Dating with arthritis: James' story

16 April 2024
Smiling James wearing striped shirt pouring tea in Morocco

Navigating the dating world can be full of both excitement and uncertainty. But what if you throw arthritis into the mix? 

“There’s no handbook to dating as someone with arthritis,” says James, 30, who lives with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

“But remember no one’s looking for someone with or without arthritis. They’re looking for a good partner.”

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Dating and arthritis tips

In this blog, James, who lives with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, shares his dating experiences, as well as his practical tips and advice. 

Dating and arthritis: Tips from James

Accepting your condition 

Being diagnosed with arthritis can bring about a rollercoaster of emotions. You might feel shocked, anxious or angry. Or maybe you feel so relieved to finally have the answers you were looking for.  

For James, coming to terms with his diagnosis was an important step when dating.  

“I was diagnosed when I was 21, and it took me a bit of time to accept my condition and grow my confidence,” says James. “I felt insecure and isolated because everything I’d ever been told was that arthritis was a condition that affects older people.

“I had to come to terms with a new situation. Then I was more confident to go into dating.” 

"I think I needed to accept my own diagnosis and come to terms with it before going out and dating. You know how they say, ‘you need to love yourself before you love someone else?’ It’s kind of like that.”

James, 30, who lives with rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.

Don’t let your arthritis define you 

Living with a long-term condition brings its own unique set of challenges. But James says “don't think of your condition as something that's getting in the way because it's such a small part of you."

“You’re a three-dimensional person that has so many other qualities. People are going to like you for who you are and the qualities you have.” 

"It’s a part of your life, of course, but it doesn’t have to define you."

Be open about what you’re going through 

Communication is an important part of any healthy relationship. So, for James, it’s important to be “as open and honest as possible, if it’s going well with someone.”  

“It makes it easier for the other person to understand the situation and why you might cancel plans because of pain or fatigue,” he explains. “So, if they have any questions, I’m always happy to answer them.” 

You don’t have to share too much too soon. James suggests letting it come up naturally. 

"They might ask ‘Oh, do you want to do something on Thursday?’ And I'll say ‘Oh, actually, that's my medication day and I'm going to be really tired, so can we do a different day?'"

Connect through humour 

Smiling James wearing sunglasses and furlined coat at the Giant's Causeway in Northern IrelandThere’s nothing that makes a date better than being able to share a laugh. 

So, if being open about your relationship sounds intimidating, James says using a bit of humour can help.  

“Some people might have difficulty talking about their condition or feel it’s too serious to talk about it on a date. But you can use humour,” he says. 

“I try to make it a bit jokey. I don’t want to kill the vibe, but I also want to be real. So, I tend to tell a few jokes about it.”  

Consider what you’re looking for in a partner 

What sort of person do you want to date? Someone kind, healthy, funny? When dating, James says it’s worth keeping in mind those values that matter to you. 

“The characteristics I look for most are someone who is understanding and compassionate,” he says. “Someone who can adjust, understand, and isn't going to like judge me for what my body does.  

“For example, I might not always be up for doing certain things that they might want to do. Or there are going to be times where I might need to change or cancel plans because I’m just too fatigued or in too much pain.” 

“Also, someone who tries to take time to understand my condition. It not only shows that they’re interested, but also that they understand the challenges I face.” 

Pace yourself

When you’re dating, it’s natural to want to present yourself as the best version of yourself. But James suggests pacing yourself and not overdoing it.  

"Don't overdo it just to impress people early on,” he says. “Whatever you're doing, make sure you're putting your body first. Because if you push yourself, you might have a flare-up. It's better to be realistic and keep yourself in the best possible shape. 

Learn more about managing fatigue


Make dates work for you 

Smiling James wearing sunglasses and drinking a glass of white wine in a sunny restaurant outdoors with mountaintops in the backgroundWhat does the ideal date look like for you? For James, it’s about choosing a place that he knows he’ll “feel comfortable in, both mentally and physically.” 

“On a first date, I’d try not to travel too far, so I don’t overdo it,” says James. “Maybe that means going to a restaurant I know has comfy chairs for my back. 

“It shows that you’re taking initiative, but you also know you’re going to be in a situation where you’re going to be your best, most comfortable, self.”  

“I’m not going to suggest going rock climbing, for example, just so I can look like I’m adventurous."

Sex and relationships 

Between fatigue and swollen joints, there are a number of ways that arthritis can affect your sex life. 

Sex isn’t equally important to all couples, but if it’s something that matters to you then there are ways you can meet both your needs.  

“I’ve had instances where someone I’ve been dating has asked whether I can have sex," says James. "They thought that I might be abstinent or that I might not be able to have sex with my condition.

“I had to explain that you can still develop your relationship in that way. But you might just need to make small adjustments or use some more pillows to make it as painless as possible.”  

Find out more about sex, relationships and arthritis


We’re here for you

We know it can be tough living with arthritis. If you need more advice or support, remember you can always: