So you have decided to get to know someone new. Whether it’s through a dating website, a mutual friend, or something of the like, it often raises the question of how soon is too soon to tell the other person that you have a chronic illness. Tell them too soon and they might back away before you can get to know them, but if you tell them too late they might get upset with you for not disclosing the information sooner. So when is the best time to tell someone about your illness?
One of the things that makes this topic so tough to discuss with new people is the fact that everyone is different, and therefore there is no perfect formula that will work every time when opening up initially. Lord knows how many times I’ve sat in the car before a first date and wondered whether or not I should use my crutches or walker to get into the restaurant. It’s not every day a 23-year-old shows up to a first date using a mobility aid. I’ve been on dates where I’ve shown up using my crutches, and next thing I know the guy is telling me that he doesn’t see a future with me because he doesn’t want to be a one income family. On a first date! But there are times where I’ve pretended to be normal and healthy, and then on the fourth or fifth date talked about my disabilities and completely overwhelmed the other person, which effectively cuts them off or closes them up. It took a lot of trial and error for me to figure out what works best in my situation.
Online Dating Tips
When it comes to my online dating profile, I disclose right off the bat that I do struggle with physical disabilities and mental health issues. I don’t go into any detail further than that and usually let them make the first move on approaching me about it. People who have a bigger concern about being with someone who has a physical disability will usually ask questions within the first few messages, whereas the people who don’t seem as concerned about it will wait until much later to bring it up. When people do come to me asking questions, I do my best to answer their questions directly and as efficiently as possible (without giving so much information that it overwhelms them). If someone asks me about how much activity I’m able to do during the day, I’m usually honest about the fact that there are some days that I can do more than others. I like to let them know that I do have a gym membership and enjoy being active when I can, but if I’m too active on any given day, then I might be out of commission for the next few days to recover. I like to tell them that I do love going on walks or going to events like Comic-Con or the Renaissance Faire. I also tell them that there are some days I can barely get out of bed and have to use my walker just to get to and from the bathroom. I do my best to emphasize the fact that I am an independent person who is not looking for a caretaker that doubles as a girlfriend or boyfriend.
When I’m meeting new friends and don’t have the luxury of being able to state on an online profile that I have disabilities, I usually end up being very upfront about my disabilities. A quote that I have taken to heart when it comes to this was said by the late, great Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” I have been through a lot of ups and downs in my life, and I have learned that this saying really is true. The people who have stuck by me when I’ve been sick and struggling are the people who didn’t mind in the first place that I had disabilities. And the people who had issues with me being disabled when we first started out getting to know each other ended up not being there for me when I needed them most. As discouraging as it is to see these red flags of unsupportiveness from people when you get to know them, it’s better to know early on than to put the energy into the relationship and end up getting hurt. At the end of the day, it’s important that you stay true to yourself and do what you are comfortable with. Healthy relationships rarely grow from crossed boundaries.
Whether we like it or not, are chronic illnesses or a part of who we are. There’s no way to ignore them or hide them forever. It’s important that you take your time easing people into the reality of your life if they have not had experiences with people who have chronic illnesses before. The life that we are forced to leave because of our chronic illnesses is very overwhelming, especially for new people. It’s often upsetting to hear just how rough we have it. But slowly, piece by piece, strangers can turn into friends when they realize that your chronic illness is just a part of who you are and that you are a fabulous person no matter what. You’re not defined by your illnesses or your disabilities, and the people who truly matter will see that shine through.
Written by: Ren Kaspar. She is a spoonie struggling with POTS, hEDS, and gastroparesis, among others. She writes her own blog (ungluingstigma.com) and is an outspoken activist on Instagram (@ungluing_stigma). When she’s not managing her illnesses full time, you can find her volunteering with Crisis Text Line or working at build-a-bear.