How To: Dating With Chronic Pain or Dating With Invisible Disabilities

On a background of red and black hearts, image of two phones side by side illustrating dating, the left with a man and a heart and the right a woman with two smiley faces, looking towards each other. Text reads "dating with chronic pain and invisible disabilities, janetjay.com"

Dating with chronic pain is tough, especially if there’s nothing visible about your condition. Finding someone using dating dating apps like Hinge or Tinder is hard to begin with, but dating with invisible disabilities adds a whole other level of difficulty.

In some ways using those apps would be easier if I was visibly disabled and used a wheelchair or crutches. It would at least be simpler than trying to put together a profile when I’m dating with chronic pain and dating with invisible disabilities like fibromyalgia, migraine disease, back pain, joint pain, nerve pain, and mental health issues (that’s what I’m dealing with)! But it also applies to a wide range of other issues like EDS, POTS, arthritis, Crohn’s, lupus, other autoimmune disorders, and/or any disability where you look like everyone else.

Most of the time you wouldn’t know I’m in pain, even though I always am. But it hugely affects my life, and it’s important that anybody I have as a partner be aware of it and OK with it. No, actually, it’s important that anybody I have as a partner be supportive, empathetic and caring about it.

But how do you find that person through the hellscape that is modern dating apps? If you’re dating with chronic pain or dating with invisible disabilities, consider the following before writing your profile.

Side view of white woman with brown hair and glasses sitting by a window working on a laptop in her lap.  Image credit pexels-- andrea-piacquadio 3807769

Decide Which Story To Tell

Writing a dating app profile is telling a story, and you have to think about which one you want to tell.

We all start with a bundle of facts about ourselves, but every time we present those facts we make choices about how we communicate them. It’s always been that way to some extent, but the internet has made it something else altogether. App dating with invisible disabilities or chronic pain makes writing those bios even harder.

The Good (Bio), the Bad (Bio) and the Ugly (Bio)

I can write a bio that makes my life sound like an impressive, inspirational triumph. I can write a bio that makes me sound like a pathetic creature stuck at home with way too many problems. They can both be true. They both are true.

I think about this a lot, honestly. We build our own realities, brick by brick, with the choices we make and the stories we tell about those choices. I’m not gonna lie and say I don’t have days where I identify more with the “Janet is a horrible failure” story. But the amazing story is also me, as fake as it may feel to write about myself as a sparkling triumph when I don’t necessarily feel like one.

On a pink background, a woman with curly hair lies on her stomach in PJs, looking at her phone and playing with her hair

I can write a bio that makes my life sound like an impressive, inspirational triumph. I can write a bio that makes me sound like an awful, pathetic creature stuck at home with way too many problems. They can both be true. They both are true.

The stories we choose to tell about ourselves change us, even without us noticing it. There are consequences to which story you decide to embrace. If someone tells you you’re horrible every day, it’s hard to not let that seep in at least a little bit. And it’s only worse coming from inside the house. Be kind to yourself.

Communicating Your Reality

If your goal is to find a partner, consider what the story you’ve chosen communicates about you. While that bio that makes me sound amazing might get me more likes and messages, will they be the right likes and messages?

For women on dating apps, the odds are good but the goods are often odd. You’re going to have more luck finding a true connection if you write a bio that presents your life realistically. I’m a geek who likes sci-fi and comics. How would it help me to present myself as anything else, even if that “anything else” gets my inbox a-hoppin’? Which leads to…

How Much To Center Your Health Issues

There’s no easy answer here. You have to really think about what you’re looking to get out of the process of dating, how your pain or health conditions affect your life and how big a role they play.

White sweatshirt lying on a grey background surrounded by plant, notebook, sunglasses etc, text on shirt reads "my other body is a withered old crone." Image from Reductress.com
If anybody is badass enough to wear this amazing Reductress shirt on a date, you better send me pix. I want one so bad.

When I was at my worst health-wise, when it was often a struggle just to get through the damn day and my pain was a major factor in just about everything I did, I mentioned it overtly in my profile.

