As I’ve written in my previous article, the thought of trying to start a new relationship when you’re suffering with chronic pain can be an utterly terrifying one. When you spend your days in constant agony, it can seem impossible that anyone would ever want to be with you. It can also feel that the effort and stress of finding a new partner and starting a new relationship is just too much to bear. Couple those thoughts with the breakdown of an existing relationship (as happens all too often) and many pain sufferers start to believe that their only choice is to be alone forever.
I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way. After two years of living with CRPS I met and then married the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. I don’t know all the answers (I wish I did), but here are my suggestions on how to make a success of dating with chronic pain.
The dating ‘marketplace’ can seem terrifying. Especially if you join a dating website or take part in an activity like speed dating, it’s really tempting to just show off the ‘best bits’ of yourself, hiding away all the things that you think are less attractive about you. Living with a disability or health condition only exacerbates that feeling that there is stuff you should conceal if you want to appear attractive.
The reality is that the right person will accept your chronic pain
They’ll understand that you can’t necessarily do everything you want to do, that sometimes you can’t get out of bed, that your relationship might not look exactly like the ones in Hollywood movies. They’ll also think you look fantastic on a day to day basis, not just in that decades-old shot of you all dolled up for a wedding. The right person won’t care. They will love you for who you are and want to be with you whatever. It’s very simple: if they don’t accept you for you, including your health problems, then they’re not the right person.
If they don’t accept you as you are, cut your losses
Of course, it’s only realistic that the flip-side means there will be people who don’t accept your disability. They won’t be able to look past it and it’ll put them off. Okay, fine. It’s their loss. I mean that absolutely sincerely; if someone can’t see beyond your mobility aids, or your medication or yes, your pain, then they’re not a partner (or even a friend) worth bothering with. You shouldn’t have to persuade anyone to be with you just because you have chronic pain. Actually strike that: you should never have to persuade anyone to be with you, full stop. If they find your pain too much to deal with as just a starting point, then they’re not going to stick around when you go through a real rough patch. Walk (or wheel, or crutch) away. They’re not worth it.
So when do you tell people you suffer from chronic pain?
Personally, I chose not to put details of my CRPS on my dating profile. I only had a limited wordcount and I believed (and still do believe) that there are more important things about me than the fact I have chronic pain. My other half (thankfully!) agrees with me. That doesn’t mean I hid it though; in the first email I sent to the man who’s now my husband, I laid bare the details of my conditions and its impact on my life and stressed that if he wanted to walk away, there would be no hard feelings at all. Luckily for me, he didn’t and well, the rest is history! Yes, it was terrifying to put myself out there like that, but it was a gamble that has paid off a million-fold.
Be upfront and truthful about your pain at an early stage
The longer you leave it to tell someone about your chronic pain, the bigger a deal it will become, both for you in the telling and for the other person in understanding. Don’t hide it; it might make them wonder what else you’re not telling them. It would be impossible to conceal your illness from your partner for the rest of your life and why would you even want to try to do so? The right person will be there for you, supporting you every step of the way. The sooner you’re honest about it, the sooner that can start. Get it out there, answer their questions, and then move on to talking about something much more fun.
You are not your illness
One of the biggest problems for people living with chronic pain is that our pain slowly becomes our whole life. Our world gets smaller and smaller, the pain looms ever larger and one day you turn round and all your confidence has disappeared. That doesn’t mean that your pain is the only thing about you; you’re still funny, or friendly, or artistic, or a beautiful singer, or a football fan, or a maths genius or whatever it is that makes you interesting, worthwhile and unique. Pain just makes it a bit harder for us to see those things in ourselves. If you need a confidence boost, ask a family member or close friend to help you with putting together a dating profile; you’ll be amazed at the things they find special and lovable about you.
Especially if you’ve been dumped, especially if the relationship broke down because of your chronic pain, it can seem far safer and easier just to shut yourself away and never risk a relationship again. And yes, I guess it is safe, but it’s not exactly fun or interesting. Pretty lonely too. If you think you want to meet a new person, then get out there and do it! The absolute worst that can happen is that you have a bad date, or you ask someone out and they say no, or you don’t get a new partner. Those are genuinely the worst case scenarios. Are they really that bad? If you live with CRPS then you already cope with experiencing the worst pain there is, day in, day out; compared to that, does a little rejection really seem that terrible? Chronic pain patients are hard as nails. You’re superhuman. How much can a bad date really hurt you? Certainly not as much as CRPS does on a daily basis. And who knows, those dates might just be incredible and not actually very bad at all.
Be open to new experiences
Chronic pain often means that you can’t socialise in the way you used to. Having to give up nights out or even your job can mean that you don’t meet many new people anymore. Luckily, there’s now a multitude of dating websites out there that cater to anyone who just isn’t meeting the right people face to face. There can be a stigma around online dating, but more and more people are meeting their partners that way. I will happily shout from a mountaintop that I met my husband on eHarmony! In the end, it comes down to a simple question: would you rather be cool and alone, or nerdy and loved-up? I know which one I’d choose, every single time.
It doesn’t have to be expensive
CRPS often squeezes your finances, especially if you’re no longer able to work. Dating can seem like a costly pastime, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Although some dating websites or services are expensive, there are a myriad of options out there that cater to all budgets (including free), sexual orientations and life situations, from dating for parents to over 50s. This list gives a good starting point. Instead of going on expensive dates to a restaurant, why not meet for coffee, visit a free museum or art gallery, go bowling or head to the cinema? Deal sites and apps like Groupon, Vouchercloud and Voucher Codes can also offer great deals on activities and restaurants in your local area.
Above all, enjoy yourself
Dating should be fun. After all, what is there in life that is more enjoyable and exciting than getting to know someone you think is amazing? Dating with chronic pain might be a bit more complicated than it is for people without, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be just as fantastic. Be honest, brave and open and who knows what might happen. I was, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I hope that everyone reading this gets just as lucky as I did.