Dating and Diabetes
How to involve your significant other in your significant disease
The Diabetes Dating Game
|Dating Tips for Teens|
You landed the date. Nabbed a reservation at a nice restaurant. Even wore that fancy shirt that looks great but sort of itches. You’ve thought of everything—except how to divulge your diabetes.
If you’re stressing about when to tell your date about your diabetes (or whether you should keep it a secret after all), take heart: “There’s no rule book you don’t know about,” says William Polonsky, PhD, CDE, a psychologist, diabetes educator, and founder and CEO of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute.
Your comfort level, your date, and a dozen other factors will influence how and when you tell. Still, there are some guidelines you can follow to determine what’s right for you. Read on for tips that’ll help you transition from “Nice to meet you” to “I have diabetes.”
Making It Work
|Here is what Chris Dallas has done to best support his health and our relationship over the past 10 months. —Maroulla Plangetis|
|Be honest. Chris has been very honest about his food, exercise, and lifestyle needs to remain healthy. When his sugar levels were a bit elevated after big meals at relatives' homes, we adjusted accordingly, and I was able to speak about portion sizes with my relatives. I believe that being open and honest initially about topics that affect you is key to any relationship, and diabetes is no exception.
Teach with patience and love. I liked Chris's method of teaching me his processes for maintaining his diabetes. He kindly asked me, "Hey, do you want to learn xyz?" and engaged me in different tasks if I felt comfortable. He taught me how to set up the glucagon pen with an old one (don't worry—it was properly disposed of and not used on him). Essentially, you don't have to teach that person everything at once. But ultimately, if this person is someone you spend a lot of time with and want to spend the rest of your life with, it is important to determine if you can handle what it takes for
a healthy future.
Patience, patience, patience. I cannot tell you how many times Chris will share a reading with me, and I will ask, "Is that good?" He is the calmest person I have ever met, including when I see him calmly explain to me how this affects him. Patience is key as your significant other gets a handle on your diabetes.
Take care of yourself. Chris continues to go to the gym, notes his infusion set changes in his phone, and monitors his blood glucose levels. His self-care habits are inspiring, and his example has helped me to lose weight. As a result, I feel healthier and more confident, and the chain reaction continues to ripple through all elements of our relationship.
Ask for help. It was very helpful when Chris told me about eating habits he wanted my help to improve, such as consuming more fruits and vegetables. His confidence in me for support has improved the relationship significantly.
Here is what has helped me help him manage his diabetes and strengthen our relationship:
Ask questions. You get educated, your worries are eased, and it shows that you care.
Get involved. I exercise and encourage Chris to exercise. We'll go to the gym together. I eat well and encourage Chris to eat well. We go shopping and I'll fill our grocery cart with foods that his nutritionist recommends. To get involved, you have got to know about the unique needs of your significant other, so once again, ask questions to see how that person would best like you to get involved.
Based on my experience, diabetes and dating means doable.
To Tell or Not to Tell
The biggest concern most people with diabetes have is that a date will stop liking them once diabetes is in the picture. "My impression is that most people are more concerned about that than is reasonable," says Polonsky. Which is to say, your date probably won't be freaking out as much as you are when you mention your diabetes.
True, there's always a chance you'll be dumped because of your diabetes, but that's not likely. And if it does happen, ask yourself: Do I really want to date someone like that? "You might meet a person in your life who may be turned off or freaked out [about your diabetes], and that might break your heart," Polonsky says. "It's going to be a tiny, tiny portion of all the people you're going to see in your life."
We often project our own feelings about diabetes onto the person we're dating. If you see diabetes as something to be ashamed of, or if you see yourself as somehow deficient simply because of your diabetes, you may expect others to treat you accordingly. The goal, then, is to work through those feelings until you accept your disease and understand that diabetes doesn't make you less worthy of love.
In the end, whether you tell a date about your diabetes is up to you. If you're more comfortable keeping it to yourself, that's your choice and it's a valid one. But keeping secret something that affects every aspect of your life may cause problems as your relationship develops. This is especially true if you have type 1 diabetes because it's harder to hide insulin injections or a pump, and you're more likely to need to treat lows.
"I professionally believe if you're in a serious relationship, your significant other should be told," says Laura Smith, PhD, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the University of South Florida Diabetes Center. "To leave your significant other out of that doesn't lead to an honest relationship." Not only will you be hiding who you really are from someone you'll increasingly spend more time with, but the lengths you'll have to go to in order to hide your diabetes can be tiring and cause stress.