I’m doing much better now than I was a few years ago, and I’m able to live a more “normal” life, though my chronic pain and invisible disabilities still play a major role in everything I do and all the choices I make. Which leads to…

Leaving Breadcrumbs

I currently use Hinge, which gives you a very limited amount of space to communicate who you are. Rather than using up a whole question to say I have a janky back and a bunch of invisible disabilities, I now have… let’s call it a breadcrumb.

Back when I got my spinal stimulator implanted, I wrote a first-person piece for Popular Science about the experience. The headline was literally “I Became A Cyborg To Manage My Chronic Pain,” so my profile has “I wrote a magazine article about becoming a cyborg.” It’s a cool achievement I’m proud of, but more importantly, it’s an easy way to broach the subject of my chronic pain and why I needed to become a cyborg in the first place! Then the conversation just grows from there organically. (At least that’s the hope.)

You may not have written a magazine article about your chronic pain, but is there something in your life that you could use in the same way? Do you volunteer anywhere even vaguely related? Any funny stories from your experiences with doctors? A cute pic of you in a medical setting? Rocking that awesome Reductress sweatshirt or something similarly quippy? A book or film about pain or disability you love and want to share– or one you want to rant about? (Though be careful with rants on dating apps.) You’re basically trying to create an “in” for them to ask questions without overloading them with info and issues.

Think about what you need from a partner

I know some people dating with invisible disabilities who swipe left/ nope out on any profile where the person seems really into physical activities. Then again, I have a good ex who was huge into the bike scene and it was never an issue for him that I couldn’t come along.

I personally tend to straddle this line: one or two pics of something physical is no biggie (hell, my profile has a pic of me wakesurfing), but if every single picture is somebody on top of a mountain, I know we’re not going to be compatible.

Image by Storyset in teal  colors of woman touching phone she's holding, saying something in a speech bubble, next to illustration of a text message folder with head silhouettes and lines representing titles, with envelopes and silhouettes around in the air, representing the text message convo of someone dating with chronic pain or dating with invisible disabilities
Do you have set criteria for what kinds of profiles you like and respond to? Comment here or shout on social media and tell me how you choose!

You have to decide whether you’re willing to wade through those possibilities or if you’re just going to assume they wouldn’t fit your life. This depends on the matches you get, the ultimate goal you’re working towards, and how much time you’re willing to expend wading through your options.

App Dating with Chronic Pain or Dating With Invisible Disabilities: Hard AF but Not Impossible

One more time for the people in the back: app dating sucks for just about everyone, and trying to navigate it with an invisible disability or health condition adds a whole other layer of difficulty. But if you use these apps strategically and really think about the story you’re choosing to tell about yourself, you’ll greatly increase your chances of finding that perfect match.

Then again, I’m still single… so PLEASE comment here or on social media and tell me what I’ve left out and how the hell to find someone!

Pin these to find your way back here! And if your relationship is going REALLY well, then a click to learn about family planning with genetic disorders isn’t the worst idea

On a background of red and black hearts, image of two phones side by side illustrating dating, the left with a man and a heart and the right a woman with two smiley faces, looking towards each other. Text reads "dating with chronic pain and invisible disabilities, janetjay.com"
on a background of yellow and pinkish brush strokes, there are cliparts of three men in a line and one woman, standing forward a bit, holding a sign with a heart on it, all under the text "dating with chronic pain and invisible disabilities" janetjay.com
"Family planning with genetic disorders" and "janetjay.com" on an abstract background of teal and grey splotches, with a cartoon of a man and woman on a couch surrounded by hearts

a white woman with long brown hair with highlights wearing a gray shirt and earrings is facing away from the camera but turning her head to look at it and half-smile

Hopefully this site will help you avoid some of the BS I’ve experienced over the last 20 years seeking treatment for my chronic pain, invisible illnesses & mental health challenges. Maybe it’ll even help you think about disability in a new way! But at the very least, I hope you learn something, and I hope it helps you feel less alone.

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