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Dare to date.


"At last," says Linda C. Higdon of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, "an article on dating. It's a struggle! I worry about stumbling and making a fool of myself.

There's all that explaining to do. I'm still considered attractive, but I'm just so unsure of myself."

"How much of a problem is dating?" Donna L. Chessario of Lansdale, Pennsylvania poses the question in her letter to us. "It's a big problem," she writes, "because most people out there are looking for a perfect someone. Rejection is one of the hardest facts to accept."

Multiply the anxieties expressed above by about 50 others--will he want to stoop over a wheelchair to kiss me? I'm impotent and I can't drive at night. What happens if I suddenly need to go to the bathroom?--and you get some idea of the level of anxiety dating creates among people who have MS.

When a diagnosis of MS is made, there are a number of obvious and immediately acknowledged problems to be considered--employment, becoming a burden to a family, ability to care for children.

"But, somehow," says Pam Cavallo, the Society's associate director of Chapter and Community Services, "the problem of dating causes a special stress in most people. Perhaps because it touches us in one of our most vulnerable areas--our deepest sense of self, our personal identity, our sexuality. The dating situation for all of us represents a decision to reveal ourselves and go "out there" to seek that most intimate of relationships: a sharing of oneself with a partner. This act represents a testing field of our ego strength, bringing to light unresolved or underdeveloped areas of our personalities which were there before MS ever struck."

Dan Hendrickson, of San Diego, California, phrases it this way: "How much of a problem is dating? Give me a break. Dating is a significant and complicated event in the life of anyone of the human persuasion unless his name is Paul Newman. Although a quick game of tennis followed by ballroom dancing no longer appears on the planned agenda, dating is no more of a problem that it ever was. It has always been scary for me to ask someone for a date. It is not any more difficult or less difficult than it ever was. Only the details differ. How much they differ depends in large measure on your attitude and outlook."

In effect, Mr. Hendrickson is confirming that dating has always been a tricky sort of deal. "In large part," says Ms. Cavallo, "because of the American myth of love, romance and physical perfection. This myth supports an unrealistic view of relationships. The test for all couples--MS or not--is to progress from the myth to the day-to-day reality of a relationship. MS moves you into that reality a lot faster. It can be hard, but it certainly can be--and is--done.

"The keys are time and personal effort. A new set of feelings must be assimilated and dealt with: guilt, shame, a feeling of being "damaged goods" as one letter writer phrased it, a sense of being relegated to second class citizenship, able to make only second class partner choices. A period of assessment is essential to rebuild egos and to place MS in its proper perspective."

Ms. Cavallo suggests that as a first step it would be most wise to seek out suport--from friends, a group or a counselor--someone to help in the process of coming to terms with MS and yourself.

Anne V. Schmid of Collingwood, New Jersey says, "We must be convinced that we're productive and worthwhile before we can expect dates to consider us thus."

Donna Rawson of Spokane, Washington, says she had to learn that "MS affects your dating only if you allow yourself to get lost to the disease. I finally had to come to the realization that even if I did have health problems, I was a person who had the right to be loved and cared about--and that it had to begin with me."

Another reader writes that she went to a psychiatrist before, through and after her whole courting period. "I would not have gotten the understanding that I did without her. She helped me gain a perspective on what a relationship should be--caring, an interdependence, a respect and appreciation for the whole person. And she helped me to understand that MS does not change this."

This is a crucial insight to come to, say professional counselors. It can keep you from making wrong choices in partners and it tells you that you have the right to demand the same ingredients in a partnership that everyone else has.

It can also help you face the tormenting problem of when and how to disclose the fact that you have MS.

Joyce Vail of Bluffon, Ohio, writes, "I am very much torn, wanting people to see that there are people with MS who have very minimal involvement and who live a very active life, and being fearful that if I share this information this man will run scared."

A small group felt it was wisest to tell all immediately, on the theory that if the date couldn't take it, nobody's time was wasted and the hurt was least painful. Most readers, however, held more temperate points of view. Their responses were detailed and reflective of the responsibility they felt toward the person they were with as well as themselves.

"I did not tell my husband," writes a woman from California, "on my first few dates that I possibly had MS. But, I felt that after it became obvious to both of us that we were compatible, which was within a few weeks, I had to tell him everything to be honest. I remember his telling me about his closest friend's mother who had lupus and how it didn't affect their feelings for each other at all. It was a wonderful moment."

"I met a man and when I felt we were getting pretty serious, I explained my problem the best I could," comments Sally jo Bukowski of Osprey, Florida. Ms. Bukowski was widowed when she was 44 and was diagnosed four years earlier. "My vision is bad. I tire very easily and I can lose bladder control, but to look at me no one would guess there was anything wrong." She had had a number of dating experiences and then "I met a man and when I felt we were getting serious, I explained my problem and gave him all the pamphlets and reading material I had on MS. After reading them and asking all the questions he wanted, I told him he was free to walk out the door. That was a year and a half ago and neither one of us has dated anyone else since."

