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

by Janet Jay
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,"

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
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!

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,"
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"

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Meghan Cook February 12, 2023 - 4:23 PM

Thanks for this article! Really helpful to me at the moment

admin February 13, 2023 - 1:35 PM

I’m so glad it helped! Thanks for letting me know 🙂

dennis joyce February 15, 2023 - 6:27 PM

I see where you’re coming from. I’m back into pain now after my right hip has started to fail. My wife passed away seven years ago. I’ve tried dating on line before, but I’m Dyslexic so writing is slower than others. Other people wizz through e-mails. I hope I can find someone but I don’t have the confidence I had as a younger man. I’m 65 and very lonely. Meeting people outside feels wrong for some reason. I get the feeling that my attempts of small talk are just left hanging in the air.
It is nice to know someone who can express themselves like you. Male or female. I didn’t know I was Dyslexic until I left school and started working & then finding out I’m not the only person with dyslexic tendencies. I’ve been able to string lines of thoughts, but sometimes it comes out all jumbled up & distorted. Being free to do whatever I like to do I find I’m less likely to go out & find someone. Is there any shops I can go shopping for company? Lol! Will good luck with your search for a friendship or relationship. I’ll keep an eye out for you 😁

admin February 16, 2023 - 1:44 PM

Thank you so much for the kind words! I definitely get how hard it can be to get back out after a big gap, in fact that’s kinda what I’m trying to do right now and it is hard. And in terms of confidence– I mean, so many people without health issues have trouble with confidence, is it any surprise that you and I do too, with health issues on top of the rest of it? Hope reading this helped you feel a tiny bit less alone, if nothing else. And hope your day today is the least painful possible!

Jacqueline Child February 12, 2023 - 6:41 PM

Hi! Thanks for this article. I’m the co-founder of Dateability, new app for disabled and chronically ill people. I struggled a lot with dating due to my chronic illnesses! I was always rejected and i never got the chance to show myself beyond my illnesses! Dateability is a fairly new app and we grow daily!

admin February 13, 2023 - 1:33 PM

Oh wow, I’ve never heard of that before! It honestly didn’t occur to me that there might be a dating app specifically for this, although now that I think about it it seems obvious that there’s a need. I will absolutely check it out! Thanks for the comment and the work y’all do.

Cat May 2, 2023 - 8:45 PM

Very helpful. I’m 56 and trying to get back to dating, but feel super defeatist about my age with invisible disability. I’m in pretty good shape and take care of myself, though.

I also have a lot to offer – I just need rest after doing certain things. I am glad there are more dating apps for people with bipolar and other disabilities. I have a few of them. So I would have to find someone who is understanding and likes me for the great qualities I have otherwise. I have been thinking about what I will need from a partner. It will maybe have to be someone who is low key and likes to chill at home but likes adventure, too. Or someone who can go entertain themselves or go out with friends or whatever and I’ll be glad to get some space and more rest, too.

I’ve been feeling bad that I’ve put this dating thing off or so long, but the pandemic didn’t help and thanks for validating that is harder to navigate dating with invisible disabilities. It really holds me back from even trying. After a number of bad dating experiences, I at least know I will never settle for certain behaviors ever again and that helps. I know more of what I need and I feel I am open to a more mature relationship by now, anyway.

I think I am going to have to be open and honest from the start so I don’t waste my time or anyone else’s.

Thanks again! Great writing!

admin May 4, 2023 - 3:00 PM

Thanks so much! And dang do I ever identify with what you’re saying. Pandemic definitely made a hard thing even harder, for everybody it seems like, though of course people with disabilities are playing on extra-hard mode. I went through a huge breakup not that long before it and right as I was thinking about trying to get back out there and try to meet people… yeeeah. And invisible disabilities definitely bring their own challenges, both in trying to get a date and in developing something. But I think it’s awesome that you’re in a place where you know you have a lot to offer and you know you deserve better than some of the shit you’ve faced in the past. That’s huge! And whenever you *do* feel up to dating, it’ll probably (hopefully!) make it easier to cull through the bad ones, especially on app stuff. Good luck!!! And thanks again, I’m so glad you found some value in the post.


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