A reader wrote in to Ms. Meniscus worried that -- because of her arthritis diagnosis -- no one would possibly want to date her. Dr. Laurie steps in to shine light on a relationship problem all-too-common for autoimmune disease patients.
Ms. Meniscus and I have been talking.
Well, emailing. Some folks are sending her questions about dating and relationships and arthritis, and she wanted to know what my "professional" take is on relationships and chronic disease.
That's a big subject!
Some of you are in relationships, and you have questions and concerns about how to be intimate when you have this disease, or how to communicate with your partner. Those are significant issues, and I will discuss them in the next few columns.
Others of you aren't in a relationship, and you wonder if you ever will be.
That's the worry that Melissa brought to me. She is a young vibrant woman, who has been diagnosed with RA, and some other autoimmune complications. Her body isn't what it was -- or how she imagined that she would look.
She doesn't feel pretty or energetic. Instead of a source of energy and pleasure, she feels her body has betrayed her and it takes work just to feel "normal."
She's carrying all these complicated feelings inside -- no one can tell that's how she feels. To the outside observer, she looks great. Attractive, and poised. But that's not the inner story that she's telling herself.
When I asked Melissa if she wanted to date, and to find somebody to love, she hesitated before she said yes. I pointed out the hesitation, and she said, "Who would want to date me? I'm afraid if I get close to someone, they'll be disappointed when I don't feel well. They'll want to do things I can't. Some days I'm in pain and nobody wants to be around that kind of downer."
Do you hear that too? The sound of someone shutting a door? Melissa was shutting down even the possibility of a person who she might be with because she began writing that person's reactions before they even happened.
It is natural to want to protect yourself from hurt or your own disappointment, but that self protection also functions as a shield that keeps you from being in a relationship!
The combination of negative and painful feelings about yourself and your body, coupled with an inner mindset that says "No one wants me anyhow" guarantees that finding someone or trying dating is not going to happen.The first question you need to clarify with your self is:
Do I want to date?
You need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Sometimes we think we want something, but that's in our imagination.
Dating takes time, attention, a willingness to risk, and an ability to deal with dead ends.
Are you up for all that? Most people who start dating don't find "the one" for a while. They realize it's work and you put yourself out there to make it happen.
So do you want to make this a priority for yourself? There's no shame in admitting you're not up for it right now. If that's the case, then relax. Be in a book group. Enjoy your work. Hang out with friends. Develop a new hobby. Let yourself be where you really are.If you answered "Yes -- I want to do what's required to be in a relationship" -- then the next question is:
What is the script you tell yourself about dating?
You checked your willingness, and found you do want to meet some people, try out some relationships, and date. The next step is to make your inner story as real and as positive as you can.
No, it may not seem romantic, but it's somewhat similar to job hunting. You want to have a positive and a realistic inner story.
This is a place you want to build your self confidence. Ask a few friends who you trust why they think you would be a great match for someone. Pay attention to the things that help you feel confident and good about yourself -- a sharp haircut, clothes that make you happy.
Write down who you are and why you would be a fun date. You are creating an energy that will attract what you are looking for. You are getting involved in the process and not just waiting for something to happen.
This is an important step -- especially when you have a disease that compromises how you feel about yourself.
Emphasize your best qualities to yourself. You're funny, you have a killer memory for details, you make people feel listened to and cared about, you are smart and competent.
You make a delicious meatloaf, you can play Scrabble all night. You love old movies and you can recite the dialogue that makes your friends howl.
There are 101 reasons someone would want to be with you -- but you need to know what they are and write them down!
Review this until you believe it. Let your support crew help you.
Be willing to take some risks and deal with some duds.
Even if you didn't have a chronic disease, not everybody would be right for you. There are some good possibilities, a few great possibilities, and a lot of wrong possibilities. Be prepared to take a few trial runs. Be prepared for a number of them not to work out. Be prepared to reject some suitors, and be prepared for some suitors to reject you. It's part of the process.
I don't know anybody who really likes this process, I don't know anyone who wants to do this a lot. Most people start, fall out, and pick themselves up and try again.
But there are a number of people who are good matches with your personality and romantic desires.Where do you find someone? Personal ads, internet sites, tell your friends you're looking, go out with friends and co-workers. Go to a reunion, join a church or synagogue, be in a support group, take a class.
The world is wide open with potential -- and other lonely, available, cool people. Like you.
Arthritis isn't the main theme of your life story -- unless you make it that. It's a part of who you are but it doesn't define you. Let your life shine out -- and, if you're longing for someone, get out there!
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