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When should I tell someone I am dating that I have MS?

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Updated September 30, 2009

Question: When should I tell someone I am dating that I have MS?
There is a guy that I have been interested in for over a year who finally asked me out last month. We have gone on four dates – we have a lot of fun and really enjoy spending time together. I think it is going to get more serious soon. I haven’t told him that I have multiple sclerosis, since I didn’t want to scare him off. Now I am nervous that I have waited too long. What should I do?
Answer: I think this situation is really common. I happen to be one of those people who are pretty open about their MS status, especially since I started writing on the topic (actually, I probably tell far more people far more information much sooner than I need to).

However, many people do not feel quite as compelled as I do to disclose the fact that they have MS to everyone whom they encounter, especially in the already strange and fragile world of dating. As this reader mentioned, this leads to a Catch-22 – you don’t want to freak potentially interesting people out before your first date, however, waiting for awhile to see what develops can lead to a person with MS feeling like they have been withholding information from this other person. This situation can be especially stressful if you really, really like the other person and think it might develop into something more serious.

There is no hard and fast rule about ideal timing around disclosing your MS to someone, but I will do my best to give some guidance. In an ideal world, everyone could listen to their gut, which would tell them exactly when to tell and what words to use. However, this world is far from rational, especially when we are just starting to figure out if we have romantic feelings toward another person (which can make everything seem strange and confusing).

I guess that I would probably tell someone that I had MS sometime during the second date. It seems that by this time, you will have probably figured out that you want to continue seeing this person (and he or she will have discovered how fabulous you are). Clearly, the mutual interest was enough to at least lead to a second date. You will have had time to analyze the first date (and discuss it with your friends, if you are female).

The second date is often when more information about one another is disclosed, anyway. The first date seems like it is about best behavior, whereas the second date is a little bit more about reality. No one really expects to find out about a bad credit score, a learning disability, a past broken engagement or weird food preferences on the first date. The second date is a good time for some of the more “real” stuff to come out, in my opinion. You will also probably be slightly more relaxed about the situation and be able to communicate a little bit better about tough topics.

A Couple of Tips

Plan Your “Speech”: Make it short and sweet, but really plan (and practice) what you want to say about your MS. Decide what role your MS should play in your “story.” Remember, most people don’t know a great deal about MS, so you should be prepared to give a little background about the disease. I would include a little about your prognosis and your attitude towards MS, which will make people feel more comfortable asking questions.

Be Prepared for “Dumb” Remarks: Again, most people don’t know much about MS, besides what they have seen on West Wing or when Montel Williams spoke about it on Oprah (maybe not even that). Your date might have questions that you think are downright ignorant. Be patient and keep in mind that there is a difference between “less-than-knowledgeable” about a topic and mean or insensitive.

If You Don’t Like the Person, You Never Need to Tell: Clearly, if your date is a jerk whom you never want to see again, there is no need for the “big reveal.”

If You Wait Past the Second Date: Some people advocate waiting until you truly know that you want to have a future with this person to tell him or her about your MS. That is fine, and only you know the specifics of your situation. You may be taking it very slowly with one another, or you have not been definitively diagnosed with MS or you are not quite sure that you even like this person – all of these are good reasons to keep things to yourself until the time feels right. However, waiting too long can add extra stress to the whole thing as well, especially if either of you have shared other “personal” information. It may seem to some people like you have been hiding something. It is probably a good idea to address your reasons for waiting in your disclosure “speech.”

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