When I was asked to blog about relationships, dating and RA, I had to laugh. I thought, "I could fill the entire Internet with my crazy dating adventures!" Advice relating to RA and dating, well, that deserved some thoughtful consideration.
I'm in my mid-40s and still single (much to my family’s despair). I've dated for many years. Dating is hard enough when you are healthy, but add in an unpredictable autoimmune disease that causes severe pain, swelling, and fatigue, and it's a whole other ball game. My disease impacted all of my relationships, and I had to learn to be myself while managing an autoimmune disease.
So far, this is what I have learned:
1. Rheumatoid arthritis isn't the end of the world; it's just a different way of living in the world. I couldn’t make it go away, but I could re-envision my present self. Instead of focusing on all the things I couldn’t do, I focused on what I could do. I couldn’t do a lot of physical activities the way I had previously, but I learned that I am pretty crafty and creative, so I found outlets for those hobbies. I began reading, drawing, painting, and decorating. My relationships faltered initially, but those who loved me stood by me until I found my new self.
2. RA is a part of me but it doesn't define me. In the beginning, I saw myself as broken. Who would want me? I put the disease before myself. Thirteen years later, and I am a woman living well with rheumatoid arthritis. I don’t hide my disease. RA is a struggle, but it’s only one part of who I am.
3. Communication is key. I can't expect people to read my mind. This was difficult for me in the beginning (and still is at times). I wasn’t used to asking for help. I was independent and stubborn. But I realized that my friends/family/boyfriend had no idea what I needed because I never let them know. Being open and honest with my communication has helped all of my relationships become stronger. I feared they would think I was needy, but instead, they appreciated being able to help.
4. Acceptance goes a long way. I had a relationship where I downplayed my illness because the man I was with was “anti” western medicine. After a few months, I needed to ask to change plans we had made because my flare-up was making it difficult to drive a long distance. He accused me of using my disease to get my way. I was shocked and hurt, but realized I deserved some of the blame because I never communicated how hard driving was for me. I was afraid of what he would think. Unfortunately, when I did share the “real” issues I had with RA, the relationship fell apart. Now, I’m open and honest about my disease. My acceptance helps others accept me and my RA.
5. Be willing to take a chance. If you meet someone you are interested in, take that chance and let them know who you are and how your disease impacts your life. You might be surprised by the response of others. The question of “to tell or not to tell” about RA on a date is never easy. Follow your gut. A person who is worth your time will remain in your life. If not, you are better off without them.
Dating is never easy and should be fun. Be brave, be honest, and don’t be afraid to share the real you.