Updated: Mar 15, 2019
As I delved back into the dating pool yet again, I thought to myself, "What business do I have dating? I don't have a job and live with my parents. If that's not enough, I may have to cancel out of the blue because I have several serious medical conditions". Many of the things people prefer when looking for a partner are things I just don't have or cannot give. But, I am much more than my illnesses. I'm a quirky, empathetic, and a passionate healer who can write (who knew). So if I'm going to try to date with all of this going on, how do I do it successfully? How do I get THE guy? So asked the experts. No, not the PHDs, and the MDs, and the XYZs (well, maybe some are), but I asked people with chronic illnesses that have successfully found wonderful partners. These are their stories. Meet Rae and Darren. They were married in April of 2011, and together for about nine years. Rae is forty-one years old with bilateral optic nerve hypoplasia. She is blind in the left eye and in the right she is severely nearsighted. She battles with sjogrens and chronic intractable daily migraines. Darren works at NBC Universal Technology. Rae takes care of herself, Darren and three sweet kitties. @raeofsun77 Meet Mark and Carol. They were set up by by a cousin, and have been married twenty-eight years. Mark is fifty-four years old, has gastroparesis, dysautonomia, small fiber neuropathy, TMJ, sleep apnea, borderline lupus, asthma, depression, and restlessness leg syndrome (RLS). Mark used to work as a machinist. Carol works for an accounting firm. They have two adult children who also have chronic illnesses. @markatthepark6 Meet Mike and Michelle. They have been married for eighteen years. They have three kids, an eighteen year old and thirteen year old twins. Mike is fifty-one years old and was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis in 2012. Mike has been on disability since 2014. He was in sales and owned his own business consulting on sales psychology. He has since written a book: "A Dad with MS - Some Superheroes have a Cape and Cane". Michelle is a digital account manager when not looking after the family. @superherocane Meet Jennifer and David. She met her partner online. They have been together six weeks. Jennifer practiced as a psychologist before becoming newly disabled. Jennifer is forty-nine years old has chronic migraines, depression, anxiety, degenerative disc disease, and TMJ. David works in information technology, and additionally is a freelance writer. @migraineinspiredart Meet Quita. She met her partner at bible study. Quita is 25 years old with migraine and possible cluster headaches. She is not currently with her partner, but they were together for four years. @quitac2011
Meet Valeriya and Michael. They worked together for a while, and he was the only person to give her a hug after she found out a childhood friend died. That hug lead to a much stronger and non-platonic relationship. They have been together three years and live together. Valeriya successfully owns two businesses: the Chronic Entrepreneur Club and Zaytseva & Co. Michael is a chef at a country club. Valeriya is twenty-one years old and has sjogrens, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis. Together they care for a cat and two snakes! @chronicentrepreneurclub Meet Holly and L. They met at a convention and have been together two years. They both cannot work due to their disabilities. Holly is twenty-two years old and has chronic daily migraines. L has narcolepsy and cataplexy. Holly rescues and rehabilitates animals. She has a dog named Umbreon and a very energetic kitten! She is currently mourning the loss of a very special fur baby, Simba. @rainbowmigrainer
Meet Kelsey and Haran. They met at a restaurant where Kelsey was working. Haran was a regular and finally got up the courage to ask her out. They dated for a while, the relationship ended poorly. A tragedy brought them together again, and they were engaged within nine months of dating. The two had a Christian wedding in May of 2016 and a Hindu wedding in November 2016. They have been together a total of four years. Kelsey is twenty-nine years old and has chronic severe migraine, hashimoto's thyroiditis, and hidradenitis suppurativa. Kelsey is a psychotherapist on leave, and Haran is a physician. @kels.ravi
Meet Willie and Cyndi, both thirty-three years old. They met at work in a sugar marketing company. Currently, Willie works as a senior tax consultant for a veterinary company, and Cyndi works as an accountant for a manufacturing company. Cyndi has lupus and fibromyalgia. Willie gives us the much needed perspective of the spouses/partners view point. @thewrightwillie
These wonderful couples have given permission to share their successful dating stories with all of you! So let's delve into the meat of this blog: how to successfully date with a chronic illness.
The couples met in a variety of places.There were the usual places: online, work, at restaurants/bars/ conventions, or were set up by friends/family. Most people in fairly new relationships were set up by family or friends or met online. And yep, online dating is not terribly fun, and there are a ridiculous amount of weirdos out there (or worse), but it really can and has worked. So don't be afraid to sign up and put yourself out there. (I did it!) 😁 So you've met someone, someone with promise. So how do you share some of the most intimate details of your life (your illnesses, that you have no job, and live with your parents, ect) with this great catch and not have them running immediately for a taxi?
Sharing a chronic illness with a new partner is often scary. What if they reject you or make fun of you? What I've learned from these amazing people is that it's best to be upfront. If "it felt like (my date and I) had a connection or wanted a second date, I was very transparent and up front about my illnesses. I (also) remember telling my now husband on our very first lunch date and was surprised to see how well he received the information.” (Kelsey) Holly "had never met anyone with a chronic illness before, and it was so nice and relaxing to (speak) freely with (her boyfriend who also has chronic illness).” It is truly a gift when someone is completely sympathetic or empathetic about what you've been going through. Jennifer "had to tell … (David) (about her chronic conditions) before (they) met because (she) had to cancel a couple of times (before their) initial meeting”. I know from experience that it makes you feel awful when you have to cancel over and over because of a flare or the migraine is too awful, but it feels even worse at the beginning of a relationship. But if you find a good human to date, they will understand.
