The Challenges of Dating With Chronic Illness


Self-disclosure, the process of revealing personal information overtly and implicitly, is an important part of any burgeoning relationship. Sharing health information can be particularly empowering for chronically ill people as they examine any internalized stigma and shame, Dr. Gideon said. And, for anyone requiring accommodations, disclosure can make space for getting those needs met.

“Even if it seems like a relatively simple date to most people, like just going out to dinner, the drive is physically taxing. Getting ready is physically taxing,” said Kerra Macdonald, a 33-year-old graphic designer from Napa, Calif., who lives with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition that causes musculoskeletal pain and sleep disturbances, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome.

Ms. Macdonald has learned to manage her energy to prevent flareups of her illness. Before a date, she avoids chores, errands and even cooking meals, as those activities can be draining. She also schedules time to recuperate afterward. Ms. Macdonald has found that making sure her potential partners are aware of her identity, as both a woman with chronic illness and a transgender woman, helps her feel more open to a romantic connection.

“Sometimes, what chronically ill people need, like canceling dates with little notice, can be seen as red flags in the dating world,” said Iman Rahman, who lives with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a painful connective tissue disorder that affects mobility — and runs an Instagram account that amplifies the voices of disabled people of color. But when Ms. Rahman, 22, asks for what she needs from a date and receives it, her understanding of romantic connection deepens.

“Being accommodated out of love and care is so healing,” Ms. Rahman said. “Disabled intimacy is so beautiful. It’s having your girlfriend send you emesis bags knowing that you’ve been vomiting often. It’s having them know the most vulnerable parts of your life and being cared for.”

If someone is interested in sharing their health information with potential romantic partners, Ms. Rose, the sex educator and relationship coach, suggested following a formula: First, decide what you want to get out of the conversation. Then let the person know you want to talk. If you’re worried about what they might say, you can start with sharing that concern.

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