I have secondary progressive MS. 2010 saw me turn 40, my marriage end in divorce and giving up working. My life is very different to what it used to be and there's no escaping the fact I have MS.
The two points of view were:
- It's all about who you are. MS shouldn't detract a potential partner from wanting to get to know the real you.
- There's no getting away from MS. The real you is shrouded by visual cues, such as my wheelchair, let alone the hidden symptoms. With the greatest will in the world, finding someone who is prepared to get to know you with all your symptoms sounds a big ask.
So, you find yourself single...
I thought about 'getting out there', such as going to pubs. I decided this was impractical due to fatigue and simply getting around in a manual wheelchair (that energy pot will only go so far).
Socialising with friends and meeting others at work is a great option if these are realistic for you. I met my previous partner at work but having stopped working, I would have to think of other ways. The majority of my friends aren't local to me so this was also unrealistic.
I'm not afraid to ask ladies out. Last year saw me ask a young lady at the local therapy centre out and a support worker. Neither worked out but it did wonders for self-belief and confidence.
There are personal ad columns in papers and magazines. I discounted these straight away as they feel very 'yesterday'. With the growth of the internet and the online community, there are online personal ads (such as Love City or Ad-Mart [Ad-Mart no longer has personal ads]). I felt these weren't 'me' so avoided them.
As I mentioned, Twitter is a great way to meet other people online.
This leads me to dating sites. There are numerous sites available now. Some are free whilst others you have to pay a subscription. Or do you go with a disabled website?
Which? did a review of dating websites, which includes prices of the subscription (at the time of their review, no longer on their website). I decided to try both a pay-for dating website (eHarmony) and pay-for disabled site (EnabledAlready). I went for a paid subscription as I wanted to be taken seriously. Mind you, my expectations for both were still low.
Both sites are free to register. For eHarmony that means assessing yourself, answering personal questions and how you want to appear to others, including uploading a photograph or two. I liked their approach as it forced me, for once in my life, to stop and think about what I wanted in a relationship. The big question was whether to mention MS in the personal information. I posed the question on Twitter and got a mixed reaction, as expected. Some people with MS felt being honest was necessary and others thought leaving it out initially was wise, but be upfront about it later. I decided the latter would be my approach but did say I am in a wheelchair, and included an arty picture of it. After all, I have other qualities that I'm sure will appeal to other people - I am me, not a consequence of MS of course.
For EnabledAlready, there were a few straight forward questions and a photograph.
For both, 'browsing' is free. However, a subscription is needed to start talking to anyone. I'm used to the online community so talking to complete strangers - whilst odd - is second nature to me these days. You do have to be ready for radio silence though so a thick skin is essential.
EnabledAlready was a much smaller website with fewer users. I chatted to several ladies on there (none with MS). Nothing further happened but it was fun to chat and meet other like-minded people.
(EnabledAlready has subsequently closed following the retirement of the owners, but Whispers4U is similar.)
eHarmony has worked for me though. I met a young lady. We emailed for a few weeks, chatted on the phone and finally met up. MS is no big deal to her (it's probably a bigger deal for me) and she likes me for who I am. She has her own issues of course but that's a relief as we can work together and start our journey knowing neither of us is perfect.
My conclusion: Never say never. Get out there and enjoy yourself.
Other experiences of dating sites
As part of this article, I asked on Twitter if anyone had experience of dating sites. I got a response from Glyn:
"I had been single for a year, and thought a dating website could be worth a try. I firstly registered on a couple of 'disability dating' sites, but got nothing. I then registered with Guardian Soulmates, and struck up good conversations with several young women. This surprised me, as I had been very open about being a wheelchair-using MSer - but apparently people are not half as afraid of the MS as I had thought! They each had their own quirks, as do we all: one had recently been diagnosed herself, another suffered from depression, another was doing a disability studies PhD and finally, the mother of another had MS. I met with the latter woman and we had a great afternoon out.
I have no confidence in 'disability dating' websites. From my experience I do not think people with MS should 'ghettoise' themselves to such. There are plenty of intelligent, caring people out there with their own crosses to bear, who may be very interested in someone whether or not that have MS, but who may not think to visit such a website. And for myself, I have fallen very happily in love with a beautiful, amazing girl."
MS Trust have books on MS and sexuality which cover different aspects of relationships. Two quotes from the book for women with MS:
"It took me a while to pluck up the courage to try dating websites, and I met a few frogs before I found some princes! I decided that, for me, free websites weren't always a good idea - paying up front to be included implies a greater degree of commitment, making me feel more comfortable that someone else had the same motives as me. I'm always cautious, trust my gut reactions and take the time to get to know someone through the website, then by exchanging emails, before arranging to meet. Apart from anything else, when we meet face-to- face we have plenty to talk about."
"My advice would be to think about how you want to appear in your profile and what sort of relationship you're looking for. Get a good friend to look at what you've written. I tried to be honest but you can't expect the same from others! I prefer a relatively early face-to-face meeting as I feel nothing can beat it; it can be very disappointing to find that you just don't gel with someone you felt compatible with after emailing for an extended period."
Written by Kevin Ward for Open Door - February 2012