Lesbianing with AE! Disclosing a Disability on Dates

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Dear Lindsey,

I’ve had mental health issues since I was a child. I suffered from Anorexia and Bulimia from 11 – 23. I’m now 25, recovered and happy with my body and who I am. All my girlfriends in the past have all also had mental health struggles so I never had to disclose my struggles because they were well-known, accepted and I was supported.

However, because of my illnesses, I am now left with some physical problems that prevent me from currently working (I do manage to volunteer 5 hours a week at a petting zoo). They aren’t visible so people don’t assume I have a disability when I meet them.

I’ve only ever had 1 part-time job that didn’t last long due to my illnesses and now that I’m looking for love every date (or even just conversation) I go on, the question comes up “So what do you do?” or “What have you done?”, I never know what to say! I get super nervous and usually change the subject and subsequently never see them again. 

I don’t want to go all super-serious on the first date and explain that I’ve been seriously sick for 12 years and although I am now a lot better, I cannot work because of XYZ. I feel out of touch in this world because work/a career always comes up as a defining feature of someone’s life and I don’t have a job, it makes me sad because I want to find someone who loves me for me but at the same time I don’t want to put anyone off by my past or my disability. Help?

– Loveless

Hey Loveless,

You say you’re happy with who you are, but talking about who you are on a date–including your mental health/eating disorder struggles–makes you “super nervous” and you tank the date. I can’t imagine this is coincidence; neither do you.

These women are probably reacting to your nervousness around dating — or your behavior on the date, to be honest — and deciding it’s not a good match. Give some critical thought to how you act on dates and determine if there’s a thread that runs through dates. If you’re “looking for love every date (or even just conversation)” then you could be coming across as desperate—in which case, your disability and past aren’t the red flag for potential dates. Desperation is off-putting. Acting too needy is off-putting. Not to all women, but to many. So if you’re acting like you’ll take the first girl who says yes to a second date, I’m not surprised no one’s texting you back.

If you’re acting like you’ll take the first girl who says yes to a second date, I’m not surprised no one’s texting you back.

Ask yourself what you keep saying (or not saying) that is off-putting to potential partners. Think critically about your conduct. Debrief dates with a trusted friend who can decode for you how other women are hearing what you’re saying. This might be painful and embarrassing, but it will help you.

While some of us are born wildly charismatic, for most of us, dating is a process of trial and error and we all make mistakes along the way. If you can crack the code of what’s going wrong for you and change it, you’ll enjoy better results.

If you’re being inarticulate or nervous on dates because you’re so worried about the job question, then you might work on staying calm and focused, on being present in the moment. Dates are scary because our hearts are on the line. This is especially true if you’re going through a pattern of rejection and you aren’t sure why. Not only are you taking a risk in putting yourself out there, you’re answering your least favorite question. if you can stay calm and focused, you won’t get so thrown by the job question and you won’t put out weird vibes.

Not only are you taking a risk in putting yourself out there, you’re answering your least favorite question. if you can stay calm and focused, you won’t get so thrown by the job question and you won’t put out weird vibes.

Humor is a great deflector. If you can pull it off, try deflecting the job question with humor. I have no sense of humor so I’m not going to try to offer you a sound bite here.

If you’re similarly unfunny, try transitioning to what you’re passionate about that’s work-adjacent. Like, “I can tell you what I’d love to do, which is being a disability attorney/landscape architect/cat cafe owner.” Then dazzle them with cat facts or plants you love until the subject changes. Or say, “I’m not a fan of work talk. I’d rather talk about the petting zoo I volunteer with, and find out what you’re passionate about.” If she circles back to what you do for money, she may be super status-driven and it could just be a bad match.

If you have a good rapport established, you could tell part of the truth. Saying something like, “I’m not working full time, I had some health problems a while back and needed to focus on getting better, and I’m happy to say my life is back on track” is vague enough to paint the picture in her mind, but not so explicit that you feel vulnerable.

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Since it doesn’t sound like full or part-time employment is in your future, I wonder if you should disclose something about your disability when meeting potential partners. You don’t go into the details here and you say it’s something people can’t see, but it sounds like the stress of trying to date while navigating this disclosure is getting to you.

Maybe by putting it somewhere on your profile—even something vague, like “I have a disability which prevents me from working full-time” or “I’m proudly recovered from XYZ issues” will help you feel more confident that the women you’re meeting are aware of your past?

Your past relationships felt supportive to you because the women you were with had similar histories, so even if you never got into your anorexia or mental health struggles, you felt understood. Will you feel more understood by fresh dates if you assume they at least read your profile and have that same level of understanding?

Your past relationships felt supportive to you because the women you were with had similar histories, so even if you never got into your anorexia or mental health struggles, you felt understood. Will you feel more understood by fresh dates if you assume they at least read your profile and have that same level of understanding?

I also wonder if you can find a way to make peace with your past and be proud of how far you’ve come. You struggled with mental health issues, and you found some self-care strategies that work you for. You had an eating disorder, but you recovered and you’re happy with your body. Own THAT if it comes up, and see what that gets you on dates.

Got a question for Lindsey? Email us at memoree@afterellen.com and please put “Q for Lindsey” in the subject line.

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