When to tell your date you have arthritis

by Collette McColgan

There's no need whatsoever to hide your arthritis from a date, but some times might be better than others to share!

Telling someone that you have arthritis is always quite tricky, but particularly when that person is a new love interest. Arthritis can end up being a bit of an elephant in the room, especially if you’re in a situation with someone who doesn’t know you have it.

No one wants to scare off or worry a potential partner with something they don’t really need to be concerned about, but it is pretty crucial that they know that you’re a bit delicate. I’ve been dragged around and dropped by the most caring of boyfriends even when they did know about my juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), so I’d dread to think of the potential risks if someone didn’t know.

Of course, you might meet the perfect partner, who asks all of the right questions, but in my limited experience – and at this stage I must announce to you that I’m no Einstein when it comes to matters of the heart – once you get around to telling them, your beau will probably fall into one of the following three categories:

1. The Uninterested

This is, rather unfortunately, more likely to come about if you tell your new love interest at a really bad time, such as while they are witnessing you taking your daily medicine, or when they’ve just told you something significant about their lives and think you’re trying to hog the limelight.

2. The Over-Empathiser

I don’t want to belittle or make light of anyone else’s medical conditions here; we all deserve a bit of sympathy now and then. But when I tell my new boyfriend that I have JIA, I don’t want this in response:

“Oh, I understand – I have [insert unrelated medical condition here].”

I say this because I once had a boy tell me he had carpal tunnel syndrome in response to my soul-bearing. Now, I’m sure carpal tunnel syndrome can be a struggle (he certainly moaned about it enough); I have its lesser-known cousin, cubital tunnel syndrome, myself. But when I tell someone about my JIA, out of politeness if nothing else, I expect at least a couple of questions about that, before we get back to them.

3. The Panicker

This will initially start as sympathy and curiosity. You might start to think you’ve found the perfect guy or girl as they ask you how it affects your day-to-day life, and if there’s anything they can do to help. But that will soon be followed by concern that they’ve been secretly hurting you for your entire relationship, and fear ever to hold your hand again.

Of course, no one is all of one and none of another – I’ve had an Over-Empathiser bring me food from town when I couldn’t get up one morning, and I’ve had a Panicker drag me along the ground on my knees when running for a train.

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Perhaps avoid these times!

Deciding when you to tell that special someone that you have arthritis can be a tough decision to make. In the early days of a relationship you want to present the best possible side of yourself, in order to show your significant other that you’re a decent human being and not the kind of person who is going to be crying down the phone at them in a few months’ time because they’ve decided to go out with their mates rather than see you. Save some perks of being in a relationship until later folks!

While arthritis isn’t my best or only quality, it’s not my worst either, and I’m certainly not embarrassed about it. There’s no specific rule here, and I think you’ll probably know yourself when the right time is, but I probably wouldn’t try these times:

1. After he tells you about the amazing couple’s skiing holiday he’s booked for you both. A romantic gesture should not usually be followed by guilt.

2. After he’s playfully pushed you and accidentally really hurt you. Again, it’s always better to let them know that you’re made of glass early on to avoid any hospital trips as the early dates.

3. After he’s taken the mick out of you for not being able to open bottle lids. Everyone concerned is going to feel awkward here.

So when should you tell them?

It’s all well and good me telling you what you might expect from telling someone you have arthritis, but that doesn’t really solve the problem of when you should do it.

My advice is sooner rather than later, because honesty is the best policy, and there’s no way arthritis isn’t going to factor into your relationship. Having said that, I don’t think an introduction of: “Hi, my name’s Collette, I’m 22, I’ve got arthritis but I don’t like to talk about it!” is going to get you very far either. It’s probably second or third date material, if they seem like a keeper.

And just remember that there’s nothing like a tricky condition for separating the lovely from the losers. If someone balks at the news that you have arthritis, it saves you the bother of dating them for several months just to find that they’re a grade one jerk. Happy new relationship, folks. Good luck!

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