Online Dating With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

A chronic illness like fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) can be hard on your social life. Especially if you've had to leave your job or cut way down on socializing, it can become hard to meet anyone you might be interested in dating.

A woman on a laptop smiling
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You may also wonder if anyone would want to date you. It's a natural concern to have when you're stuck on the roller coaster of life with FMS or ME/CFS.

Rest assured, plenty of people in your situation and worse have found a special someone. Yes, you face some challenges when it comes to meeting people and going out on dates, but it is possible to find someone you're interested in—and who's interested in you, as well.

It used to be that most people met while going about their lives. At work, at the gym, at church, through mutual friends. Of course, that can still work for you, if you're able to stay involved in those kinds of things. If you're not, though, you might want to consider online dating.

As the popularity of dating sites has gone up, the stigma has gone down. It has become commonplace for people to meet through sites such as Tinder, Bumble, Grindr, OkCupid, eHarmony, Match, or OurTime.

Online Dating With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

If you haven't tried online dating, it can be a little intimidating. It comes with some real benefits for those of us who can't be the life of the party every weekend, though.

First, you don't have to get dressed and put effort into looking good and going somewhere. You can browse from home in your pajamas if you want, and no one will be the wiser. As long as you have a nice picture or two of yourself to put in your profile, you're good to go.

Second, you can be up-front about your illness. That situation can be harder when you meet someone face-to-face. For example, say you meet someone at a friend's barbecue. You talk, you hit it off, you exchange phone numbers. Awesome! Except that you probably didn't mention your illness, right? I mean, who talks about their health problems with strangers at a barbecue?

So then you're faced with the big question: when do I bring up my illness(es)? It's a tricky scenario to navigate. It's natural to be afraid of doing it too soon. You might want the person to get to know you first, so they can see all the great things about you that would make your health problems worth dealing with.

But then there's the risk of waiting too long, which can make it seem like you've been hiding it. You also run the risk of having to cancel plans because of your illness before the other person even knows about it.

Enter the online dating profile. A lot of people with chronic illnesses put their conditions front and center, making sure anyone who's interested in them knows from the beginning. Others may indicate a health problem but not get into specifics. And, of course, you always have the option of leaving it out of your profile but telling the people you message with early on.

Sure, you can also not tell them until you've gone on a few dates, but then you end up in that tricky scenario again.

Any relationship expert is going to tell you the same thing: be honest. That's the best way to start any relationship. And really, do you want to get interested in someone who would dump you the minute you say you're sick? Wouldn't it be better to not put energy into that person at all? You're looking for someone who's caring and understanding, so get it out there early on and save yourself the wasted time and heartache.

The First Date

No matter how you've met someone, the first date can pose some problems for people with these conditions. Most of us know how much of a strain it can be to get ready to go out, especially when you want to look your best.

Add to that the effort of being social and the stress of a first date, and we may already be heading for a symptom flare.

This is where it can be a big mistake not to let the other person know anything about your illness. You don't want him/her to plan something that's too physically strenuous for you, like bowling, or horseback riding, or dancing, or playing paintball.

That's another place where an online profile can help you out, too—you can put your low-key interests there, and by virtue of the site's algorithm and the personal selection process, you and your date will probably like to do some of the same things.

If it's your first time meeting someone in person, for safety's sake, it's better to meet in a public place than at your house or theirs. Even if you just want to get together and play board games, see if there's a game store or coffee shop where you can go instead. Parks can be nice, too, if the weather is good and you don't have to walk too far.

There's always the old standby of dinner and a movie, which doesn't take a lot of energy. If you have food sensitivities, though, you should choose or recommend a couple of places where you know you can be accommodated.

Setting the Pace

Another place where honesty comes in is setting the pace of the relationship. If you're with someone who runs you ragged, it's not going to last for very long.

If you can't handle going out once or twice a week, be upfront about that. Look for people who are interested in quiet evenings at home, or whatever it is that you feel you're up to.

You need to set the pace about the physical side of the relationship, as well. While it may have a few therapeutic effects, sex takes a lot of energy. Make sure your partner knows what is possible for you and that there may be trade-offs—you may need to choose between going out to dinner and having sex if you don't have the energy for both.

You may worry that you're not able to handle much of a sex life at all. It may be that you can rebuild your sex life to accommodate your symptoms.

It may be that sex is just too much for you, and that's okay. Online dating can be a bonus here as well since you could search for people who are asexual or who are looking for companionship without a physical relationship. They do exist!

And if you aren't well enough to go out on dates but you want someone to talk to? There are other people out there looking for the same thing.

Be Realistic

Are you likely to build a profile proclaiming your chronic illness and have dozens of potential suitors messaging you every hour? No. Expect it to take some time. Expect to find some real jerks along the way. It's about finding a diamond, though, not a pile of rocks.

Once you find someone with potential, it takes time to get to know them and to forge a relationship. A foundation of honesty and trust can help you get off on the right foot.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.