Dating With Arthritis

Single? Go mingle. Don’t let arthritis kill the mood.   

If you are single and have arthritis, romance may be the last thing on your mind. But research shows you feel better physically and mentally when sparks fly. So don’t count yourself out of the dating game. 

Don’t Let Arthritis Define You  

Yes, you have a chronic illness. Arthritis is an important part of your life, and it is a challenge, but it is not who you are.  

Negative thinking – like “Nobody is going to want me. I’m damaged goods” -- is common among those with arthritis. And it is not sexy to anyone, says certified sexuality educator Cory Silverberg, co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Sex and Disability: For All of Us Who Live with Disabilities, Chronic Pain, and Illness. “It isolates people and keeps them from having healthy relationships.”  

Until you start believing you are more than a disease, you will be reluctant to date. When you stop seeing yourself as a sick person, others will, too. 

Focus on Your Positive Qualities  

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. When you are in chronic pain it is easy to let negative thoughts and feelings about yourself take over. Remember everything you bring to the table.  

Sharing your passions can help your love life. If you show someone you are a fantastic cook, a killer card player, or a super cyclist, it will keep both of you from focusing on whatever weakness your disease may cause, says Silverberg.  

Find Someone Caring  

Pay attention on the first date. Does your date talk only about them? Do they seem annoyed when minor things go wrong? If your love interest does not seem compassionate, they probably are not going to understand when you are in pain and need to cancel a date. Look for clues that Mr. or Mrs. Right is up to the task.  

“Ask yourself: does this person care about other people? Do they seem like a good friend or a nice dad/mom, if they have kids?” says Nancy Molitor, PhD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University. “Do not convince yourself they can handle this relationship if they are giving you clues that they are not a particularly caring person.”   

Look for a Compatible Match  

They say opposites attract. But if you have eyes for a rock climber, it may be time to set limits. If they invite you for a romantic hike, tell them you can walk a few miles but you need to stay off the steep paths. If someone is looking for an active partner who can ski and run, then it may not be the best match.  

Be upfront – I am willing to try this, and not that. Or I can do this, but can’t do that, says Molitor. “Odds are, they will not reject you. And if they do, it is better to know upfront that the relationship might not work.”  

Reveal Your Illness at the Right Time    

Don’t share too much too soon. If you bring up a chronic illness on the first or second date, you risk scaring a perfectly good person away. Wait and see if love is in the air first, then think about the best time to open up.  

“Get a feel for the person before you disclose anything too intimate. If they are a sharer, then you might tell them sooner. Stick to the basics and do not let it dominate the entire conversation,” says Molitor.  

But don’t wait too long either. “Once you decide that you like someone enough to pursue a relationship, that is generally a good time to have a conversation about your condition. Describing how the illness affects you, and how that may affect the relationship is important. It helps create realistic expectations and an honest foundation on which to build,” advises Kira Lynne, a psychotherapist and author of Aches, Pains, and Love: A Guide to Dating and Relationships for Those With Chronic Pain and Illness.  

Explain Your Disease  

It is hard to understand what we have not experienced. Even the most caring partner can struggle with understanding what arthritis feels like. Describes your symptoms in terms people can relate to, such as the soreness you feel after a hard workout at the gym.  

“Doom and gloom is not the way to go,” says Silverberg. “You want to be realistic about any issues you have, but focus on how you are living with it. You are not dead, and you are not contagious!” 

Don’t Take Rejection Personally  

Not everyone wants to date someone with a chronic illness. That says more about them than it does about you, explains Lynne. “Say goodbye and move on to someone who likes and loves you for who you are. You are so much more than your arthritis,” she adds.  

Be Open to the Boy Next Door  

Love can work in mysterious ways. Do not ignore romantic signals from people you already know. You may fall  in love with a friend –someone who had seen you at your best and worst long before for years. Sometimes the best person is right there in front of you. 

Tune in to our Live Yes! With Arthritis podcast episode on dating with arthritis to hear the experiences of singles with chronic conditions.

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