A man in a wheelchair meeting a woman

Upfront and personal – how much should we share?

‘I live with a chronic illness that isn’t obvious to others but can be disabling,’ said the email. ‘I’ve joined a Christian dating website but I can’t decide whether to mention my condition in my profile. I know it could put people off, but I also don’t want anyone to feel deceived. What do you think, HopefulGirl?’

When I was online dating, I was contacted by a chap whose intelligent, engaging and hilarious emails quickly won me over. When we finally decided to meet, he wanted to ‘warn’ me he had a disability. He alluded to it in his profile (‘I have some physical difficulties’) and invited questions, but since I didn’t consider it relevant to our friendship – after all, it didn’t prevent him from writing brilliant emails that made me laugh and think – I never asked. In any case, I felt it was his prerogative to talk about it if and when he wanted to. I wasn’t fazed by the revelation of his disability and, although romance didn’t blossom, our friendship continues to this day.

One of the problems with online dating is that we often reveal too much, too soon. After all, if you meet someone at church or at a party, you don’t instantly tell them all about your personal health issues – it’s something that naturally comes out as you grow in friendship and trust. Many people, including Christians, may be intimidated by the prospect of a relationship with someone who has major health struggles and could take the easy option by skipping to the next profile. But in real life, once someone knows you, it becomes less of an issue.

So I don’t think it’s dishonest not to write about a health condition or disability in your dating profile – but, like my friend, you may want to mention it when you decide to meet someone, or after a couple of dates.

On the other hand, people can surprise us. I remember a lovely story in the press about a young woman going through chemotherapy for breast cancer, who wrote a super-honest dating profile. ‘Bald, possibly infertile woman, 30, would like to meet a handsome, caring male with good sense of humour,’ she put, alongside pictures of herself with and without hair. She said that she ‘didn’t want to have the conversation several dates down the line’, so she preferred to be up-front. The biggest surprise, she said, was ‘getting responses from a nicer, better-looking and more genuine-seeming crop of men than I had a few years earlier [when she was well].’ The men liked her honesty and humour, and she ended up in a relationship with a nice chap.

I suppose it really boils down to what we feel most comfortable with. If you have a health condition or disability and you’re wondering how much to share up front, go with your gut. Or maybe experiment with editing your profile to sometimes include the information, and sometimes not, and see what happens.

One warning: it’s wise to be aware of attracting people who might see you as vulnerable and easy to manipulate – or, indeed, someone who wants to ‘save’ you. But you may also hear from a lovely, empathetic person who doesn’t see your condition as an obstacle to a relationship, and sees you for who you are: a person worth knowing and loving!

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