When do I tell him?

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I'm a single woman in my mid-50s, without children. Several years ago I became permanently disabled and am unable to participate in physical activity for more than short periods of time. However, in my sedentary job and during most of the social activities I choose, my condition (pain level) isn't really obvious and people are usually unaware of it unless I tell them. I have avoided getting into a serious relationship because as I've been getting used to having this disability, it seems I have only enough energy to earn a living and keep my life in order.

Also, it seems that my pain level would really limit the types of activities I could participate in with a partner, and someone who is fit and physically active would end up disappointed with me. (I used to love to travel but now I can barely walk for more than half an hour at a time.) However, I don't really want to spend the rest of my life alone. I've met someone through work whom I like, and it may be mutual, but I've hesitated to encourage anything more than a working relationship because I'm not sure how to handle this. If we decide we should get together socially, should I tell him about my disability right away?

Or should I find a way to bring it up now, before we even get to that possibility, in case he doesn't want to go there? If we get together and I share the information and he secretly feels that my disability makes a difference in his decision to spend time with me but he doesn't want to come right out and say it, how do I let him off the hook? Or, would this be a case of providing too much information on the first date, before we even see if we're thinking about a second? I could really use some guidance.

– Thanks for your help

We've had many letters about chronic illnesses, disabilities, and when to talk about health issues while dating. I usually tell letter writers to let the topic come up naturally, as opposed to making a big confession before anything gets going. That advice applies in your case, too.

In June we had someone write in about her fibromyalgia. Her dilemma was that she wanted to try to meet someone new, and she had no idea how to disclose her problems to a stranger. In your case, you've met someone in the real world. This person already seems to like you back, at least as a friend. You've already built a foundation for discussion.

Ask him to grab a coffee after work. Try to take the relationship off-campus. Explain, whenever you talk about what you do with your free time, that you limit your physical activity. He'll probably ask questions, and you can answer. Remember to talk about some of the things you can do.

If he can't deal with it, you don't have to worry about giving him a way out. Trust me — when people want an out, they find one on their own.

Readers? Should she disclose her issue before they hang out? How should she tell him?

– Meredith