Ask Anna: How do I date with a chronic illness?

Tuesday, 10 October 2017, 10:39:57 PM. Advice columnist Anna Pulley offers encouragement to a reader who is navigating the dating scene while living with a chronic illness.

Ask Anna is a sex column. Because of the nature of the topic, some columns contain language some readers may find graphic.

Dear Anna,

I am a single man living with a chronic illness (ulcerative colitis). This makes life tough for me because I have the need to use the restroom at a moment’s notice. You can imagine what will happen when issues arise from this. This means not being able to do certain things I normally love to do because of this issue or the constant anxiety that comes with it. Then there comes dating. I am trying to date, but it is tough. To me, it seems like a lot of girls are trying to look for the next best thing and while I do not consider myself garbage, I deal with a major problem that can easily turn off girls. How can one date with an issue like this? Plenty of people tell me the right person will want you for who you are no matter what, but I just don't see it that way, at least not in today's society. I am who I am and I accept and am proud of this. But I just don't know if other women will feel the same. Am I wrong? —Lost in the City

Dear LITC,

I’ve been thinking about your question for weeks. What I keep circling back to are not specific tips—I’m sure you could tell me more about coping with ulcerative colitis than I could tell you—but feelings of worthiness. The short of your question is chronic illness, but the long of it is self-acceptance. “How can I date?” is really “How do I feel okay asking for what I need?”

This isn’t the same challenge you face, but I am quite deaf. This presents weird struggles that most people don’t consider when dating. I am worthless in bars, most restaurants, parties and anywhere that is not a well-lit, quiet room where I can see the other person’s lips. My dirty talk consists of “What?” “Huh?” and “Sorry?” The most basic phone call will send me into a tailspin of anxiety and over-preparing.

Over the years, as my hearing has gotten worse, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for my dating/sex partners to run for the hills; to see the insecurity and unease and inconvenience that sit like a fist in my chest, and to finally say, “Enough.”

But that hasn’t happened. Not once.

Every single one of us is limited by something. Maybe it’s physical, maybe it’s mental, maybe it’s economic, or social, or familial. What matters is how we view those limitations. Acknowledge them, yes, deal with them, yes, but don’t let them master you. Don’t let them convince you that you are anything but worthy of the deepest loves.

To that end, it’s fantastic to hear that you are proud of who you are, because that is the biggest (and most daunting) step in recognizing that our deficiencies don’t define us. The question is not, “Will women accept me?” but rather, “Will I let them?”

What I would encourage you to do is to get really, really clear on what it is you need from partners when dealing with your illness and to communicate that as well as you can. Maybe it’s being willing to lay low or change plans or leave early if something unexpected should arise. Maybe it’s being picky about where you go or what you do. Maybe it’s communicating that your partners do not need to make things “better” or “easier” for you, but rather to accept the situation as is.

Whatever your needs are, be upfront about them. Ungracious people may balk at this, but you do not need to concern yourself with them. They can find someone less amazing than you.

It may also help you to know that chronic illness is incredibly common. According to the CDC, roughly or have faced a chronic health condition. That’s 117 million people.

What also helps? Having a sense of humor. This, more than anything else, has guided me back to the light when left groping in the dark over my disability. Find and inhabit the joy that lives in your imperfect body, in the awkwardness, the changed plans and unexpected bathroom trips. It’s there that we not only find—but revel in—acceptance.

Life is always already absurd. Keep your head high and look it square in the eye. And don’t ever creep when you could be soaring.

Anna Pulley is a RedEye contributor. Want to ask Anna an anonymous question about love, sex or dating? Send it below, or email

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