Disclosing Medical Conditions in Dating
I have a chronic illness. My friends believe I’m a wonderful catch but I am afraid I’ll be viewed as "damaged goods".
Dear Sherry and Rosie,
I am a 30-year-old woman who two years ago went from having no health issues to having a serious, chronic illness. I have battled to a place that is now stable and I am hoping to start dating. My friends and family are convinced that I have wonderful things to offer a man, but I am afraid I will be viewed as "damaged goods".
Finding a good husband is hard enough when you're at your best, but I am not what I once was. How can I compete with other young, healthy women in this crazy dating world? What if, like another friend of mine, I fall for someone only for him to leave when I disclose my health? How do I regain my confidence and move forward with my uncertain future?
Rosie and Sherry's Answer:
Thank you for writing to us. We're happy to hear that you have achieved hard-fought health stability and we hope that God continues to guide you to a full recovery. We also hope that you are able to use our answer to date successfully and soon find the right man for you to marry.
It seems that you already have an advantage in that process. You believe in yourself - in all that you have to offer to your future husband and marriage. Being able to project a positive self image is one of the most important qualities for a dater to have; it's a hard-to-define quality that most of the men you will date are looking for.
Having friends who believe in you and support your desire to get married is another plus in your favor. You can enlist them to help you network. Your friends can also be a good source of emotional support if you sometimes feel discouraged about how your dating is going.
One more factor that will help you is your understanding that your medical condition will be a factor in your dating career, and that some of the men you date will not be willing to continue once they learn about your situation. Fortunately, this won't be true for all men. We personally know people who decided to continue dating after they learned about the other person's serious illness (including multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia, progressive visual impairment, and Crohn's Disease), and many of these couples went on to marry. It can help to view your situation from the perspective of, "I'm looking for one man - who's right for me and can accept who I am," instead of "I have to compete in the dating pool with all of these other women, many of whom are healthier (or richer/smarter/thinner) than me."
When you and your friends network, don't disclose your medical condition. If only a small number of people know about your illness and prognosis, keep it that way. Collaborate with the people who are helping your search on how they can describe you to potential dates and to anyone who might know a potential date. One way to start is: "I want to help a friend of mine find the right guy to marry - she's an amazing person and I'm hoping you might know a good man to set her up with." In the next two or three sentences, your friend can mention what you're doing in life, four of your best qualities, and four things you're looking for in a marriage partner. That can open up the door for further discussion.
If a number of people outside of your close circle of friends and family do know that you were ill, let your networkers know how you would like them to answer questions they may be asked. The answers should be positive, honest, and brief. For example, "Yes, she had medical treatment and worked hard to be where she is today - stable, strong, and looking forward to living a healthy life."
Of course, you will have to let the men you're dating know about your situation. Jewish law tells us that this is important information for a potential spouse to have, and is one of the many factors a dater will take into consideration when deciding whether to marry a particular person. A dating partner's ability to listen to and process your information may depend on when, how, and what you say, so it's important to plan your disclosure carefully.
Many people consult with a rabbi who is accustomed to giving advice on health-related issues to find out when they should bring up their medical conditions. While we can't substitute our understanding with that of an authority on Jewish law, we know that many daters are told to wait until they've had a certain number of dates, but before they developed a strong emotional connection. This gives their dating partner an opportunity to see what they're like as a person and how they live their life, making them more open to hearing and processing the information.
We can't deny that many people would hesitate to start dating someone if they heard about a serious medical condition during the vetting process. However, once they're dating and start to develop a connection with someone who seems to be living life well, it's easier for them to see the condition as one of many elements to consider about the multi-faceted person they're dating.
There's another advantage about disclosing this personal information after a number of dates. You're able to select the men you share it with - people with whom you're starting to feel a connection and you sense have discretion. It doesn't become common knowledge among people you meet a couple of times and decide not to continue to get to know. Although you will probably make your disclosure after you've started to feel a connection, you'll be making it before that connection is strong. If he decides not to continue, it will be less painful for both of you.
So what do you say? Be honest, and be positive. "I've got to discuss something with you that I was advised to bring up at this point in our dating. We've been out a number of times and you can see that I'm living and enjoying a rewarding, full life. But I am also managing a medical condition. Two years ago, I learned I have X. I was determined to get healthy and after a lot of treatment, I am stable and strong, and looking forward to my future. I'll always have to be on top of my health. I can understand if this is surprising to you and it's a lot to digest. Please ask me any questions you want, and I will answer them the best I can."
You should be prepared to answer questions about how you manage your illness, what your daily routine is like, how your ability to have children may be affected, and your long terms prognosis. A man who's willing to consider your information will probably have many questions, and you may want to invite him to speak with your doctor. Don't be surprised if your dating partner wants time to think about whether he wants to continue dating. It's possible he'll want to keep going out while he decides.
We believe that our suggestions can help you get a good start on marriage-minded dating. We wish you continued good health and that you soon find a man who's right for you.
Sherry and Rosie