Two couples of various ages hold hands walking through a park

6 Tips for Dating With MS, From Others Who’ve Been There

By Lauren Krouse
June 09, 2023

Dating can be complicated. Throw multiple sclerosis (MS) into the mix, and there may be more to consider when looking for a would-be partner. You might wonder: When should you tell a person you’re dating that you have MS? How can you deal with misunderstandings or unsolicited advice? And what can you do to boost your chances of finding a keeper? Here, gems of dating wisdom from people with MS who’ve been there.

1. Tell Your Date When You’re Ready

It’s a common concern with no easy answer, but the best time to let a date know about your MS is generally when you personally feel safe and comfortable doing so.

For example, Lissette Galarza, a 28-year-old ultramarathon runner living with MS in Yosemite, California, says she shared her diagnosis gradually with people she dated. “I really need to know this person before it becomes a conversation,” she says, “but it's sooner than later. I would start off with ‘We all have something, and all go through challenges as we grow through life.’” More details could be given later with greater trust in the relationship, she says.

For Mary Pettigrew, a 57-year-old freelance writer with MS in Dallas dating after divorce, telling people upfront was more comfortable. “I always chose to say something [about my MS] in the beginning, and the reason I did that is because of the unpredictability of the disease… one day, I’m fine, next day, gotta cancel.” Letting her dates know from the start what she could and couldn’t do, and measuring their reactions, helped Mary sort out the right dates from the wrong ones.

Before you decide your ideal time to share, ask yourself what responses would be acceptable to you and what your non-negotiables are, suggests Destiny Winters-Davis, an Atlanta-based licensed therapist who works with people with chronic illness. Knowing your must-haves in a partner—like kindness and interest in learning more as opposed to being self-centered and closed-minded—can help you be flexible and extend grace to your date if their initial response isn’t ideal.

2. Look for Someone Understanding

The pillars of a healthy relationship include mutual respect, compassion, and communication. These are especially important when you’re dealing with unpredictable MS symptoms, like fatigue, pain, brain fog, or countless others. Pay attention to how someone treats you when things are going well, but also notice how understanding and respectful they are when you may need some extra support.

Mary says she realized a guy she otherwise liked was a bad fit because he kept insisting her cognitive issues “weren’t MS” and she needed to “think about this differently.” If someone doesn’t listen to you or dismisses your experiences as trivial, they’re not being respectful, compassionate, or understanding. It may be time to show them the door.

3. Handle Unsolicited Advice Like a Pro

If you notice a date’s sharing tips you didn’t ask for, like Mary’s did, use this script, courtesy of Winters-Davis: “I appreciate your advice. That doesn’t quite work for me. Can I tell you why?”

This gives the other person a chance to pause and listen, or to keep talking over you—proof that they need more time to learn reflective listening skills. Few of us have the spoons (energy) for that. So if you notice a pattern of red flags in listening, communication, and advice, give yourself permission to move on. If someone is receptive to what you have to say, take note of that openness, too—that may be a green flag.

4. Seek Support When Handling Rejection

Finding dating success may come with its fair share of letdowns along the way. Getting ghosted or going through a break-up, especially if it has something to do with MS, can be disappointing.

You deserve someone who can show up for you—so in times like these, lean on the people who can. Talk to a friend or close family member about how you're feeling. You can also share your experience here in the MS community.

“It’s not fair that we have to build resilience, but we’re strong. Find your people and refocus on what makes you feel whole,” says Kimberly Vered Shashoua, a licensed therapist in Austin, Texas, who works with young adults with chronic illnesses.

5. Pace Yourself

It’s okay to take a break from dating if you need one, too. Mary admits that looking for love on dating apps after divorce wasn’t easy, and at a certain point she decided she wasn’t emotionally ready for it. Therapy helped her begin to recover, learn how her past was impacting her current relationships, and reconnect with herself. “I’m still a work in progress—I think we all are—but I have found some inner peace,” she says.

Along with the energy you may be putting into dating, Lissette notes the importance of dating yourself, too—finding what you love and spending time doing it.

6. Remember You’re Worth It

MS doesn’t change the fact that you’re worthy of love and care. And you’re more than your MS, anyway. “Don’t make MS your identity. It’s something you have, but it doesn’t define who you are,” Lissette says.

Her advice? “Don't be afraid to look for love or to date,” she says. “Go for it.”

Stay patient along the way, too. “The right person will love you and help you,” Lissette says. “It wasn’t until I met the person I’m currently dating that I understood I could be loved and understood, no matter my condition.”

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