Dating with a chronic illness isn’t for wimps

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

With the US divorce rate hovering just below 50%, and the remarriage divorce rate even higher, I am among lots of company as I enter my 5o’s as a single person. I have listened to many a dating story from many a single friend and dating certainly does not get any easier the older we get. Well, let me attest, dating with multiple chronic illnesses, makes it even that much more, um, challenging.

The intensive screening I undertake for potential first dates, let alone a person who I’d like to perhaps get to know a bit better, goes far beyond screening his use of grammar, intelligence compatibility, stage in life compatibility, can we stand each other’s music likes, does he get all uncomfortable if his date is taller than him, or does he smoke, is he a heavy drinker? I have to feel comfortable that he doesn’t have a past that includes any sort of drug use and abuse.

Does this show in a few snaps and text messages? Nope, it doesn’t necessarily. Often times, however, a gut feeling creeps in. I’ve learned with my prior divorces, I better darn well listen to my gut, long before the need for divorce papers, so I do. I do not let the yearning for companionship silence my gut.

So, if someone is intelligent, not half bad looking, verified single (a very important status for me in a potential partner), and we agree on an easy 30 minute “meet and greet” date with a beverage, usually of the caffeinated kind, at a nice public space, when is the time for me to tell him that I’m chronically ill? If the coffee date is in between the 4-hour window of me needing to take my meds, the topic doesn’t need to come up.

On one such date recently, he was a professional. He was decent looking in an intelligent sort of way. Our conversation flowed. I told him I was “rare.” I talked a bit about coming back from my recent trip to Florida where I presented about my rare disease for the company that was launching the first FDA approved drug to treat my illness in the US. He told me about a few of his work trips. We agreed to extend the date and meet at a UMaine hockey game.

Well, the hockey game extended into that “4-hour” med window. However, I was prepared. When the time came, I took my water bottle out of my purse, asked him to hold it, took my meds out, and a small snack because I needed to have food with my meds. He looked a bit perplexed and asked what would have happened if I didn’t take them. I calmly replied “I would have had a hard time walking back to my car” and then cheered a Maine goal at the game. I told him I was one of the lucky ones because my neuromuscular disease has a treatment that keeps me walking. It was either take my meds and continue the date like normal or not take my meds and have difficulty walking back to my car. To take my meds was a no brainer for me.

When the hockey game was over and we said our goodbyes he asked for another date after he returned from an upcoming week-long work trip. I thought to myself that he had passed the “med test”; but I knew the reality was young, it was just one date.  It really didn’t matter to me, but we had fun. A second date might be fun as well.

When he was returning from his week away he asked if he could call on his drive home from New York. I even tend to steer clear of too many phone calls at this stage in dating because I don’t want to perhaps overshare with someone who might just disappear; but I obliged, taking pity on the fact he had such a long drive ahead of him on a Friday night. When he had asked me about the 2nd date, I had agreed to do something with him when he got back either on Saturday or Sunday but told him I’d be “tied up” the rest of the week. The reason being, it was going to be my treatment week for IVIG. I decided on this phone call to give him just the briefest overview of why I would be busy the next week, with little to no detail except for that it was a regular 3-day treatment and ensuring recovery I undergo to keep my LEMS controlled.

He responded as he was driving home from his week-long conference, “Oh, so you really have to plan around that week, huh.” To which I replied “Yep!” The phone conversation literally ended soon after and the date never happened. Apparently, it was okay to have to plan dates around his work conferences but not around my treatment schedules. I’m so glad I told him before date #2 even happened. No need wasting my time, or his.

What have I learned in the years of dating with chronic illness?

1) Don’t settle. Don’t take on negatives, for you, in a relationship that you wouldn’t have taken on otherwise, simply because you feel they are taking on a lot with your medical needs. They eventually will walk away if it’s not mean to be. Be true to what you want in a relationship! I am positive friends of mine cringed on certain justifications I made about certain concessions I’ve made, simply because I felt my past partner was making concessions by being with me due to my medical issues. I’m not a concession! I’m pretty darn strong and awesome and worth someone seeing that. So are you!

2) Be straight forward. Don’t lay it all out on the table at once, but don’t waste any time seeing if they have the guts to be by your side in the tough times. You are worth the strong ones. The weak ones will run. Let them. I have found that my circle of friends in recent years has become smaller; but the small circle is so very strong and I know that if I need something, they are there without hesitation and I am the most fortunate person in the world to have them. I’m not going to try to keep people or a partner near me who doesn’t want to be. Let them go.

3) Date your friends. I have lots of male friends with various interests. Dating doesn’t mean “sleeping with.” Dating means going to do something fun with someone you enjoy doing the same things with. I’ve gone on Harley day trips, to movies, on hikes, out to eat. Focusing on finding “the one” takes time away from all the others who add joy to your life. I make it a point to make plans with all of my friends, male and female. I enjoy the good days of my complex health journey to the fullest. You don’t have to be in a couple to do that!

4) Be Your own confident self! Everyone has baggage, whether it’s a crappy childhood, a learning disability, social anxiety, bad credit, a stalker ex, or complex medical issues. That’s all a part of living life. Get up each day. Put your best face on and go out and have fun, especially when it’s a good day with your own battles. We only get one chance at this thing called life, don’t waste it on being sad about not having a “partner.” Be happy that you can go and do whatever you want and make your own decisions. I know I am!

5) Have faith in whatever higher power you believe in. I realized at the end of my last relationship that I had left one big piece out of all my relationships, and that was my faith. I now attend my church on as regular a basis as my treatment schedule allows and surround myself with love that way. I fill myself up with the music of our Sunday morning worship team, and with the words that our pastor so eloquently shares each week. I’m not desperate to fill the voids in my heart with someone who could just up and walk away at any point, any day.

How am I going to approach dating now that I’m reaching the half-century mark? I have been meaning to do up business cards with my blog and some of my rare disease advocacy work info on them. I think that if a second date is requested, I’ll hand them a business card and tell them to text me after they’ve read my blog because dating someone with a chronic illness isn’t for wimps!

Dawn DeBois

About Dawn DeBois

Florida born and Maine grown, my life has been atypical. My childhood was full of loss and severe physical pain. Both emotional and physical stress during childhood has been found to contribute to autoimmune disease. My first autoimmune diagnosis was at the age of 28, which has led to juggling multiple autoimmune diseases (Hashimoto’s, Fibromyalgia, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Psoriatic Arthritis and most recently LEMS- Lambert Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome). I am officially now classified as having “Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome.” You know what they say, go big or go home! You can now follow my LEMS jouney on my weekly column, LEMme Tell Ya, on