Ask Dr Nerdlove: Dating On Hard Mode

Ask Dr. Nerdlove: Dating On Hard Mode

Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column that helps you answer the eternal call of Looking For Group for the epic endgame raid of life. This week, we handle the tricky question of dating on hard mode. How do you handle your love-life when you have a chronic condition that a lot of people just aren't going to be able to handle?

Let's navigate these troubled waters and see just where love takes us, shall we?

Dear Doctor NerdLove,

In general I have trouble with guys; it's been five years since I've had a boyfriend and I managed to go through undergrad without hooking up or dating anyone. My friends say its because I'm introverted and don't drink which they probably have a point but still.

However, recently I had a thing with a guy that essentially ended because:

1) He said he had "issues" and he didn't want to ruin my life and

2)... because I have an auto-immune disorder, which will become a problem in the future.

While he didn't come out right and say that's the reason, he might as well have. So now I just feel helpless and hopeless because there's nothing I can do about my health problems. Yes, they are fairly significant but not "I'm dying in the next couple years serious." They would probably impact a relationship. I say probably because I don't know.

My mum and friends keep saying there's someone out there but honestly considering how rarely guys are interested in me in general I don't think there's one who will stick around once they know what's wrong with me. But at the same time, because I'm young I'm not allowed to give up.

I just don't know what to do and there aren't dating books for people with autoimmune disorders. Please help.

Sick And Tired

This is one of those questions that dating advice professionals dread getting because, quite frankly, there aren't any easy, cut and dried answers. Some people, through no fault of their own, end up dating on expert difficulty, and this can be incredibly wearying on the soul.

But that "hard" doesn't mean "impossible". Nailing jello to a tree is impossible; everything else is just very difficult.

So I want to let you in on a secret - something that most of us in the dating advice biz try not to say: dating is hard. It can be exhausting, and even more so if you're dealing with complicating issues like chronic health problems. But there are ways to make dating easier on your soul.

The first thing that you need to understand to make dating less of a trying, exhausting experience is to understand rejection.

Most people tend to take rejection as a judgement on them, personally. You've put yourself out there, deliberately made yourself vulnerable to another person, someone whose opinion you're at least a little invested in… and they said "nah." And that hurts! Literally! Rejection actually activates the pain centres of the brain.

But here's something most people don't get: when someone rejects you, they're often doing you a favour. Ultimately, rejection is a sign that you weren't compatible in the first place.

Let's take your recent break-up, SaT. You are in a tough situation. You have distinct limitations that materially affect your day-to-day existence and will continue to do so over the course of your life. There will be things that you aren't able to do because of your health. It takes a special kind of person to look at those limitations in your life and say "yes, I am willing to accept these as the price of entry into this relationship because you are awesome."

Your last boyfriend was not that guy. And honestly? That's ok too. His recognising and acknowledging that he doesn't have the strength and the fortitude to be in a relationship with you doesn't automatically make him a bad guy. It sounds like he dumped you in a douche-y way, don't get me wrong. But it doesn't sound like he abandoned you in a time of need, which a lot of arseholes have done.

His breaking up with you definitely sucked, but in the long term, he did you a favour by ejecting early. It's better to find these things early on, before your lives become more increasingly entangled, than later on in life. By causing you a measure of pain now, he's spared you greater pain - and greater complications - in the future.

And that leads to the next hard truth about dating: it's a numbers game. No matter what your situation may be, dating is always going to involve trial and error. There will be the people who reject you right off the bat. There will be false-positives - people who seem great on paper but just don't work in person. There will be relationships that start out incredible but turn bad. And there will be relationships that just run their course and come to a natural conclusion. Not every love story is an epic; sometimes they're a short-story. Sometimes they're just dirty limericks.

In practice this means that it's going to take time before you find someone who's compatible with you, who is willing and able to handle how your limitations will affect your lives together and who you have chemistry with. And I'm not going to lie: these guys are going to be rare on the ground. But they do exist. I have friends with assorted health issues - including autoimmune disorders - who have amazing relationships.

It may take you a while to find your own amazing person. In fact, you may get incredibly frustrated - as everyone does in dating - and want to tear your hair out. And that leads to the final part of making dating easier on yourself: You can take a break.

