Dating With Arthritis
Don't let arthritis keep you from dating, love, sex and intimacy.
It is challenging enough to talk about intimacy and sex with a spouse or longtime partner. But if you are single and have arthritis, it can be super intimidating to even try to date. Here’s how to look for love in all the right places.
1. Love yourself first. “When you’re a little girl, you want to grow up and find that perfect man and live happily ever after,” recalls Elizabeth Counter, 26. “But after I got systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, I was convinced nobody would want me. Why would they? I’m damaged goods.”
That kind of negative thinking is common among those with arthritis – and it isn’t 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 (Cleis Press, 2003). “It isolates people and keeps them from having healthy relationships.”
Counter says that her mom always told her that she was more than a disease, but until she started believing it herself, she was reluctant to date. “I decided that feeling sorry for myself wasn’t very attractive,” she admits. And once she stopped seeing herself as a sick person, others did, too.
2. Find others who really understand chronic disease or disability. Online dating is hugely popular, and services such as www.disableddatingclub.com and www.enablelove.com specialize in connecting disabled singles. Silverberg doesn't recommend any particular online dating site, but says such sites, in general, can offer an advantage. “What’s nice about online dating is that you can bond because of your personality and communication before you have to deal with the physical,” he says. (As always, follow common-sense safety rules when getting together with anyone you’ve met on the Internet.)
Don’t want to meet someone on the web? Sign up for the Arthritis Foundation’s Arthritis Walk or train for a marathon with the Foundation's Joints in Motion team. You can learn more about these events at www.arthritis.org.
3. Practice an honest, but lighthearted, explanation of your disease. People should be talking more about their arthritis, says James McKoy, MD, a rheumatologist at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, because talking normalizes it and puts any issues on the table. But, of course, you may not want to dump your diagnosis on somebody on the first date. Instead, set a date to tell your potential mate about your arthritis, and plan your approach.
“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’re living with it. You are living with it. You’re not dead – and you’re not contagious!”
Counter has learned to describe her symptoms in terms people can relate to – like saying she often feels that soreness people have after a hard workout at the gym. “It may be uncomfortable and painful sometimes, but I want people to know that doesn’t mean I can’t still have a normal – and sexual – life!”
4. Discover what makes you amazing and flaunt it. We’re all very complex people, full of a variety of strengths and skills, says Silverberg. He suggests that developing a passion will help your love life: If you show someone you’re a fantastic cook, a killer card player or a super cyclist, it will keep both of you from focusing on whatever weakness your disease causes.
5. Be open to developing a relationship you already have. Whether you have arthritis or not, love can work in mysterious ways – so don’t ignore romantic signals from or feelings for people you already know. Counter fell in love with a friend – someone who had seen her at her best and worst long before they started dating.
“Sometimes the best person is right there in front of you. He was a great friend, and he knew about my condition but treated me like I was normal. So it was easier to become intimate,” she says. Now she tells people: “Don’t give up on love.”