Learning to navigate life with a chronic illness is a huge learning curve. For most of us this means learning to tweek our daily activities so they're do-able, whether this means doing things differently or doing less. The same is definitely true for learning how to date with a chronic illness. You're still a human who desires to love and be loved, and you are equally worthy of love as you were before (whether or not you believe it), but you don't know how to navigate the dating scene. Whether you're in a long-term committed relationship or are hoping to put yourself back out there, this will be another learning curve.
When I became sick with POTS I was dating my, then, boyfriend for a year and a half. We had planned a trip for our second Valentine's Day together but I had become bedridden a couple weeks prior (January 20th). We didn't cancel our trip until a couple days before Valentine's Day because we didn't know what I had yet. Nevertheless, we had to cancel and that was the first time I felt immense guilt about not being able to do something in a relationship that "other girlfriends" would be able to do. He ensured me that I had nothing to feel guilty about and we ended up ordering a heart-shaped pizza and watching Netflix.
Although that relationship came to a natural/necessary end, I've dated since then and have become more confident in what I can and cannot do. However, I remember when I was mostly housebound (but not entirely bedridden anymore) Googling date ideas for those with chronic illness and only finding things to do at home. When I was able to start going out for 1 activity a day, I really needed (for my mental health) to go out. I had intense cabin fever and wanted to see something beside the 4 walls I was stuck in for 8 months. I remember having no idea what to do for dates. Our once spontaneous relationship that consisted of us trespassing on a farm at 3AM to stargaze, quickly became one of watching movies that I always fell asleep during.
At-home date ideas are great, and sometimes the only possible option, but as someone who recharges in nature and had a relationship in which our main dynamic was exploring in nature, I was yearning for gentle, low-energy dates in nature. This might not be your idea of fun but it was necessary for me. For this reason, I'd recommend thinking about date ideas you used to do and/or fun things you've always enjoyed and look at ways to adapt them because date ideas are so personal.
I live right near a major city that has an unlimited amount of date options. However, it's also a big nature-loving, hiking, bike-riding, outdoor market type of city that requires a lot of walking. This made things difficult when I became sick because almost all date ideas recommended online involved "strolling" (walking slowly for fun? no thanks). It seemed like every date idea I found online was either at home or physically strenuous- even bowling was too hard on my arms. For 1 year I had to focus on prioritizing my mental health by leaving the house for short, low-energy activities daily to help myself heal from the medical PTSD. I had to get creative- anything that didn't involve standing or a lot of energy was fair game. Here are some low-energy activities I've enjoyed over the years:
1. Go to a drive-in movie theater. I didn't do well with the over stimulation in a general movie theater but LOVED going to the drive-in. You can bring blankets, lean back, and adjust the volume to your liking. If you have POTS you can also load up the salt on your popcorn!
2. Adventures don't need to involve hikes or strenuous activities. One thing I started to do with my then boyfriend, and then on my own, was go to a new place in nature each week. It was free and provided some novelty. Whether it was a beach I hadn't ever been to, a lake close by, or a park I hadn't been to in years, we'd check out a new place and if it was warm we'd lie on the grass and read together or have a picnic. There's been a lot of research revealing how being in nature is good for our mental health (even if you're not that into it) too! If you have issues with regulating temperature like I do, this might be hard to do all year round but it's doable!
3. Buy a cheap lock, write your initials in a sharpie, and lock it on a chained bridge and throw away the key. Even if it's not a designated lock bridge (ours wasn't) and yours is the only lock on there. I loved doing this especially since it was super low-energy! He went into the store to get the lock while I waited in the car then we drove up to the bridge and it only took a couple steps on my part to get to the bridge.
4. One date idea that I've always loved is going to paint ceramics at a cute ceramic cafe. It's an activity that is 100% sitting down and involves art which is therapeutic. I am not an artist in the sense that I cannot draw or paint free hand whatsoever, I never did make it past being able to draw stick-figures, but even I can paint ceramics! I love painting something I already need in my home (like a bowl or a mug)! I don't like going through my bank statements and seeing food...foood...fooooood...you have nothing to show for that purchase. But with ceramics you do!
