Dating isn’t for the faint of heart — it has a way of testing the sturdiness of your self-esteem. Even more so when you add juvenile arthritis (JA) to the mix. As we grow older and look for someone with whom to share our lives, the autoimmune disease can get in the way. How do you find the love of your life when you come with the added baggage of juvenile arthritis?
Dating with JA
I’ve never been a big fan of dating. I’m a fairly shy person and quite frankly, I’d rather read a good book than go through the agony of the first date mutual interview. Still, I’ve put myself out there in the quest for love.
I’ve had blind dates, blend dates, dates who became great friends, met guys at parties and more than once on the Internet. Some of the dates were stand-alone, others morphed into more dates and maybe even a relationship. I’ve been rejected because of my JA and my disability and those hurt. I’ve also been rejected for other reasons, and they hurt, too. And sometimes, I was the one who tried to find a way to gently say it wasn’t going to happen.
Dating is about fine-tuning what you want through dating a number of Mr. or Ms. Wrongs. When you first dip your toe into the dating pool as a teenager, all you want is someone who is, pardon the frankness, hot. Then you discover that hot doesn’t always cut it, that if you’re going to spend actual time with someone, nice, funny, and smart are more important than looks.
For those of us who grew up with juvenile arthritis, there is an additional essential quality, namely that the person is not freaked out by an autoimmune disease. I’m not going to lie to you, some people are. I still remember the man who told me that although he really liked me, he just couldn’t cope with my JA. And I realized I couldn’t cope with someone who didn’t like me just the way I am. Which includes being opinionated, someone who talks a lot, loves food, loves adventures, is a bit of a control freak, and oh, yes. Has JA.
All these years later, I’ve come to understand a couple of very important things about dating with a chronic illness. One, people who reject you because of your JA aren’t the type of person with whom you’d want to spend your life. Freaking out over a chronic illness is a symptom of a deeper lack of compassion, imagination, and flexibility. These are all character traits you want in a partner, as they’ll be much more likely to grow and change with you. Which is, after all, what life is all about, chronic illness or no chronic illness.
The second thing I found out is that the people who are not weirded out about a chronic illness are far more common than those who are. In retrospect, every single time I have been ready for a relationship, I’ve found one. And that’s the key. Being ready.
You have no doubt heard that relationships take work. They do, but so does getting ready to be in one. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll likely find someone who isn’t right for you. Getting ready involves figuring out who you are, what you want, and what you won’t accept.
And there’s another, even more important aspect. Part of knowing who you are is accepting who you are, JA and all. You can’t change the fact that you have a chronic illness — it’s part of you for the rest of your life. You being okay with that and finding a way to integrate it into a positive view of yourself is an important part of finding someone who will be a good partner for you. After all, if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect someone else to love you the way you deserve?
Relationships come and go, but you don’t. Find yourself, get to a place where you enjoy spending time with yourself, and where you can keep yourself entertained, whether it’s at home alone or out in the world. See a counselor, if you have trouble getting there. When you are truly at peace within yourself, when you love yourself just the way you are, you’ll be fine, no matter what. And this is also the time when you are most likely to find someone who will do the same.
The someone who will love you the way you deserve to be loved, and take the JA in stride, will be really special. But not because JA doesn’t freak them out. They’ll be special because they can see you for the amazing person you are on the inside.
I found the love of my life pretty late, but he was more than worth the wait. The best advice I can give you is to be patient, create a life that makes you happy, and never, ever settle. Somewhere along the journey you’ll find that you don’t need a partner to be fulfilled, but you may just find the one you want to be with for the rest of your life.
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Lene writes the award-winning blog The Seated View. She’s the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain.
Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.