It’s no secret that living with multiple sclerosis (MS) can take a real toll on your daily living, in all aspects including your love life. Navigating the dating scene is already challenging enough and living with MS can make it even more complicated.
Young people in their 20s and 30s are often seeking out a partner and for those diagnosed with MS, the idea of dating may raise some concerns. If you’re concerned with how MS may interfere with your love life, keep reading to learn how others have approached dating.
How can I date when my MS is constantly intruding on my social life? When do I tell a new partner about my diagnosis? How will the disease impact my sex life? Will anyone even want to date me?If this sounds like you, know that you’re not alone and the above questions are common. Julie Fiol, a registered nurse, licensed social worker, and director of MS information and resources for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, has heard all of these concerns from patients before.
“MS is a complex disease,” she says. “It can be hard to talk about or explain [to a partner] why some days you feel fine and other days you don’t. It could make dating harder when you’re not sure how you will feel.”
Romantic relationships also tend to get physical. MS can impact sexual function and mood. “Not everyone can handle being in an intimate relationship with someone who has a chronic illness,” says Fiol.
A common dilemma is being diagnosed at a young age while single and searching. At that point, a patient may question whether anyone would want to deal with it at all if they had the choice. Some MS patients, like Chelsey Merrill, a 27-year-old accountant, will choose to take a break from dating. Merrill struggled a lot with when to disclose her illness to potential partners and how much information to share.
“It’s a really vulnerable thing to tell someone and a lot to unload on a first date,” she says, “but I also didn’t want to feel like it was a secret I was keeping.”
“There is no right time for everyone,” Fiol says. “It’s a very personal choice, and most often you will be able to tell when the time is right.”
It makes sense to wait until you feel a real connection with someone before revealing something so personal, but you don’t want to wait so long that your partner thinks you were hiding it.
Already in a Relationship?
For those already in a relationship, the question of how an MS diagnosis can affect the relationship may be raised. There are many unknowns like how it will affect your ability to work, travel, and start a family. You may also begin to worry about how it will affect finances and your sex life.
A diagnosis will be scary for the patient, but it may also be pretty scary for your partner. It’s a major adjustment and some will show undying love and support, while others may not be able to handle it.
Losing a relationship to a disease that already takes so much from you can be heartbreaking, but ultimately, Fiol says, you deserve to be with someone who will support you no matter what.
Catherine Weston, a 25-year-old marketing manager in Richmond, Virginia, was friends with her long-term partner before they got romantically involved, so he was aware of her MS. Even so, he hadn’t seen the truly difficult aspects of her disease until they started dating, she says.
“Often,” says Weston, before a relationship has gotten serious, “they have only seen you at your best. They don’t get the harder, nitty-gritty times when you can barely get out of bed or have intense mood swings or need to isolate yourself to just cool down from the world.”
Now in a committed relationship, she recognizes, “It’s hard for us who have MS, but it’s also tough on our partners, who stand by us through everything.”
At some point, you may decide to take things to the next level. Whether you’re with a new partner or you’ve been in a long-term relationship, MS does add another set of complications.
Some known symptoms of MS include pain, tingling, numbness, or hypersensitivity. This can affect genital sensation and sexual desire. For women, vaginal dryness may be experienced. Men may have difficulty achieving erections. For both, a decreased frequency or intensity of orgasms may be experienced. Fatigue and mood changes also have an impact on sexual desire.
There are fixes for many of these issues though, says Fiol. For example, if fatigue is a frequent problem, she suggests being intimate earlier, when you have more energy, rather than waiting for the end of a date. “It can take the pressure off, and then you can have a relaxing date night,” she says.
Medications can address many physical complaints. Using pillows strategically or varying positions can help too.