The Official Rules of Dating While "Dating" Your Chronic Illness / by Shanelle Gabriel

With doctor visits, prescription pick-ups, bed rest, and flares, who has time for a new boo??? While the idea of "searching for the one" seems to have been replaced by searching for the right rheumatologist or specialist, you and I both know that there's a part of us that would like a special someone in our lives. But how do we date when we seem to have baggage from our relationship with our chronic illness? For the purposes of this post our illness will be referred to as the EX, and here are some ways for our unique lives to open up to love:


1) Learn to love your life before bringing someone into it: 

This is sort of like the cliche saying "You have to love yourself first before anyone else can love you." Have you accepted that your EX is a part of your life? Are you still in denial about your relationship with your EX? Have you made the changes necessary to best take care of yourself? It's hard to consider dating someone who hasn't processed their past with their EX. Realize that while your life is different after your diagnosis (and that it may get you down every now and then), you are still alive and worthy of all the beauty that life still has to offer. 


2) Officially "break up" with your EX:

"You know what she/he did to me? My ex used to always say that. I remember doing that with my last girlfriend/boyfriend. My ex had that problem." Arg! Stop letting your EX control your thoughts! Some people no longer know who they are outside of their EX and the hurt that they've known for so long. Don't let your EX can become your identity and all you talk about: "My doctor said that my CBC count is high. My medication can cause gout, constipation, and cataracts. Ooh lemme get the filet mignon because my doctors said my iron is low. Do you know what kidney stones are? They're so hard to pass…" Repeat after me: You are not your illness. You are a beautiful, wonderful person…who happens to have a chronic illness. A part of breaking up is learning to have a life and conversation outside of your EX. Get a hobby, watch movies, read books, look out the window, find something to pour energy into so that you have more to talk about than your disease. When on a date, make sure the discussion is balanced and not just you complaining about your EX. Allow someone to get to know YOU and who YOU are.


3) Be realistic about what you NEED in a partner:

As a teenager, I always had a boyfriend. Not bragging about my pimp status but my qualifications were pretty simple back then: "He just has to be mad cool and hella cute." As an adult AND a person with Lupus, I know now there are certain characteristics I need to have in a partner. I can't just date the dude that's "mad cool" or fine as hell. I need someone nurturing for the days I'm in a flare, someone mature enough to recognize my prednisone-induced mood swings and not leave, someone sweet enough to make me smile when I feel like crying, and someone loyal enough to stand with me through future complications. Yes, you have to have SOME attraction to the person but it can't be all about that. While they say the heart knows what it wants and it sometimes wants that sexy person we've been stalking on twitter, we have to use our heads as well. Be practical about what you NEED and stick to those standards. Your needs are unique, and you need a special person who is willing to make you a priority. If they can't, face it, they aren't meant for you.  Don't lie to yourself either. Let them get out of the way so the right person can find their way into your life.


4) You're dating, not interviewing a caretaker:

No one wants to feel like their whole purpose in someone's life is to take care of them when they're sick…unless they're applying to be a nurse. Dating is not an interview process to find someone who's gonna take you to all of your appointments. It's to find someone to share good AND bad times with. For most (and I say most) relationships, there was a lot of good before the bad, so don't pull a CC Sabathia and throw your illness at them expecting them to catch it right away. Work on getting to know someone and building friendship and trust before expecting them to drop off your prescriptions. 


5) Don't scare them off with horror stories of your EX:

It can be very scary as a healthy person dating someone who frequents ERs and doctors, so you have to take your time. Don't be quick to drop the EX-Bomb on them first thing in the date. Just like in speaking about any past relationship, let it come up naturally and be prepared to explain necessary details- what your illness is, who gets it, is it common, what are the symptoms, is there a cure or medication that helps with it, and, most importantly, how have you learned to deal with it? Save the inflamed kidney and rushed surgery stories for when you get to know each other better. Keep it brief because you want them to get to know the real you (see #2). 



6) Have fun!

I went through a period where I felt completely lonely. Dating sucked, I was terribly depressed, and was worried I'd be stuck with my EX alone forever. It took a while for me to recognize I had so much love around me: family and friends who were great to be around as well. The moment I shifted my focus from desperately-finding-a-husband-before-I-turn-30 to making new friends, doing things I loved, going new places, and enjoying the love I already had in my life, I felt a lot happier and more fulfilled. They say the harder you look for something, the less likely you are to find it, and not every person you meet is meant to be The One. Don't treat every person you go out with or meet as such. Just learn to enjoy friendships, and maybe one of those friendships will blossom into something more. Either way, you'll have a good time.