The Timing's Right
There's no right or wrong time to tell someone about your diabetes, but earlier is generally better. That doesn't mean you need to reveal it during introductions or even on your first date, but the longer you wait, the harder it will be.
"If you wait very long to tell someone, you run the risk of your significant other believing you didn't have enough trust in them to tell about your diabetes," says Smith, who has type 1 diabetes, which she revealed to the man who's now her husband on their first date.
Plus, you might devote a great deal of time to a relationship that you wouldn't want to pursue if your significant other isn't supportive. "My diabetes is such a big part of my life," says Chris Dallas. He's now engaged, but it used to take him about five dates to make sure he liked a woman enough to talk about his type 1 diabetes. "I want somebody that's supportive. If somebody gets concerned or scared, that's a red flag."
How soon is too soon to tell all? That's a matter of individual preference. "It's like talking about exes or your previous relationships. I don't want to give too much information too soon," says Nancy Garcia, who waits about three weeks to tell a boyfriend about her type 2 diabetes. "By then I have a pretty good grasp of whether I want to continue a relationship with this person."
No Big Deal
Diabetes is a part of who you are, but it's not who you are, so there's no need to make a huge deal about it when you decide to broach the subject with your date. Sometimes what you do on your date, such as going out to dinner, will open a window for you to discuss diabetes.
"I didn't really plan it out, how I did it," says Dallas. "I said, 'Oh, by the way, I'm diabetic. I don't know if you've seen me doing this. That's me checking my blood sugar and giving insulin.' " Turns out, Dallas's fiancée, Maroulla Plangetis, hadn't noticed his meter or insulin pump but asked him all about his diabetes when he mentioned it. (Read her story HERE and his story HERE)
Remember, your date doesn't need to know the inner workings of your glucose meter or exactly how to count carbohydrates right off the bat. Simply mentioning it—that diabetes is time consuming but treatable, for instance—will get the ball rolling. "Once you mention that you have diabetes, the pressure's going to be off," says Polonsky. "Things will come up naturally."
|Does dating (or marrying) someone with diabetes make for smoother sailing?
"One of the advantages to both of us being diabetic is that, in day-to-day life, that's a topic that comes up often," says Diabetes Forecast Reader Panel member Sharlyn Premuda, who has had type 1 diabetes for more than 30 years. Her husband, Don, was diagnosed with type 2 about six years ago.
"When Don was diagnosed, things had changed a great deal [from 30 years ago], and he was told he could have cookies [and other indulgences]. It was so different from what I had been taught," Premuda says. "That was a stumbling block for me for quite a while."
Your diabetes management may not work for your significant other—and that can cause problems. You may exercise for an hour a day while your partner barely fits in a workout. "You have to respect that and just move on," Premuda says. "Everyone has a different philosophy."
Even if you plan to share the bare minimum about your disease, there's some basic information your significant other should know. Anyone with whom you plan to spend a great deal of time should know about hypoglycemia and its warning signs—and not just because you might get a bit cranky when low. Understanding how to treat a low and what to do in an emergency is important for partners of people with diabetes. Plangetis learned how to give glucagon by practicing with a pillow and one of Dallas's expired kits.
Teaching a boyfriend or girlfriend how to handle a diabetes crisis isn't just for those on insulin. Garcia, who treats her type 2 diabetes with metformin, still tells any boyfriend about diabetes. "If anything happened to me in an emergency, that person would know what to do," she says.
Think about how long you've had to get used to the day-to-day tasks of diabetes. Springing everything you know about diabetes on someone who may have no prior knowledge of the disease can overwhelm him or her.
"The best thing to do is take the lead of the other person," says Smith. "If they ask questions and seem to want information, then you can give them all the information they want." If they don't fire away with questions, it may be a sign you need to move more slowly in sharing aspects of your diabetes.
On the Same Page
Consider how involved you'd like your boyfriend or girlfriend to be in your diabetes management. Do you want him or her to avoid the topic completely? Are you looking for someone to push you toward your goals? There's no right or wrong answer—it's your diabetes so it's your choice.
But keep in mind: Your date isn't a mind reader. If you want the person to avoid foods you can't eat, or if you need to be held to your exercise goals, you'll need to spell it out. That's what Dallas did for his fiancée. "I told her, 'Help me out. My weakness is I have a big sweet tooth,' " Dallas says. "If she's too intrusive, I'll tell her."
As two people become serious, it's natural for diabetes to play a bigger role in the relationship. The size of that role is up to you, but many people consider their significant other a partner in their own diabetes. "I wanted her to be as supportive and as involved as possible," Dallas says. "I treat her as if she has diabetes." The burden is lighter now that they share it.