Discussing your multiple sclerosis (MS) can be very difficult even when talking with a trusted and known figure in your life. As something that can make you feel very vulnerable, discussing your MS with a prospective partner can be even more difficult since you are actively trying to gain their acceptance. Since the majority of MS diagnoses occur between age 20 and 40, your MS may make finding a partner at such an important time in your life feel like an intimidating or even insurmountable task. However, many individuals in similar positions have found ways of discussing their illness in this context and you will be able to as well.
Especially with a new partner, it can be tempting to not bring up your MS. However, this is a recipe for an unstable relationship down the line. While it may seem easier to ignore during a fledgling relationship, it sets a precedent of withholding important personal information from a partner. Whether or not a prospective partner sees MS as a “deal breaker” or not, they will almost certainly appreciate your honesty and ability to make yourself so vulnerable. Discussing your MS early on is a courageous tactic that will allow you to fully open yourself to a partner without worrying about hide your MS.
If you decide that disclosing your condition is the best choice of action, you must be open to the idea of them reacting in many different ways. How they react is largely out of their control. Some people may need time to process the information, and some people may be fine and move the conversation along quickly. Some people may want to absorb it with you, and others may want to process it alone. Some might want to ask questions, some may prefer silence. At this point, you must just remember that you’ve done all you can do. Providing information is the most loving act that you can do once you’ve decided to let this person in on this aspect of your life, and you must remember that the way they react does not reflect you as a whole; they are just reacting to your disease.
From the Top
First dates are scary for anyone, let alone for people with MS. Keep in mind that there is no obligation to share any more information than you are comfortable sharing on a first date. What if you don’t even like the person after that first date? If discussing your MS pushes the boundaries of your comfort zone, do not feel pressured to do so at this stage in getting to know someone. On the other hand, if being open about your MS early on is important to you, then do not feel ashamed about bringing it up. Whichever side of the spectrum you feel yourself leaning on is both valid and normal. There is no correct way to feel in this situation and accepting that however you feel is valid is key to moving forward with a relationship in whatever fashion you deem is best.
So, for example, your friend set you up with a wonderful person last week and your first date is approaching. They’re smart, gorgeous, and you want to do everything you can to impress them. They call you a couple days before the date to let you know that they’re excited to see you and hope to go on a romantic stroll around the city with you before taking you to a nice dinner. Alarm bells sound in your head. Do you bring your cane and hope for the best? You were planning on wearing those new heels, but do you think you can really go for a walk while wearing them? These are the kinds of things that many MS patients are forced to think about on a first date. Just because you have to think about them, though, does not mean that they will ruin your night!
In this situation, for instance, perhaps suggest that you just do dinner, or even take advantage of a bicycle taxi service or a similar option that exists in your city instead of that walk that they mentioned. You don’t have to provide an explanation if you don’t want to! Chances are, they’re as nervous about the date as you are and the likelihood of them connecting your wish to alter their plans to you having MS is slim to none. You can use similar tactics to modify plans based on your ability and, in all likelihood, they will not question your desires. In the event that they do and you are not comfortable sharing, it can be a good idea to come up with a reason or two besides your MS -- whether that you stubbed and broke a toe last week, or that you’re recovering from a bad cold. You don’t owe anyone any information on a first date, so don’t feel pressured to disclose anything that you don’t feel comfortable disclosing.
Things to Remember if You Decide to Disclose
If you decide to disclose your condition early on, here are a few things that may be useful to think about. Firstly, remember that you are much more than your illness. Yes, MS is part of your life, but it is far from the whole. If you decide to disclose your condition, remember this! Show off the interesting aspects of yourself that make you unique and don’t let your condition become the focal point of the date. In other words, treat it like any other date, with or without MS being a factor. Focus on illuminating the interesting aspects of yourself!
Secondly, acknowledge that not all people will be supportive. For some, this may just be too much to cope with from someone whom they do not know well. This is not a reflection of your personality and says nothing about who you are as a whole, it just means that you two do not fit together well. This can happen on any date, for a variety of reasons and it is seldom one person’s “fault.”
Finally, remember that you do not have to disclose everything all at once. For instance, if they ask about a cane, or notice that you’re having trouble with mobility, it would be a perfectly valid response for you to just state that you’ve been having trouble with your balance lately or anything else that you think drops a hint that there is something going. If they try to ask more, it is a perfectly valid response to simply state that you would prefer not to talk about it.
You Are Not the First and You Will Not Be the Last
Dating with MS can be daunting but people with MS have dated, fallen in love, had fulfilling romantic relationship, and they will again. Fledgling relationships are full of complications for anyone, and MS is just another one to add to the list. So, while dating might be more difficult for you than for people who do not have MS, it is far from impossible.
Relationships are built upon trust and communication. Disclosing your condition to a prospective partner is an exceptionally strong way of stating that you trust them, are willing to communicate openly about difficult issues, and expect for them to do the same. Whether or not your partner is able to accept your MS and explore the other aspects of you easily, you will have exemplified the kind of treatment that you expect from them and laid the foundation for a strong, healthy, and trusting relationship. If your potential partner decides to continue to get to know your other aspects, they will undoubtedly come to see that MS is not your defining characteristic.