Dating with a chronic illness

Hello Meredith (and all you lovely LL readers)!

I have been struggling with this situation for some time and I thought it might help if I gained some perspective.

I have been dealing with a very painful, chronic medical condition that has dominated my life for the past five years. Without going into the boring details I can tell you that this condition is not life threatening (for which I am very very grateful) but does require occasional rounds of IV drug therapy. I also deal with moderate to severe pain on a daily basis, which can be difficult at times but I am much better at handling it than I used to be. To say that this illness has changed my life would be an understatement. It has virtually transformed my outlook on life to be more positive and open to change.

Despite these personal epiphanies, I find I have a blind spot in regards to the dating world. During the first two years of my illness I dated a close friend. It got fairly serious but we weren't meant to be (and it didn't end well). Aside from our other issues, I knew then that my illness put a lot of pressure on the relationship and it was very difficult for my partner to deal with it. This knowledge has become a roadblock during my various dating attempts since my last relationship. When I meet someone I am interested in, I feel very guilty and overwhelmed by the idea that my illness is too much of a burden to ask this nice, unsuspecting guy to take on. I also begin to worry about how and when to disclose this personal information. It is difficult for the subject to come up organically in conversation, aside from asking "Have you heard any interesting medical stories lately? Well, I have this thing..." Usually, I become so stressed I immediately stop any attempt to pursue a relationship with said guy.

I know that I talk a big game about being positive and being open to change when deep down I am afraid. I have witnessed the impact of my health on the people I love and I want to spare others the pain of not being able to 'fix' my situation. My illness is always going to be in the picture, and there is no simple 'cure.' My fear of becoming a burden leads me to choose to be alone and it makes me sad. How should I approach dating in regards to my health? Should I stop dating altogether? I would like to be able to share myself with someone despite all my health-related baggage.

– Suffering From Chronic Fear in California

Don't stop dating, SFCFIC. And don't ever say, "Well, I have this thing." This doesn't have to be a solemn disclosure.

We're all difficult to date for one reason or another. Those who are always healthy might not appreciate life like you do. Maybe, unlike other people, you come to the table without mean parents, self-esteem issues, or a career that will take you away from your personal life. I mean, you're an emotionally present person who's self-sufficient despite your illness. You said it best: "It has virtually transformed my outlook on life to be more positive and open to change." I mean, how many people can actually say that about themselves?

I don't want to make you roll your eyes by telling you that everything's peachy and that everyone is open to dating someone with a chronic illness, but I do think that many people would be into you. There are some truly negative and healthy people out there who have rendered themselves undateable just because they have a bad attitude. You sound like a fantastic potential partner.

My advice? Re-frame the importance of this illness in your own brain and then disclose it like you would anything else. As in, "I like hiking, biking, hanging out with my friends, and I'm strangely resilient because I've learned to deal with a chronic illness. You'll never catch me whining about little things." All of that's true, right?

I get this question a lot from people with illnesses -- and from people who are recently divorced. They often assume that their bad experience is the first and only thing that prospective partners will notice about them. But I assure you that the rest of the world sees the entire package.

You're not asking anyone to "take you on." You're not looking to be someone's burden. You're asking nice people to hang out with you and date you. They should be so lucky.

Readers? How do you date with a chronic illness? Would you date someone who's dealing with this kind of thing all of the time? How does the LW bring up the problem? Discuss.

– Meredith