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How to Embrace Dating While Dying

Gabrielle Applebury
couple on date at coffee shop

If you are in the process of passing away due to a terminal condition and you are single, you may be wondering if dating is something you want to begin or continue doing. While there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to dating while in the process of dying, there are a few ways you can make the best decision for your own needs.

Considerations When Dating While Dying

While you may have had ideas about what you wanted or hoped your romantic life to look like, chances are your perspective shifted post-diagnosis. Whether you are a planner, or someone who prefers to live in the moment, having a terminal illness diagnosis can make you question if you want to be in a serious, casual, or any romantic relationship. You may encounter:

  • Feeling guilty about dating in general
  • Feeling nervous about how your partner will cope if the relationship becomes serious
  • Feeling scared that your personality will change at some point due to the illness and not knowing how your partner will react
  • Wondering if your partner can handle or will stick around if your illness suddenly worsens
  • Anxiety about your first few dates post-diagnosis
  • Symptoms of depression as you process end of life related thoughts- can impact your motivation to date
  • Not knowing when, if at all, you should tell the person you're seeing about your diagnosis

Being Transparent About Your Decision

Whether you decide to date or not is completely up to you. You may experience pressure from your loved ones to date or to withhold from dating based on their personal belief systems. Know that this is not their choice and ultimately the decision is up to you. Set boundaries and inform your loved ones of your decision by:

  • Saying that you appreciate their feedback, thoughts, and concerns, but you've decided to start dating.
  • Telling them that you hear what they are saying, but this is your decision to make, and you'd appreciate their support.
  • Letting them know that you aren't comfortable with them sharing their opinions about your dating life (or decision to not date), and if they'd like to share their thoughts with you, you'd appreciate them asking permission first.
daughter discussing dying and dating with father

Dating With a Terminal Illness

Know that you have just as much of a right to date and fall in love as someone who is considered non-terminally ill. No one knows when they will pass away and having an estimated time frame for how much time you may have left can lead to complex feelings that can influence your decision to date or not. Consider what is most important for you to experience before you pass away- know that this may or may not include developing a relationship. You may feel motivated:

  • To find a casual partner to have fun with
  • To fall in love
  • To let dating happen naturally and go with whatever happens
  • To prioritize your existing relationships and not put any effort towards dating

Going After What You Want

Even if you have an estimate of how much time you may have left, you may still experience difficulty being forward about your needs. Whether you tend to put others before yourself or are unaware of your needs, now is the time to tune in and prioritize yourself. You can:

  • Take time to journal, contemplate, or speak with a trusted individual about what you want to pursue relationship wise and in general. Sometimes saying something aloud or writing it down can help you process a bit better.
  • Spend time tapping into your own needs, asking yourself what would make you content in the moment.
  • Giving yourself space to focus on the present, as well as the past, and future in a balanced and healthy way, and knowing when to ask for help when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Create a mantra for yourself that reminds you to prioritize your needs.
  • Understanding your dating/relationship needs and being upfront and honest with your partner about them.

Dating Apps for Those With a Terminal Illness

If you want to give dating a go and are looking for others who are going through similar circumstances or have similar diagnoses, you can look into:

  • CancerMatch- a dating and networking site for those diagnosed with cancer
  • RomanceOnly- a dating app for those who are looking for companionship without the expectation of sexual intercourse (because of a physical, religious, or treatment related reasons)
woman researching dating sites on cell phone

Disclosing Your Diagnosis in Your Dating Situation

There will come a time when you'll need to think about what type of dating situation, if any, you are comfortable with, as well as what dating means to you now. Each individual will vary in what type of dating situation they are comfortable with, and that's okay. Processing a terminal diagnosis is an ongoing experience, so know that you may change your mind regarding dating at any point. Being in certain relationships can have pros and cons, and may bring up unique issues for you. Consider:

  • If you are looking for a more casual relationship- if so, there isn't a need to disclose your diagnosis if you don't want to
  • If you are looking for a more serious relationship- if so, disclosing your diagnosis may take place prior to agreeing to meet up, or within the first few dates so you are on the same page

Know that you may encounter individuals who are comfortable continuing to date you after you've told them about your diagnosis, and you may encounter others who will not be comfortable continuing the relationship. You may also have others who say they want to continue dating, and later on back out. While this may be a painful aspect of the dating process, it's best to be as prepared as possible to deal with diagnosis-related rejection. While this in no way is fair, it is a situation you may encounter when you begin to date.

Prioritizing Your Needs

Dating when you have a terminal illness diagnosis is a personal decision that only you can make. Whatever you decide to do, be honest with yourself and what your needs are, and go after whatever type of relationship that you want.

How to Embrace Dating While Dying