Then, there were some who waited until they knew they could trust their partner, and shared their illness(es) slowly. For a few it was much harder. For a long “time (Mark) kept (his) depression to (himself). (He) was sexually assaulted in the Marines and hid it from everyone. (He) have battled depression and stomach issues for a very long time and for years dealt with it o own." “It wasn't until he hit rock bottom with all the medical issues, and … ended up in (the) hospital for depression and suicidal thoughts” that he was able to share everything with his wife. Mental illness seems to be the hardest to talk about, but I am so thankful that you were able to open up and tell your wife, Mark.
Visiting a psychologist is an excellent way to learn how to start the discussion to better communicate with your partner. “It is important to learn how to do conflict well! No one ever told us that until we got into premarital counseling and it has been so good for our relationship.” (Kelsey) Even though it may be difficult, don't be afraid to discuss things with your partner, especially your illness(es) and your needs. Even if it takes many conversations, they deserve the truth and you deserve a partner that loves you illnesses and all. And remember, you are one hundred percent absolutely so much more than your illness.
So how can a relationship work when one or both partners have severe chronic illnesses? "We both take turns taking...care of one another. We really live up to the vows" (Rae) Love, communication and understanding make all of the difference in the world. These are wonderful gifts to give to your partner. Communication is imperative. Jennifer “explained (her) major triggers (to her boyfriend) and he insisted that I let him know if anything makes (her) feel uncomfortable”. Kelsey's illnesses “sometimes meant trips to the ER, missing dates, missing work, having to rest more on vacation, etc. Educating the person concerning your illness is super important.” If you are having a rough day, tell them that, if you need to stay in versus going out, tell them. Talk with your partner as much as possible about your needs, your triggers as Jennifer did and their needs as well - relationships are about both of you. Take time for yourself to recover so you can be mentally, physically, and emotionally present with your partner. “When you love each other unconditionally you always make it work.” (Mike)
Many of the interviewees had no regrets like Rae. She has done “things with conviction and really thinks about things before (she) act(s) on them”. However, if a few others got a second chance, they would be more open and honest with their partners. Quita regrets that she pulled away and did not stay open in her relationship. It's extremely scary to be vulnerable and facing the possibility of rejection when seriously ill. "If (Mark) had (to do) it over I would have been upfront with (my wife)". Even though it's incredibly difficult, confiding in your person can make the relationship so much stronger. "Giving someone an opportunity to love you when you’re chronically ill is huge. It involves a lot of vulnerability.” (Willie)
The interviewees had many wonderful suggestions for the chronic illness dating pool, so I decided to leave this section entirely in their words: "Don't think any less of yourself because you have some kind of illness or debilitating disability. You are enough and the right person will see you as absolutely perfect.” (Rae) "Be open about your illnesses as soon as your comfortable sharing. You both deserve to know the truth (and) assess whether you can make it work together." (Jennifer)
"Just keep going. I don’t think that having a chronic illness defines who you are as a person. (My wife is) a normal person, just like everyone else. She has a huge burden to bear (that she didn’t choose), but how she handles and works through it makes me love her and admire her more." (Willie) "Be yourself and try not to stress about it. ... Don't hide the things you are not able to do...And NEVER feel bad for saying no to a(n) activity that you are not able to do." (Holly) "Be yourself, be truthful and confident and don’t let you illness stop you from dating." (Mike) "Be honest about your feelings. Don't sugar coat ..(or pretend to be fine). Those who deserve it, need to see the real authentic you." (Quita) "Figure out (what you are looking for in a partner), maybe journal about this (to learn) what you want from someone and what values you'd (like to) share" (Valeriya)
“Find someone that is understanding ... in the dating field (so) that you can grow with each other and support each other.” (Mark)
“Be patient. It is so important to not settle. Find someone who is willing to learn, to try and understand your experience as much as they possibly can.” (Also) “communication is key and conflict (voiced properly) can lead to intimacy when handled well. It is important to learn how to (handle) conflict well.” (Kelsey)
You are so much more than your illness. Do not lose yourself in the illness. Be authentic, and keep at it. Sometimes is takes a while, but eventually you will find the one who loves you for you. (Kate) And as you read this asking yourselves, 'who are they to give me advice?' We are nothing more or less than people with chronic illnesses trying to do our best to find and hang onto partners that love us for who we are and not our illnesses. I really hope this helps you date more effectively as a spoonie. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there just because you have an illness. You are worth being loved, just by being you.
I want to thank all of my amazing contributors for putting it all out there to help you. You have shared some of the most intimate aspects of your life. Y'all are amazing. Each one of you are incredibly special and deserve a lifetime of happiness. I can thank you a hundred times and it would not be enough.
I decided to write this article because I’ve have had terrible dates, and some rare wonderful dates, amazing (and sometimes awful) sex, been loved deeply, loved others deeply, some fleetingly, none meant to last. And I've wanted to find someone who is not my soulmate, does not compete me, but compliments me, who teaches me - and I him, who cooks and dances with me, and who loves Ruby just as much as he loves me. Is that so hard??
And since beginning this article, I finally found an amazing man who understands me, my illnesses, and likes me for me. He is patient and kind. He loves Ruby. He is funny and creative. He inspires me to write, and do more activities when I can. And so, lastly, I will introduce you to us. Meet Kate and Chris. We have been together about two months now. Kate is a thirty-eight year old with daily chronic intractable migraines, scoliosis with a spinal fusion, a pituitary tumor, hypopituitary, hypothyroidism, secondary adrenal insufficiency, infertility and very mild gastroparesis. Kate is on disability (for now) and is a blogger, network marketer, and a non practicing RN. Chris is an extremely talented massage therapist. Kate has an amazing chihuahua dog, Ruby, who is completely loved by both Kate and Chris and totally spoiled to death. @naturalwellness_rn