Dating can be stressful for anyone. How do I look? Will they like me? What should I say? How should I act to attract them? I still remember that stress, though I haven’t dated in years. And even healthy people feel those stresses. But I know now that having a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis (MS) makes dating that much harder.
After being diagnosed with MS, I had to ask myself if dating was even a good use of my time and energy anymore. Shouldn’t I put all my efforts into preventing progression and relapses, even if I didn’t know how? What was the point of seeking romance when I don’t know from day to day what I can do with it?
Most people with MS ask ourselves questions like, would anyone ever want me in this condition? Am I damaged goods now? Will anyone ever find me sexy again? We wonder if it is even fair to others to seek a long term relationship, when we know it’s highly likely they will wind up taking care of us to some degree.
Still, most people like being in a relationship. It makes life more fun and less lonely. A life partner is a source of meaning; it’s like having an audience for what you are going through. Relationships can be sources of pleasure and support, though also a lot of work. And while some people will not chance a long-term relationship with a partner likely to become disabled, others will happily take that chance for the right person.
So how do we find partners? In the modern USA, most often it involves going out on dates. How do we navigate our own concerns and our partners’ concerns on a date or series of dates?
Finding Yourself Desirable
If we don’t think anyone will want us, they probably won’t, but if we do believe in ourselves, they might or might not. You just have to make yourself available and develop a little self-confidence. If you don’t have self-confidence, you can fake it.
I used to stand in front of a mirror, looking at myself for one or two things that seemed attractive. I would tell myself affirmations such as “I look pretty good. I may not be the sexiest thing out there, but I’m OK. There’s a good chance she’ll find me attractive.”
I learned that affirmations only work if you believe them. Telling myself, “I look fabulous” wouldn’t have worked. I knew that wasn’t true, but I could believe “I look good.” Other people’s compliments also build confidence. Too often, we dismiss those compliments without believing them.
I’m not a fancy dresser, but I tried to make whatever I wore look good: cleaned, ironed, proper-fitting. I don’t wear things with lots of buttons or tight clothes that are hard to put on, and I do try to wear colors that look good on me.
Talking About MS
If your date doesn’t know you have MS, when and how should you reveal it? I think if MS is not obvious, there’s no need to mention it on a first date. MS is not the most important thing about you. Wait until they get to know you and can see how wonderful you are.
But waiting too long to reveal your MS can cause problems, too, as if you are hiding something you’re ashamed of. I think usually the second or third date is a good time to bring up MS.
If you do have obvious issues, like problems with walking or talking or shaking, or you’re in a wheelchair, it’s usually best to ask dates, “Would you like to know why I walk like this?” or something along those lines. They might want to wait, or they might like to hear about it. Even then, getting to know each other first is probably good. If you’re not hitting it off anyway, why bother?
How to Reveal Your MS
Dates might be nervous about a health condition they don’t understand. They don’t know what it means to you or what it would mean to get together with someone who has it. It’s good to have a rehearsed explanation that sounds unthreatening, as I wrote about here.
If you think it’s time to talk about MS, and your date seems to agree, you might ask them what questions or concerns they have. They might want to know how it affects your sexuality, your ability to work, what you can do for fun. Some might want to know more about what MS is and what causes it.
They’ll want to know how MS will change your life in the future. All you can honestly say is, “I don’t know. Everyone’s different. But I’m doing the best I can to keep healthy.” You can truthfully say you have a pretty normal life expectancy.
If you have good and bad days, you’ll want to share that and what it might mean for dating. If MS affects you emotionally, by making you cry or laugh more easily, you might want to share that.
Let them know they can’t catch MS from you. I used to bring along a short brochure from the MS Society, which I only would bring out and offer them if we agreed to another date and they wanted to know more.
What to Do on Dates
My rule is to mostly do things you can do pretty well, but if your date wants to do something you will find difficult, you can try. Going dancing when you have trouble moving your feet would be a challenge, but if you and your date are willing to modify your expectations, it could still be fun. They might admire your courage in trying. I used to go dancing with my walker. Now, I’ll even go in a scooter occasionally, dancing in a seated position or just enjoying the music.
Listening is something I do well, and a lot of dates just want you to listen anyway. So that’s a possibility. For many people, eating together is a typical date, but it might not be a match for people whose lack of coordination makes eating an adventure. Come up with a list of fun activities you might like to share on dates. I often do old people things like going to art galleries and museums or lectures. You can make up your own list. Potential dates might have ideas, too.
The big thing is that, even if we’re severely disabled, we can still be fun. Dating is not something we have to do: We can meet people in other ways like church or community meetings. But there’s usually no reason to give up on dating if we still want to go out.
Photo Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
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