You can just decide to opt out of the dating market for a while. In fact, that can be a very good thing. Consider it a vacation for your soul; you're opting to not put yourself through the stress and heartache of dating and just focus on you for a while. Spend some time doing some self-care - whatever it is that just makes you happy and fulfilled. This might entail hermiting it up with a few favourite movies. It may be taking time to work on a project or two that you've always wanted. It may be spending some time with close friends and just appreciating being with people who love and care about you. It may be getting a makeover or some new clothes and just doing things that make you feel pretty just because, dammit, it feels nice to wear something that makes you feel like a million bucks. Do whatever it takes to let those emotional muscles unclench, fill in those gouges in your ego and just generally feel better.

Choosing to take a break and just be single for a while can be a powerful thing, and a lot of people may give you some push-back. We live in a society that focuses on the idea of "the couple" and looks askance at people who're single… but there's nothing wrong with being single - especially if it means not submitting your soul to the death of a thousand cuts or trying to force compatibility where there isn't any. As I've said before: the fail-state of a relationship isn't "single", it's "being in a shitty relationship".

The dating world will be waiting for you when you're ready to step back into it.

And when you do decide to get back out there: take it slow. As tempting as it is - especially when you're worried that each potential date could be the last man ever to show interest - don't rush into a relationship. Let people get to know you as your awesome self and take your time getting to know them. Feel them out a little and get a grasp on what kind of person they are before you let them know that you have some complications in your life; there's no profit in opening yourself up to someone immediately if you don't think they're the right kind of guy for you. And when you think they might be, that's when you disclose. That will be your acid test - do they still see you or do they see just "sickness"? The ones who see you, the ones who can handle it - or who are at least willing to try - will have questions. Answer them as best you can and let them know that this isn't something crippling or terrifying - it's something that may slow you down, but it's manageable. See how they react and proceed from there.

You're going to have some false starts and relationships that start off well but end up going nowhere. And you'll also have relationships that go well but don't last forever. But that's going to be true for everyone.

I know there's that fear that you're going to be Forever Alone. But here's the secret: everyone has that fear. It's easy to give in to despair and assume the worst, but nobody, nobody knows what life is going to bring. And that's the glorious thing about life: there is always hope.

Those guys who are right for you? They can be hard to find. But they're out there. And when you do find them - and there are many, not just one - it's so amazingly worth it. That's the secret.

Good luck.

Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.

Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.


    One thing I can contribute - wait until your 30s. Everybody gets health problems to some degree - and this gets worse as you get older. Basically, your warranty expires and bit start breaking. You will find that younger people tend to appreciate this less than slightly older people. If health issues, even quite serious ones, were really a deal breaker then no-one would get together after the age of 27, but they do. I know several people with auto-immune diseases (random guess that the questioner might have digestive tract issues or arthritic issues) in their 30s - they have found wonderfully supportive partners despite this.

    Can totally relate. I battled an illness 3 months after my daughter was born. It went on for about a year. Then, about a year later we bought our first house and all was going smoothly. Then, the wife decides she can't handle it all and runs off with a co-worker.

    I have a few side affects that will probably stay with me forever (affected speech, hearing damage to name a couple) and have recently discovered more crap is on the way.

    I was cleared almost 4 years ago, the wife left almost 3 years ago. It definitely has been difficult and after a couple of failed relationships I've decided to stay single for a while. Have to sort health out first really anyway. Just have to roll with the punches!

    Besides, my little girl is now 4 years old and there's nothing better than being a dad. That's my main focus now.

    It all takes time I suppose :-/

    BTW, what's SaT's number? ;-)

    Last edited 03/10/14 2:20 pm

      Just wanted to say I hope it all works out for you!

      I love your username. I can hear the simpsons episode playing out in my head. Police ... cops ... police-cops!

        Thanks. Love that episode. It was either that, Max Power (named after the hair dryer setting) or Night Boat. The good old days of the Simpsons ... sigh

    But that “hard” doesn’t mean “impossible”. Nailing jello to a tree is impossible; everything else is just very difficult.Even then, if you have a more concentrated and gelatinous Jello, or a super chilled one, or even using a bag as a membrane to hold the jello's form, it will make nailing it to a tree quite possible. Moral of the story? Just because it seems like "That's just how things are", it doesn't necessarily mean it is. I've seen more than one person give up on something because they believed it was just how things are.

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