ask him how he was feeling about the diagnosis. It’s also important that you let the person you are dating know that they can vent to you about things that are happening in their life. Don’t ever make them feel like they can’t come to you with their problems because your problems sometimes seem worse in comparison. It’s not about comparing or contrasting the issues in your individual lives, it’s about supporting each other equally. A relationship needs that balance in order to thrive.

6. Adapt your dates to your health

No one wants to cancel a date because they aren’t feeling well, but when you have a chronic illness unexpected things can happen. If you aren’t up to a night out with your significant other, it’s okay to tell them that. If someone cares about you, they would rather come over and have a movie marathon on your couch than not see you at all. Not all of your dates have to be dancing or rock climbing. Sometimes you may not even feel up to your significant other coming over at all, and that’s fine too. Just make sure you have an open line of communication with the person you’re dating, so they don’t ever feel like you bailed because you just weren’t interested. Let them understand that you would really like to spend time with them, but you have to postpone until you’re feeling better. You have to be flexible when dating with a chronic illness. It won’t always go the way you had planned, and the sooner you acknowledge this the sooner you can relax and adapt your approach to date night. Together you two can find ways to be creative and have fun no matter what the situation.

7. Being sick can make your relationship extremely meaningful

When you and your significant other go through the ups and downs of dealing with a chronic illness, it can seriously strengthen your relationship. No one wants to be sick, but sometimes great things can come from it. My boyfriend and I have been through a lot together in less than two years, and I feel a bond with him that could take some couples a much longer time to reach. I don’t love having an auto-immune disease, but I can’t help but be thankful that it played a part in me realizing who I wanted to spend my life with. My boyfriend chose to love me regardless of my disease, and we have had some amazing experiences together. I may be sick, but I never once thought that should stop me from finding true happiness and true love. And to me, true love is when your boyfriend spends the entire night sleeping in a hard plastic chair next to your hospital bed so you won’t be alone, even though he has to work in the morning.

Although being sick is hard, sometimes good can come from it. Living with a chronic illness can be a great reminder of what’s really important in life! It can be a wonderful motivator for you and your significant other to make every good day count and let every bad day bring you a little closer together. And remember: if you can handle living every day with an illness, you’re certainly tough enough to get out there and start dating!

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