Dating: When to Disclose a Chronic Illness
With Valentine's Day around the corner, it seems like a good time to think about how and when to let potential suitors know about your progressive neurologic disease. Here's how it went for me.
I was 18 when I decided it was time to find the one. Even though my detailed life plan didn't include marriage until many years later, I figured it could take a while and that I had better get started.
I typed in www.okcupid.com on my dorm room computer. I'd heard it was like eHarmony but more "hip." Also cheaper. Since it was free.
I filled out many boxes of information…
Body type: Average build
Kids: Might want kids
Education: Working on University degree
But there was no box for "Diseases." I happen to have Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a neurologic disorder that affects the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord and causes muscles to atrophy.
When, I wondered, is the best time to tell a potential mate that you have a condition like that? Directly in your dating profile? In your intro message? On the first date? Wedding night?
Some of these options are clearly better than others. I knew I wanted to filter out anyone for whom my wheelchair would be an immediate deal breaker. If I were going to be rejected for my muscle weakness, I would rather it be before I was invested and not in person. I also didn't want to waste anyone's time (especially my own).
This meant putting the disclaimer up front on my profile—two carefully crafted sentences that indicated I had a neurologic disease and used a motorized wheelchair to get around my college campus. I included a trite comment about "loving life!!" and a smiley face at the end to show that I'm still, like, super fun.
I started messaging potential suitors.
Many of them didn't message back. Maybe it was the wheelchair, but—I told myself—it could also be that they didn't like brunettes or biology majors. I learned that any energy spent wondering "Why?" was wasted. They weren't interested, and that's okay. Someone will be, and maybe I'll be interested in him, too, and that is the only kind of person I need to worry about attracting.
It helped that online dating is anonymous. It felt safer, less personal. Online I wasn't Bethany Meloche; I was PansyLife, 18, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania.
Besides, I was only looking for one totally amazing person. Is that so much to ask for? I didn't think so.
Enter sinclair44, 20, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
He'd appeared on my homepage, one of three suggested matches, but the only one I clicked on. He was wearing a top hat made out of foam and cardboard stapled together.
I messaged him right away.
The disclosure on my profile didn't stop sinclair44 (whose real name was Josh) from messaging me back. It also didn't stop him from taking the four-hour train ride out to meet me for our first date two months later, or from proposing to me with a diamond ring four years after that.
When it came to telling potential dates about my disease, I chose the method that was most comfortable for me—and that was to state it up front. It served as an early filter for the kind of person that I needed and wanted. In the end I found someone who is my true teammate—someone who makes me laugh, challenges me to be my best self, and who will push me up steep hills in a wheelchair.
For more about navigating dating waters when you have a neurologic condition, read Dating Game, our feature story on the subject.