It’s coming up to that time of the year again.
Big, red, fluffy hearts everywhere you look. Roses on every table. Candlelit dinners across the country.
For many singletons with multiple sclerosis [MS], navigating the road from dating to a relationship can be tricky. But there’s one particular question on my lips: “Will I tell them? Won’t I?”. The stress can feel like a Shakespearean drama in the making.
I don’t even know the grammatically correct way of talking about this topic. Is it “dating and MS” or “MS and dating?” Do you tell your date that you have MS from the get-go? Or do you leave it out of all dating conversations for the next six months?
Considering I am a romantic old fool with a positive mindset, I would “accidentally” say it early in the message and email exchange:
“By the way, there’s the dog thing. Oh, and I have MS.”
Gentleman, if you don’t like dogs, I won’t like you. I also happen to have received an MS diagnosis, but I’m still walking and talking. So, really, I’m kind of okay.
My reality when dating with MS
I’ve fallen asleep at dinner tables and in the cinema on the first date. In fact, I get so tired I proudly call my fatigue the “Fatigue Deluxe Subscription”.
Like the country, my memory has also gone into “lockdown” until further notice. On one date, I couldn’t remember where I lived when he wanted to give me a lift home.
Another symptom of my MS is trigeminal neuralgia, which can cause painful sensations from my face to my brain. I would never mention that on a first date. It's so frightening it sometimes scares the dog away.
I've had many chats with friends about dating. Especially when to tell a love interest that dating me could be more challenging than first expected.
But I must admit one thing.
I’ve stopped “swiping right” and “clicking hearts” on the profiles of gentlemen I may have once considered fine, future candidates.
In short, I’ve been there, on all the apps. I’ve done it. I’ve decided to shelve the idea altogether, so I’m out of the dating game for now.
Why I’ve decided to stop dating for now
Unless the gentleman is someone I already know, I don't want to go through the whole ordeal of treading softly and trying to hide my symptoms. I definitely don't want to do that when fearing I may end a dinner date face-down in my dessert. It's just not something I'd go through again.
It means I don't have to go shopping for fragile lace lingerie anymore. Even better, I can stop being afraid I'll rip it to pieces by falling over trying to get into it, wondering what goes where. For now, I am happy being a delightfully, dazzling diva dressed up in my duvet and fluffy socks, ready to watch documentaries or videos about dogs on Valentine’s Day.
I have had 15 years of real aches and pain – and all joking aside – symptoms that few other people have experienced. I don't need to go through that and still have to correct someone else’s distorted views about MS.
Reactions when I’ve talked about MS on dates
Here are my experiences of dating two different men. Let's call them "Man One" and "Man Two."
"Man One" said that I "couldn't possibly be that tired," when he saw I had trouble walking from the couch to the fridge. He said that I should get out more. He even compared me to his colleague with MS, who was "so different."
"Man Two" laughed when I told him what triggers my trigeminal neuralgia. Then he said that I "didn't fit into his schedule anymore."
The result? I gladly left them.
Sadly, though, reactions like these aren't uncommon, even among family, friends and colleagues. This can be frustrating, especially when I've explained my MS symptoms to those closest to me, and they know the truth.
I'm not the only one who's faced attitudes like these. Anyone with MS, or any other unpredictable, lifelong illness, will likely have dealt with ignorance. Ignorance can occur even after the person with MS has tried to educate those around them.
Such attitudes can also cause considerable rifts and mistrust in a relationship, not to mention the fact chronic illness can be associated with the increased risk of divorce.
My final thoughts about dating
Now that I've been on and off the dating scene, my view is that you should be truthful to yourself and your future partner. He or she deserves the chance to walk away if they think MS will be too big a burden in the relationship. More importantly, you deserve a partner who'll be with you through thick and thin!
It's important to say that I'm not trying to put off any people with MS from dating. I'm just talking about my personal experience.
So, next time you're on a date and thinking about the "Will I? Won't I?" question, remember to use humour.
NPS-IE-NP-00188 February 2021