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5 things you need to know about dating with a hidden disability

Bethany standing in front of a treeBy Bethany Dawson

I’ve lived with ankylosing spondylitis for my whole adult life. Everything from a committed relationship to a moment of intense eye contact with a stranger has been underpinned by my condition. Contrary to popular belief, this isn’t always a bad thing.
Valentine’s Day gives a very, very rose-tinted view of love and dating. For people with any chronic illness, the seamless view of well-oiled dating just isn’t so relatable. This Valentine’s day, let’s lay out some truths about navigating the world of love with a chronic illness.

1. Speaking about illness is healthy, not too forwards

Whenever or however you bring up chronic ill-health is your choice, but I like to do it early. Sometimes, when I mention that tactic, people say that that can’t be fun, or at least much of an aphrodisiac. And sure, maybe saying “hello, all my joints hurt” isn’t quite so sexy, but it’s really important to establish what you need in terms of support, and also to give an insight into what informs your lived experiences.

This doesn’t have to be a massive conversation. If you want it to be, it can be, but if you want it to be a quick chat about something that matters to you, that’s fine too. However you decide to do it, quickly squeezing in a chat about an important part of your life creates a foundation of support and honesty and shouldn’t be thought of as too much. On the note of “too much…”

2. Any additional needs do not make you a burden

There’s a very ableist, but common trope, is that people with additional needs are a burden, or can be “too much” for a “normal” relationship. Simply put, that’s just not true. Whatever additional support you might need because of your AS (I, for example, need help with mobility and stiffness because I struggle to walk unaided in a flare up), know that you should be given that support in a relationship: you deserve it.

3. Communication is key

You’ll sense this is a theme, huh. This is especially important for all parties within the relationship, not just the person who has a chronic illness. When you talk about what you need – be this a significant amount of help or just an understanding that you will need to change casual plans for the day – do so openly and honestly. This also goes for asking your partner for clarification, for details about their condition or care, or honestly: anything in a relationship.

4. “Sexy” and “arthritic” aren’t mutually exclusive

The most common stereotype that comes alongside arthritis, is that it is only a condition that affects the elderly population. However, with AS, the average age of onset is 24 years old, so we know that those stereotypes aren’t true. Further stereotypes – that we continue to know are false – state that arthritis cannot be sexy.

On any sensual evening – which may not occur this Valentines because of the old pandemic – avoid thinking that you can’t be sexy and arthritic at the same time. Good communication where you assess comfort levels (physical and emotional) is all you need to have a successful sensual time when arthritis is part of the equation.

5. A “failed” situation is better than you think

Dating this year has been nigh on impossible. However, the notion of a failed relationship (or Something) may be broadly familiar, and it may be because of your health. If you’re having romantic discussions with someone, but it fizzles out to the tune of them being overwhelmed or concerns about your health needs: good. Sure, it’ll sting, but it means you have weeded someone out who is not worth your time. If, this Valentine’s Day, you’re sad for what could have been, know that that has just left space for something better.