Dating with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Battling my chronic disease during a date
In some of my previous articles and blog posts, I have bemoaned the irksome complications that dating with a chronic disease can bring, such as RA-proofing your apartment, making it through a date when your RA decides it doesn’t want to be on a date, and the most controversial topic of all - when to reveal to the person you are dating that you have a crappy chronic disease they will most likely associate with their grandmother (if it isn’t obvious from the get go).
There are many opinions about this last one, ranging from putting it all on the table on the first date so you know where you stand (and more importantly, where they do) to keeping this bit of info to yourself until you feel ready to take a gamble on what their reaction will be.
I have tended to go with the latter strategy, preferring to keep my cards close to my chest until I feel like there is a reason to show them the hand I’ve been dealt. Oddly enough, I haven’t yet met anyone that has made it to that point. Mind you, I haven’t exactly been setting the dating world on fire, but thus far, no one has reached the point of no return. Mostly, I have attributed this to all the usual reasons that people don’t make it past a first or second date- lack of attraction, lack of chemistry, or sometimes, freaky social skills. But lately, part of me has started to wonder if my strategy of reserve might be backfiring on me.
Recently, I went out with a guy who seemed pretty nice. He was tall, dark, cute, and had nice manners. There weren’t exactly fireworks on the first date, but there was certainly nothing I could easily object to, and I was looking forward to seeing him again and learning more about each other.
It was on the second date that I began to realize my strategy might be working against me. The thing is, leaving out the fact that I have rheumatoid arthritis requires more than simply neglecting to say the words: I have rheumatoid arthritis. As it turns out, it means I also have to omit a pretty big portion of my life from the getting-to-know you conversation, like the fact that I have a second job as a writer. After all, you can’t exactly tell someone you write for a website and have a blog without inviting questions about what it is you write about, at least not without being weirdly evasive and rude.
And it doesn’t end there. Since I spend a lot of my time each week working on articles, responding to comments and emails, and doing occasional interviews or consultations - all having to do with RA - it means I constantly have to edit out parts of my daily or weekly routine in order to keep up the ruse that, you know, I’m healthy.
It also means I can’t drop one of the coolest facts about me- that I’m a comic strip! How many people can say that? I can…but I don’t. Nor do I mention that, in addition to writing about RA, I’m trying to do what I can to help raise awareness about this disease (ironic, no?) by putting myself out there anywhere I can (excepting dates, of course). And forget sharing some of the more mundane RA-related parts of my life that tend to fill up a lot of my time and thoughts, like all my doctor appointments, prescription refills, and what’s really behind my feelings about health insurance and health policy.
In other words, though there is a lot to my life besides RA, there is a lot that has to be left out. I can’t help but think that my constant editing and holding back might end up making me seem, well, not all that interesting or genuine. How can you really make a connection with another person when you aren’t revealing who you really are?
The second date with Mr. Nice Guy went fairly well, but when I spoke to him on the phone later that week after spending most of my day at my first rheumatology appointment, I didn’t have all that much that I could share with him. I worried that the conversation felt a little stale; nonetheless, he offered to give me a ride to the airport that weekend (had we been in New York, this would have meant something, but that is a topic for another post!).
A few days later, as we sped down the expressway the conversation flagged pitifully. There was so much I wasn’t willing to share, and consequently, there wasn’t all that much to say. He dropped me off, and it felt a little awkward. Though I wasn’t feeling all that gung-ho about where this might go, I gave him a call when I got back in town. I got his voice mail, so I left him a message. He never called back.
Part of me was a little surprised because he seemed like a genuinely nice, polite, my mother-taught-me-well kind of guy who would at least return a phone call, but I took this as confirmation that I wasn’t the only one feeling a lackluster connection between us. That in itself is fine- I haven’t lost any sleep over this guy, but the experience has made me realize that, while letting it slip early on that I have RA has its risks and downsides, so does keeping my RA a secret.
Maybe it’s time to take a gamble and show my cards, RA and all.
Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.