Dating: When to Tell or Not to Tell?

Disclosing to someone new in your life, whether that's a romantic partner, friend, employer, coworker, or anybody else, can be complicated and difficult. It's especially challenging and anxiety-inducing when it comes to dating. Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), chronic pain, or any other chronic illness is a gigantic and all-encompassing part of one's life, and it's not easy to keep the secret for very long--even if you try to.

Disclosing about living with RA when dating

During my many years of (mostly) dating disasters, I've often struggled with this issue and many questions about it. Should I tell him? When should I tell him? How should I tell him? When is it too soon to tell? How much should I tell? How long can I go keeping this a secret? Should I even have to keep this a secret? How will he react? What if he rejects me once he knows? And the questions in your mind and heart can go on and on when trying to figure out what to do. In the past, I've definitely been rejected and dumped by potential dating partners because of having RA. This is appalling, incredibly judgmental, hurtful, depressing, infuriating, and simply not fair. But it's true and one reality of living with RA when trying to date and form real, lasting relationships.

Dating someone new

In September 2021, I began dating someone and, once again, all of those questions about whether or not, or how to, disclose my RA began nervously swirling around in my head. At first, I had no idea if this was going to be a one-date situation, or a miraculous two-date triumph, or even something longer and more lasting. To my great surprise and happiness, we made it to Date Two and we're still going on dates and spending time together. I have no idea what number of dates we're even on anymore, and this also makes me happy.

But as I realized that I really liked this person and he seemed to feel the same about me, not sharing with him about my RA began to increasingly weigh on me. I felt guilty for keeping this "secret," and extremely worried that telling him I have RA would scare him away. I know that if someone dumps me for having RA, he is not worth my time nor worthy of being with me. Yet it's still a stressful situation to be in, especially when you really like the person and want things to work out well.

I finally told him the big RA news

Once I finally summoned the courage to tell my boyfriend, he reacted in the compassionate way I assumed and hoped he would, based on the time we had already spent together getting to know each other. I knew he was a very kind, sensitive, and empathetic person, but I was still scared to tell him. The risk felt enormous and the thought of a disease I had no control over getting in the first place, snatching another piece of happiness away from me, was terrifying and heartbreaking. But I knew it had to be done, because not telling him, someone I was really growing to care about, felt dishonest and I didn't want any dishonesty in our relationship. I want to share my whole messy self with someone, and living with RA since age 17, while not my identity as a person, is a huge part of my life and self.

Maybe I should have jotted down the date that I finally told him the big RA news, because now I honestly can't remember when it happened. We had been dating for several weeks, at least. I believe the conversation came about in relation to COVID-19 when I revealed that I'm high-risk and immunocompromised. I just did it and I said it one night. Then I explained that I've lived and struggled with the pain and sickness of RA every single day since August 1996.

Having RA was not a deal-breaker for him

I also proudly (yet also shyly) told him about my patient advocacy work and how important it is to me. A writer himself, when I told him that I write for RheumatoidArthritis.net and have done some other writing and photography (and radio) advocacy work, he sounded impressed, happy, and even excited that I have the opportunities to do these things.

His positive, supportive response filled me with great relief and deep gratitude for his desire to understand and not give up on me. Me having RA was not a deal-breaker for him, and I hope and pray that it never will become one. None of us should be unfairly judged, dismissed, overlooked, shot down, or dumped because we have RA. It should be the complete opposite. Our strength, courage, and resilience should be honored.

Glad we took time to get to know each other better

So did I wait the "right" amount of time to spring the RA news on him? I never know when the "right" or "wrong" time is, but I'm both glad that I waited a little while for us to just get to know each other better and that I didn't wait too long or continue to keep it a secret.

Having RA should never be thought of or treated as some "dirty secret." We are strong, powerful, warrior-fighters who deserve support and respect from all of the relationships in our lives.

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