Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Third Date Rule

I guess you could say that I’m back in the dating saddle, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s definitely good that I’m moving on from my past relationships – especially the one I posted about – but it’s very overwhelming to me because lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are always lurking in a dark corner, waiting to throw a kink into things.

So when you start dating someone, when is it okay to drop the “sick bomb”?

My first inclination is the sooner the better, so if someone wants to run the other way, they can before either one of us gets too attached. But because so few relationships seem to make it past the first date, maybe it’s best to wait it out. Then I got to thinking that maybe the third date is best. If you’ve gone past one and two, you’re getting somewhere. Definitely time to come clean. So in other words, I don’t know. I’m feeling very conflicted at the moment.

Mainly because this conversation gives me nightmares. I imagine it going something like this (even though I’ve really had it, and this is pretty much how it goes):

ME: There’s something I need to talk to you about, and I’m not sure how you are going to feel about what I have to say.

THE GUY: Trying to be cute, says, “Are you seeing someone else? Did you used to be a man?”

ME: No, nothing like that. (This is potentially worse)

THE GUY: Whew!

ME: I’m sick. I have lupus and rheumatoid arthritis – followed by a very laymen explanation of illnesses – and while these illnesses effect my life to varying degrees at varying times, I thought you should know so that you can make the decision to get out while you can, if you don’t think this is something you can or want to deal with.

In my last three relationships, I blew the third date rule in waiting to have this conversation. The first and third because we were quickly getting to know each other, so I disclosed prior to the first date, and the other because we had known each other for a long time before we got together, and he already knew I was sick when we started seeing each other. And maybe that’s why it was so easy for me to fall into a relationship with this person, because he already knew I was sick.

I think as much as we would all like to have faith in people and give them the benefit of the doubt, we have to be realistic about the fact that illness is a definite deal breaker, or at least it feels that way to me. And I would hate to see illness get in the way of what could otherwise be a good relationship, but I have seen relationships end over much less, so I guess that’s how it goes.

I am convinced now that the third date rule – which I came up with – really doesn’t work, if the relationship gets to that point. Men these days are relentless. Everyone wants to be your facebook friend, and text and tweet you (get your mind out of the gutter…or maybe not…), and get to know you better by not really getting to know you. And because of this “let’s be facebook friends first” mentality, guys are actually getting access to a surprising amount of information very early on (even before the first date). This is the first time that I’ve considered my blog to be a liability…

But the truth is, I’m not going to censor myself. Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are a fact of my life. And I guess with the right person, these illnesses won’t be all of who I am. They are only a small part of me. And the right person will be able to strike a balance between the two. Or they won’t be the right person, and they’ll walk away. I guess that is a risk I have to take.

Maybe this post sounds rather doom and gloom, but I’m not convinced that this conversation goes well most of the time. In fact, I think this conversation going well is the exception and not the rule. As tough as many guys claim to be, I’m not optimistic that many of them can (or want to) deal with something like this. Although I’m learning that some can, it doesn’t mean the relationship is going to work out.

Because in most cases, the “in sickness and in health” bit is hypothetical. But in a way, too, is the above conversation. I could go into remission tomorrow. My illnesses could stay the way they are for the next 20 years. Or not. But the truth is, I don’t know… And that’s why I have to be honest and upfront, no matter how much it pains me to do so…

One casualty of illness is that I worry that I am too quick to glom on to guys who are willing to wear the illness hat, or at least try it on for size. It’s easy to see that person as being Mr. Right, even when they’re not even Mr. Good Enough, not even close. The problem is, though, that this acceptance is going to be a huge piece of the puzzle. So it’s easy to get seduced by the idea that someone is okay with the “idea” of my baggage. Because no one that I’ve been with has actually experienced a flare first hand, oddly enough.

I have to wonder, in a very Carrie Bradshaw kind of way: Has illness acceptance become a proxy for chemistry? Has “this is who I am, take all of me” literally come to mean “take all of me”?

I’m curious to know from a male perspective: When would you want to know about health issues like this, and how would you best like the conversation to be framed? Or do you trust the person you’re with to know how and when the right way to tell you is?

And from an illness perspective: What are your rules about this type of thing? And do they work or not?

(Oh yeah, and my super, hot pink medical bracelet? Can’t exactly sport that on a first date…)


  1. I've had conversations in my mind about this type of thing, but I've never had to try it out. I'm not in the position to date at the moment, but as I posted on my blog a couple weeks ago I think about it. How do you find the right person who won't run the other direction when you tell them about your illness? In my case I feel like I can't even get through the first date because most dates revolve around food and I cant' eat like a normal person. That is unless we go to a place that makes soy smoothies! :)

    I'm interested to read other people comments on the subject. Thanks for the thought provoking post!

  2. i don't think there's a hard and fast rule on when to tell the guy about health issues. You said it yourself, it might depend on how well you know them already or how fast your relationship is developing. You might want to consider wearing your pink bracelet on the first date. After all, if the guy is interested, he might ask about it, which would be the perfect conversation starter.