5. You can also bring the art date to you and do a Bob Ross paint night in your living room. With a quick stop at a dollar store you can get everything you need, use garbage bags as smocks, and hook your laptop up to your TV to watch a Bob Ross paint YouTube video. A friend of mine hosted one and it was so much fun (and no standing necessary haha).
6. Go out for dessert. Where I'm from (Vancouver) we have unique restaurants ALL over the place. The oddest recipes, the cutest cafes, and the most delicious desserts can be found all over. It's expensive to go out for dinner all the time as a date and even though it's a sit-down activity many of us can do, I needed novelty! So whether it was a new crepe place, a waffle house, a cupcake joint, I was interested!
7. Get a couples massage. I've never done this but I'd marry anyone who suggested it hahaha. Chronic pain treatment and date idea mixed into one? That's my kind of date. Or give each other massages- my hands are pretty weak nowadays though so I'm not sure how well I'd do with this one.
8. Go to the place where you first met or had one of your first dates. Unless you're like us who ended up at a hidden beach at the bottom of what is known in our city as "10,000 steps" because there were 10,000 steps of stairs down to the beach. No thanks hahaha.
9. Try an escape room that doesn't require standing or strenuous activity! These have been growing in popularity and accessibility. I went to one for a friend's birthday when I was mostly housebound and was worried about the physical demands it might require. Thankfully my friends were very understanding and knew they would compensate for my physical inabilities but fortunately there wasn't a single part I couldn't participate in. Make sure you call ahead to talk to the location in your neighbourhood to see if they have an option that would be accessible for you- they usually have a ton of different room options. The one I did had us all give up our cell phones and put blindfolds and tied our hands behind our backs (gently) with rope for half the group and directed us in a room. Eventually we were told to take off our eye masks, try to undo ourselves from the rope, and get a key that was on the other side of a gate. I was the only one (thanks EDS!) who could slip out of the rope easily and stretch my arm through the gate to get the key. The rest of the escape room was all mental and I sat on the ground during most of it. It was really fun and there were no bright flashing lights like I was afraid of (call ahead to make sure though!). There's a lot of research that shows the relational benefits of working together as a team and doing something with your date that requires adrenaline and this is a lot more low-energy than most other options.
10. Go to a botanical garden. If you're in a wheelchair they can push you around to admire the flowers or you can just sit and watch the clouds go by. Again, something about being in nature was really therapeutic after being housebound for so long. I didn't want to be stuck inside another building after being stuck in one for years.
11. For a weekend away you can go somewhere cheap (like a hostel) or rent a cottage and be sick in bed together somewhere with a new view. Seriously, if life's made you sick you might as well be sick on the beach whenever you can. I'm fortunate enough that my dad owns a cottage by a lake an hour away so I'd go out there whenever I could. I'd spend most of my time in bed still but the change of scenery was really good for my soul.
12. Get a chocolate fondue fountain for at home! You'll thank me later.
13. One of the most fun days I had with my boyfriend at the time was staying at home and doing this love language test. If you don't know about the love languages, I STRONGLY encourage you to look into it. The theory is that we show love the way we personally receive it but your partner may not receive love the way you do and therefore doesn't "feel loved." This is a common problem in relationships. When you learn what your partner's love languages are and start showing love that way, it'll be game-changing for your relationship. For example, if your primary love language was words of affirmation so you were constantly encouraging your partner (assuming, as us humans do, that they feel loved the way we do) they might bring up in an argument how they don't feel close or loved anymore. You, of course, are shocked! But then they say "you never even touch me anymore, it's like you don't want to be close to me". If any miscommunication like this sounds familiar than I'd encourage taking the love language quiz! I don't know what it was but doing this quiz with my partner while eating a home-cooked meal brought up so many unique discussion topics and helped us get to know each other on a deeper level. My main love languages before getting sick were words of affirmation and physical touch but since getting sick became acts of service (probably because through doing this they're saving me from spending precious spoons/energy) and words of affirmation.
Whatever you end up doing, the best thing you can do for your relationship is to stop comparing it to what it was like before you got sick (if you two were together since then) or other relationships. Romance is what you make it and you CAN have an equally enjoyable relationship to when you were healthy, it'll just require some more creativity!
Happy Valentine's Day!