Anne V. Schmid's letter reprises the complexities of the situation. Ms. Schmid is now 42 and was diagnosed when she was 25.

"If your MS is mild and non-disabling, it might be much easier to "stay in the closet" and not confront the issue and risk the pain of rejection. But is secrecy fair to your date...or to you? It may be even harder to tell a date whom you really care for about a 'secret' diagnosis after you've known him/her for a long time.

"It's a question no one can answer for you. You have to feel it out for yourself and do what seems right for you at that particular time. Some people panic and run as fast as they can. Some people let misinformation make their minds up. Some people can calmly accept your diagnosis and stay around to listen to your explanation of the disease and its consequences.

"So what can we people with MS do? Steel ourselves aganst hart? Bravely try again when rejection comes? Reveal our MS up front? Who knows?"

Ms. Schmid concludes though, that no matter when you decide to reveal, how you do it is most important: "Your calm demeanor, and knowledge of the facts about MS will become an important part of your date's reaction."

The experiences of each of our letter writers confirms that fact. As Dan Hendrickson states it: "Every action meets with an equal reaction. If you are nervous and uptight, she will be nervous and uptight. If you're cheerful and at ease, she will be cheerful and at ease."

People vary on how they disclose. One woman left her canes purposely on the coat rack to be used as an "entree" to the subject. "He thought I had Lou Gehrig's disease," she said. "How great it was to be able to say, 'I only have MS.'" They are still seeing each other.

Another engaged in marathon talk sessions about it because that seemed "the right thing to do." This couple married.

Suzanne De Coster of Hillside, New Jersey, 36, says her father also has MS. Therefore, she has a casual acceptance that she carries into her personal relationships.

"I don't make a point of telling everyone about my MS right away, but it finds its way into the conversation with people I'm getting to know well. Usually I will be saying something about my father--he has MS I'll say--and then I mention that I have it too. The news is broken smoothly and easily.

"even if I didn't have my father as a lead-in, I would be matter of fact. From my own experiences, I have found if you don't talk about the disease with foreboding and doom people arent't afraid of it."

If there was any inclination to continue the relationship, information, books, lots of discussion and even visits to support groups followed.

Of course, not every experience worked out--far from it. One woman, let us call her Lucille, estimated that if she told 10 men, about 5 disappeared immediately. Many disappearances were due to misinformation about the disease, e.g. dates expressed fears that they would catch the disease if they kissed. Others reflected rather cruel, primitive attitudes about disability that are surpising in what we consider a sophisticated age.

Fran Bard of Denver, Colorado reports, "You wouldn't believe some of the unreal comments I've heard":

* "You're too needy," followed by a request for a hug.

* "I need to be with someone more active" (I can't mountain climb but I do about everything else), followed by a request for money.

* "I would rather have amy disability than yours." (Who asked?)

Ms. Cavallo comments, "Often the root of such abusive behavior lies not in you or the disease, but in the date's own impaired capacity to recognize his or her vulnerabilities. The chances are such people would be 'iffy' partners at best."

And yet, as one wise reader put it: "What is the alternative? Not being willing to risk being hurt means sure loneliness and alienation."

Ms. T.R. of New Jersey took the risk: When I decided to tell my boyfriend, I was a nervous wreck, afraid he would leave. Instead, he proposed and said, 'No big deal' and never mentioned it again. He said, "It's the wheelchair rule if you love and marry someone."

And a young woman signing herself "Happy MSer from Michigan" took the risk: "I am a 40-year-old woman who has been divorced 12 years. I was diagnosed with MS at the age of 23, with 4-month-old daughter. My ex-husband could not accept the MS and we divorced, which put me in the dating scene. I had dated my husband all through high school, so starting to date again at age 29 was a challenge in itself, much less doing it with MS.

"At first I didn't want anyone to know about my MS. When I did go out and I was in remission, I didn't tell. As time went on and the flareups hit, I'd come up with excuses like the flu or anything else I could think of rather than tell the truth. Finally, I realized you have to be honest with yourself about the MS and accept it. Once you change your own attitude toward the disease, others do, too.

"Sure, I've dated some who have said it didn't matter and later it has. But I look at it that they weren't worth my time. I now am dating a wonderful man who has seen my good days and also my worst, but I know in my heart my MS will never come between us. We plan to get married. My advice is to hang in there, be honest with yourself and some day, the right one will come along."
COPYRIGHT 1990 National Multiple Sclerosis Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes tips to successful dating and letters from MS patients
Author:Randall, Lyn
Publication:Inside MS
Date:Jun 22, 1990
Previous Article:Gadolinium: highlighting MRI: key to revelation?
Next Article:The NLC is people.

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