  3. as a chronically ill person who is functional, i've found that it's better to wait until it matters. meaning until there's something i can't do that he suggests doing, or i flare. because the truth is that i (and you - as far as i can tell) *am* functional. i've never had a bad response doing it that way. because it puts the illness in its place (the place of this illness limits me, but it isn't all of me) and it gives the guy time to get invested. 'cause let's be honest, three dates isn't usually enough time to overlook much (think of Seinfeld here). no one has ever run because of it, but i've never tried the early and serious approach you've outlined here.

    you might also experiment with different deliveries. i favor an offhand approach (e.g., oh, you want to go on a superlong hike with heavy packs? let's try something shorter - i'm still building back up my stamina after my last flare) versus a 'serious conversation' approach. once again, i think it puts the illness in its place.

    i'm confident you'll find something that works for you!

  4. I don't have a rule for this; it's been different with everyone I've dated (and no, the conversation has not always gone well).

    I know exactly what you mean about the ability to accept and handle illness becoming a proxy for romantic chemistry. On my last date, I spilled the beans about my heart condition and implanted defibrillator when the conversation moved into health territory for totally separate reasons. The guy was great - totally accepting, interested, not awkward at all. I hadn't been attracted to him before, but suddenly he seemed that much more interesting.

    I stopped myself from, as you say, "glomming onto him" just because he was so great about my illness. It was hard to do, though.

  5. I love how anonymous put it. I think that's how I tell people that I have lupus... when it comes up. My criteria is:
    - will it be beneficial to tell them
    - are they close to me or do I want to be close to them
    - will they be in my life (if it's an acquaintance or a good friend who I don't see very often, then I wouldn't tell them)

    How to tell them: I suggest, when it comes up. Usually they will ask... I take most of my meds right after I eat, so instead of taking them incognito, I'd actually take them in front of him, and he'll probably ask what you're taking... then you can tell him, "I've got lupus, etc"... or if I keep avoiding the sun or ask him not to be in the sun, then I'd tell him, "I can't be in the sun 'cause I'm light-sensitive from the Lupus I have"... or for your case, "I can't walk too much or can't climb crazy stairs because..."

    When I was dating my husband, I was feeling really good and Lupus wasn't really interfering with my life much, so I actually did the serious talk because it was something out of the ordinary that I had to tell him. I think it was three months into it and we were serious from the beginning. It really wasn't a big part of my life, so I had to bring it up separately. Now I think I've gotten the art of bringing it up casually down now that I've had to do it so often (since it's been interfering with more parts of my life).

  6. I like anonymous' approach. Or if you go with your serious talk approach I'd say don't phrase it as "giving you a chance to get out now". How about - this is sometimes a major part of my life and can sometimes require adjustments to plans and activity levels and such. Just wanted to let you know. If you have any questions let me know.

  7. Well, you've read my book so you probably know what I'm going to say, but I spent years trying to avoid talking about it until I had no choice: the night I met my future husband I was covered in hospital bruises and sick of the charade. I never regretted telling him so soon, because it allowed us to be honest and upfront from the start.

    Go with your instincts, and I really believe you can't go wrong. As I've said before, illness can be a wonderful litmus test. If someone can't handle it, then better to find out before you invest too much time and energy.

  8. Wow.
    I always wonder about this, because I have a truly invisible illness, that is invisible most of the time, and only intermittently flares and completely takes over my life for a few hours to a week.
    Mental illness has an additional stigma, it is something to "get over" and truly is all in one's head in a too literal way.
    The questions I consider about sharing that aspect of my life include:
    Can I teach someone something by my story?
    Will the person find out anyways?
    Can I fight against shame and stigma by refusing to hide an illness?

    Additionally, if someone is not supportive of me continuing treatment, that is the end of personal trust in many ways.

  9. Thanks all for your comments! Laurie, I'm glad you bring up the "litmus test" idea. It seems that many of the comments are suggesting a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. If it's not an issue, why make it an issue? This is fine, if it works for you. But I really worry about someone leaving me when I'm really at my worst. Now, this could happen with someone who has been fine with the "idea" of illness, because no one knows how they will react until they're in the situation. But I think if that happened, it would kill me.

  10. I hear you, Leslie, on the "if it's not an issue don't make it one" scenario. If that works for some, then great. It's such an individual thing.

    The way I see it, while my illnesses do not define me, they are a part of me and a part of my life. I'd rather someone know that and start getting to know me as a whole person, illness included. Maybe that was easier for me b/c at the time, I could not hide evidence of illness and didn't want to lie...

  11. I believe there needs to be some romance by the 3rd date. If not then you should just be friends and move on. The male has to be the one to communicate romance most of the time and if he doesn’t do it soon enough then the woman will put him in the friend zone

  12. Shows that you are a confident person, really attentive, and got nothing to hide.