Dating is not always all it's cracked up to be. If any of you have watched a certain popular television show about dating in New York City, you might have the impression that it is both easily done and glamorous. Well, it's not. First off, meeting people is a challenge. Meeting people you like is even harder. And hardest of all is dating with an unpredictable, pesky little disease like rheumatoid arthritis that makes an already complicated matter downright difficult. RA does not a good wingman make.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. A few months back, I found myself on a second date with a guy I had met through a friend. He seemed nice and interesting, was well-traveled and easy to talk to. After our first date, we agreed to meet up again later that week to have dinner, see a movie, and then go to a party a friend of his was throwing in Brooklyn.
This kind of good dating luck never happens to me, so I was excited and looking forward to the evening. He met me after work, and we headed out to get sushi before the movie. At dinner, the conversation was light and fun, and I was feeling better and better about where the night was headed.
Then suddenly, I was feeling awful. As we got up to leave the restaurant, I felt that horrible feverish feeling come over me all at once, but given that I was on a date that was actually going well for a change, I decided to turn a cold shoulder to the warning signal that my RA was not as interested in this guy as I was. RA was NOT going to stop me from having a good date if I had anything to do with it.
By the time we sat down in the movie theater, I could tell my RA was having none of it. I tried my best to focus on the movie and convince myself I could shake this off, but my body was slowly moving through the rigors of a small flare. I felt feverish and achy, and my hips felt like they were being put through a cement grinder. Sitting became an act of physical agony. It seemed inevitable that I was not going to be able to make it through the rest of the date, no matter how much I wanted to. But I really liked the guy and didn't want him to think I wasn't interested. More than that, I didn't want to let on how crappy I felt, and then have to reveal that I had RA on a second date. I wanted to pass as normal for as long as I could.
The movie finally ended. I grinned through the pain and excused myself to the bathroom, where I ran some cold water over my face, looked at myself in the mirror and tried to imagine that I felt a little better. As bad as I felt, I really didn't want my RA to win by ruining an otherwise perfectly good date.
We headed out to the street, and when he suggested we get a drink at a place he knew nearby, I quickly agreed. This sounded like a bargain I could strike with myself: I wouldn't go to the party, but I felt like I could struggle through a quick drink. Unfortunately, it being a Friday night in New York City, this was no easy task. The place was crowded, and there was nowhere to sit, so we got a drink at the bar. As I stood there trying to appear alluring and attentive, all I could think about was that I was feeling worse and worse, and that I really needed to sit down. Luckily for me, he was going on and on about something and didn't seem to notice the fact that I was about to fall off the bar and collapse in a heap. Real glamorous, right?
Finally, over his shoulder I spied a table opening up outside. I practically cut him off mid-sentence and made a mad dash to sit down, all the while trying to keep up my ever-so-charming faÃ§ade. I wasn't sure how well it was working, but I figured there was no turning back now. When he asked me if I was feeling all right, I lied through my teeth and said I was fine, just feeling a little run down from a busy week. Sometimes, honesty is overrated.
He seemed to buy this as a plausible reason for my lack of energy and concentration, and so the evening went on. The cold air outside began to help me feel a little more like myself, and somehow or another, I rallied and one drink turned into two. Before I knew it, he was asking me if I wanted to head out to his friend's party. I was feeling a little better, but decided I should be smart and quit while I was still ahead. I told him I'd had a great time, but that I was really tired and should probably call it a night.
And that's when he got the best of me. He made a pretty persuasive argument about how it was only one stop each way on the subway, and that he really wanted me to come along with him. Even though the voice in my head was telling me I should turn around and head home, I found myself walking onto the Brooklyn bound platform of the #2 train instead.
I don't know if it was through sheer will or luck, but I managed to pull through the entire evening. At 3am, I stumbled through the door to my apartment and collapsed into bed feeling feeble and exhausted. I paid dearly for my date by having to spend the entire next day at home nursing my poor immune system. Clearly, faking good health was not going to work as a long-term dating strategy. What had I been trying to prove, anyway? It's not like I was going to win some kind of Tough Girl RA award for making it through my date.
As I sat there on my couch watching sappy movies, I felt a flurry of different feelings - resentment that I had to deal with this imposition on top of everything else, foolishness for going to such great lengths over a guy I didn't even know that well, and extreme self-consciousness about the fact that one day, like it or not, I would eventually have to face telling someone new that I have RA. I know that anyone worth two cents will be fine with it and see me for who I really am, blah blah blah. But what feels particularly hard and a little bit cruel about having to tell someone else is that it removes one more layer of denial that my life has truly changed. What used to be simple isn't so much anymore and so on and so forth. For better or for worse, I have to face the fact that having RA is now a part of my bargain.
(Oh, and if you're wondering, the guy ended up not being worth it; he was seeing someone else the whole time.)
Sara is the author of the blog, The Single Gal's Guide to Rheumatoid Arthritis.