Dating After 50: Talk about Your Personal Health

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If you had a chronic or life-threatening illness when you were younger, you've had experience talking about your health. Maybe you had to repeatedly tell the tale of your chest scar or leg brace or explain the handful of pills you had to take every day. It wasn't fun, and you probably had some scary moments, but it was part of who you were.

However, for many people, health issues only come with age. There are the small annoying ones, like suddenly needing glasses, and then the larger ones, some of which creep up slowly (like some kinds of arthritis) and others that are a sudden, unwelcome diagnosis, like cancer. People start to hear tragic stories about friends and relatives, perhaps as young as in their 30s and 40s, and then the stories grow more common.

Illness and disability are no longer theoretical; you have to deal with yourself as you age, and the health issues become part of the equation of a relationship. Naturally, it's a downer to contemplate these issues with your date, but you can handle most of them well, and they often result in a closer, more honest, and more supportive relationship.

You may have heard the ungenerous saying, “I don't want to be a nurse or a purse.” This saying refers to the twin fears of becoming tied down by someone dreadfully ill and becoming the primary earner.

The issue of being a caregiver is a tough one. It brings great rewards, but it's also a challenging role that can demand time and energy and can take a toll on the caretaker's own physical and emotional well-being.

So it's fair for people to think about whether they want to get weighed down by someone with a serious illness (or even potential illness) or move on to someone else who's healthier.

It's a natural fear, but it's often based on irrational information. Everybody is one diagnosis away from an awful prognosis. And most people would like to be loved for things other than whether they have the potential to become ill or fail to maintain a certain amount of wellness with the illness they already have.

Just because someone suffers from an illness doesn't mean that you'll become a full-time caregiver or even take on a significant responsibility.

You may worry that an insurance company won't cover you or your partner because of a preexisting condition, or that you won't be able to manage the rising costs of healthcare, or that you'll miss special years with someone. If health is your number one gateway criterion, so be it. But you can ask yourself: should it be?

In any case, you eventually need to bring up the health conversation if you and your partner start to get serious. Be smart about it and choose your moment carefully. Here are some guidelines on how to start out slow and then later, how to be frank, but not frightening, so that you can have a good discussion:

  • Never talk about your or your date's health on the first meeting.

  • Try to put the discussion off until you get a feel for each other and you sense some real magic between you.

  • When you first talk about it, start with the good news. For example, “You'd never know from looking at me today that I had cancer five years ago. It was tough, but my report card is great. Still, I wanted you to know about it.”

  • If the report card isn't so great, tell the truth but with an optimistic spin. “Yes, I have diabetes, but I'm pretty confident it's under control, and thank goodness I have minimal side effects.”

  • If your condition is something that changes what you can do (such as impotence after prostate cancer), bring it up only when necessary. For example, if the two of you are getting close to having sex, talk about it then. The discussion is unnecessary until that situation arises.

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