Swipe Right is our advice column that tackles the tricky world of online dating. This week: how much to disclose about an illness when youre ready to date
I am a 27-year-old fellow from Canada. Im a high-functioning autistic (and was only diagnosed last year), and Ive struggled for the majority of my life with learning how to interact with others, especially when it comes to intimate relationships. Ive had a sparse few dates here and there that have never led to anything.
By late last year, I had finally started to cultivate greater self-confidence and a desire for intimacy, but life threw a curveball: after a traumatic incident, I developed fibromyalgia. Socializing was already pretty tough before, but its even tougher now with near-constant fatigue and pain. I had to leave my last job due to it, and am still financially dependent upon my (very kind) parents. While Im working hard to find alternate ways of making a living while coping with my disease, itll likely be another year or more before I get close to there.
Given all this, should I bother trying online dating? If so, what, if anything, should I mention about my condition? I dont want to be a burden on someone else. Im scared that, at best, Id end up being a specter in someones life: appearing fleetingly every now and again when my symptoms ebb. At the same time, Im starting to feel the slow creep of years, and am worried that trying to date will become even harder as time goes on and my lack of experience becomes more unattractive.
All relationships ebb and flow in terms of the give and take of support: sometimes one person needs more than another. Needing help doesnt make you a burden. It makes you someone who needs help. Thats the most human thing in the world. For example, it sounds like this may be the case at the moment with your relationship with your parents: theyre supporting you right now, while you focus on finding a route to greater independence as you cope with your illness. At which point youll have more ability to help them, financially or otherwise.
That said: if you are not in a relationship already, it can certainly be difficult to get one started when you are in a place in your life when you dont have a lot to give. One of the longest stretches of singledom in my life happened in the years when my father was diagnosed with, and then died from, cancer. I would have loved the support of a partner through that period of time, but I was ill-equipped to find one. I simply was too focused on what my family needed from me to be able to really connect with someone new. I met men, but I didnt go on a lot of second dates.
I wonder if this might also be the case for you: as you learn to manage your illness, it may be that you simply dont have the energy to add dating into the mix. This is undoubtedly frustrating, but it doesnt mean that youre going to be alone forever. It just means that youre going to be gentle with yourself on that front until you feel really excited about the prospect of meeting new people (to me, should I bother trying online dating? kind of indicates that youre not that excited about it).
Take heart: you are not running out of time at 27, or 35, or 42. Just because culture tends to tell us that everyone is having an exciting romantic life all the time doesnt mean that its actually the case (for more on this, you might be interested in reading The Sex Myth by Rachel Hills).
Peoples love lives develop at all kinds of different paces. And dating is not the same as work: if you meet someone who doesnt want to go for a drink with you because of your romantic CV, theyre not someone that you really want to get to know, anyway, is it?
When you do feel ready to start dating again, its up to you whether you choose to describe what you perceive to be your weaknesses in addition to your strengths. For some people this serves as a helpful filter: you know that you wont be meeting people who would reject you on the basis of these particular details about your life. Other people choose not to flag it up on their profiles, and prefer to share these details after theyve met someone. I cant tell you what the right approach will be for you. But I can tell you that the right time will be when youre not asking should I bother? but rather where should I begin?. And it sounds like you hard at work getting there.