The awkward first date is a trope so routinely played out in movies and on television that most of us feel like we’ve been on ten before ever experiencing one ourselves. Waiting to find out if you’re likeable enough for a second date is straight up terrifying. The other side of the coin is equally scary: the decision to let a stranger into your life. Dating can often seem like a balancing act as you simultaneously try to sniff out red flags while remaining open enough to give people the chance to pleasantly surprise you.
“One time a date saw my phone reminder to take my medication. I hadn’t told them yet that I had MS, and wasn’t planning on telling them then. When they asked about it, it caught me off guard. Even though I’m very public about having MS, situations where I’m not prepared or have not intentionally decided to mention it can be very jarring for me. They didn’t react negatively to it, but it stayed with me because it felt like I had something to hide from them and I had been found out. Having MS – an invisible disease part of the time for me – makes it hard to know when or how to tell people, especially new people and dates.”
Dealing with stigma
Stigma is often so subtle that people don’t always realize when they are perpetuating inaccurate assumptions about minority groups, including people living with disabilities. When you live with a disease or disability, dealing with inaccurate assumptions about who you are is (sadly) part of daily life. When a person with a disability begins dating someone new, he or she is sometimes put in the position of having to break through assumptions right from the start, in order to create an equal, long-term partnership.
Talking about your MS is an entirely personal choice, one that can feel difficult when meeting new people and trying to date. The reality is this: it’s entirely up to you. When you do feel ready to talk about your MS with a romantic or sexual partner – whether you’re new to dating or starting over after the end of a marriage or long-term relationship – here are a few tips to help you assert yourself and ensure you are establishing roots for an equal partnership.
Dating with MS toolkit
Equip yourself with information
Educating yourself about MS will make it easier to share with your partner. In some cases, you’ll be put in the position of educating someone about MS, and having resources to share with them can help drive an informed conversation. The newly diagnosed section of our website has some tools that can help. You can also consult Multiple Sclerosis: The Facts You Need for more information.
Set your boundaries
Ideally, do this before entering into a dating situation. MS and its myriad effects on you and the ones you love will be different than someone else’s, as will your experiences dating with MS. That’s why it’s important to determine your own set of needs, boundaries and desires.
Take a step back from dating if you become overwhelmed or discouraged. Focus on the things in your life that make you feel good. Practicing self-care is a habit worth forming. It will carry over as a useful skill when it comes to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Find a source of support.
Whether it’s an online community like #ChatMS, the MS Peer Support Program or an offline group in your area, sharing your experiences and discussing dating with other people living with disabilities can help bolster your morale and confidence, which will help you assert yourself in romantic relationships.
Recognize power imbalances.
Those who lack awareness about MS may base their knowledge of disability on what is represented in the media. TV programs and movies rarely portray people with disabilities as desirable or autonomous people who own their sexuality. This can sometimes lead to assumptions that people living with disabilities are non-sexual or non-romantic. This is of course not true! Have you ever thought you were being viewed as sexual because of your disability? Try to recognize when you feel your identity is being reduced to your disability. Then you can decide how you want to proceed with a partner.
Talking it out
One of the best ways to avoid power imbalances is to create an open dialogue with your partner. Make sure you feel comfortable and safe talking about your needs, desires and boundaries. Your priority is feeling safe, heard and respected.
Dating can sometimes be intimidating, but living with MS can make it even more so. Ask yourself: what is unacceptable to you? What are your deal breakers? Take the time to be sure you are with someone you trust. You deserve nothing less.
We are here for you. If you need to talk, call an MS navigator at 1-844-859-6789.