You can now read 10 articles a month for free. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Love Letters

When to disclose an illness?

He worries news of his muscular dystrophy is scaring off women.

Q. I am a little stuck. Before I ask my question I should preface that my dating life has never been more than a low-heat simmer. Certainly there have been periods of a soft boil, but for the most part, the heat of my dating life has never really been at cooking temperature. Sometimes I think about why that is, and for the most part it is because of my simple decision to spend time finding myself so that I am more confident and comfortable with what I have to offer. However, lately I find that I am ready to date. But there remains a barrier.

I was 19 when I was diagnosed with a non-fatal form of muscular dystrophy. Once being an active and athletic bro, I am now 30 and a much weaker version of my old self, but I am thankful that I can do a lot of things a normal person can do and still move about occupationally without comment or notice from anyone else. It is a good thing that I am still able to do a lot now, but I am preparing for the day(s) when doing things will be a little more difficult.

Continue reading below

In the not so distant past I have met a number of wonderful women. It seemed that a connection was established with most. At a certain point — sometimes the first date, sometimes the second through fifth — I disclose my pathology and the result has always been the same, despite explaining the disease process, potential future therapies, and what is means to me and my future. Sometimes it is immediate, sometimes it takes a few days, but overall the departing message is the same. They make flattering comments but say that their interest has waned and friendship seems more appropriate.

I get it and I do not really dwell on it. I move forward and appreciate the fun of simply getting to know someone else. I am an optimist and know a better half exists. A part of me wonders if perhaps I should disclose my disease at a specific time. Certainly it is highly variable depending on the level of the connection, but history suggests that I should probably disclose the information later rather than sooner. This is where I need your help, Meredith and readers. Not knowing what to do or when has been a flame retardant. Is there a certain point when I should consider disclosing my future problem? How would you prefer the news?

Southern New Hampshire

A. It is very, very possible that these dates have fizzled for reasons that have nothing to do with your health. If you read Love Letters you know that it can be tough to get past a few dates with anyone, especially if you meet people online and have no history with them.

You mention that disclosure should depend on the level of connection. You’re right about that. There is no perfect moment, but you should be able to get a sense of when a date is ready to listen and share their own stories.

You asked how I’d prefer to hear the news. Personally, I’d like a nice, fun first date without too much heavy talk. Then on a second or third date (or whenever the conversation became a bit more intimate) I’d want to hear the details of your life — including your health. I’d also want it explained. I’d want to get the sense that you’re comfortable talking about this stuff so that I could feel comfortable asking questions. I might even want you to say, “Ask me anything.”

Really, it sounds like you’re doing this right but that you just haven’t met a match. The same could be said for a lot of people who are out in the dating world. You just have to keep trying and remember that it can take a while to get cooking. Meredith

READERS RESPOND:

I think this is a beyond the first few dates discussion. As you’ve said, you have a pretty normal life now. Perhaps when you really get to know someone better, it’s more the right time to discuss. I think you deserve a fair time frame where you can determine whether or not a particular person is right for you too. ROXROCK2

I don’t think there’s a specific time, although first date seems a little rushed. Don’t put the convo on the fast track. A connection should be established for sure. When the right woman comes around, she will understand and be compassionate. ASTRO-NOT

This sounds like WAY too much information to divulge on a first date or the few after that. First, it’s a little presumptuous since it may make then feel you’re already thinking of a future with them and they’re still getting to know you (and you them). Second, it takes the focus off just having fun and getting to know them and putting the focus instead in all the in’s and out’s of your medical diagnosis. Why not just let it evolve over time? If your medical issue isn’t so apparent, then let them find out once there’s a little more of a foundation. BKLYNMOM

I can assure you that some of these women have stopped dating you for other reasons than your pathology. Don’t take that the wrong way, but that’s just how it is, so you can’t use that as a blanket reason for why these girls have decided not to pursue a relationship. Men and woman alike stop dating people for far more superficial reasons than that, and also for simple reason like “I just don’t like you enough.” SMASHATOMS4

I’m sure there is a woman who is in a similar health situation who has similar problems finding appropriate people to date. There might even be a dating site for that . . . or these chat boards you mentioned. Or even support groups through local hospitals where he might find like-minded folks. I’ve known many a spouse of somebody who had cancer and died who has met somebody at a hospital support group. JAR-VT

I think I actually have to agree with Meredith here. I think you just haven’t caught hold of the one that’s going to stick. ELLEEM

Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgoldstein@ globe.com.
Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week