Dating with Diabetes
By Cheryl Alkon
Dating can feel daunting when you live with diabetes. Hear about dating from others with diabetes, and learn what you can do to prepare for dates.
My now-husband David and I met at a friend’s birthday party where there was bowling and a lot of birthday cake.
Knowing I had diabetes, he was surprised by how much cake I ate at the party. I love cake, so I had calculated the carbs and increased my insulin pump dosing accordingly. That night, Dave couldn’t understand how a person with diabetes could be okay eating a lot of cake.
He has since learned.
The next day we talked more about what diabetes is, how food and insulin dosing intertwine, and how ongoing diabetes management requires both a daily and a long-term focus. Later on, when things got more serious, Dave asked for, and I found him, a book that covered more detail: Eve Gehling’s The Family & Friends’ Guide to Diabetes. While the book is now outdated and doesn’t cover some current medications and technologies, the focus on support is universal.
Dating with diabetes, like any dating, relies on honest communication. Supportive actions – such as keeping glucagon or sources of sugar readily available, or sympathizing with you, rather than dismissing you, when you vent about a frustrating aspect of living with diabetes – can go a long way. Whether a person with diabetes is just beginning to date, has been at it for a while, or is returning to dating after a hiatus – no matter if they are looking for a serious relationship or not – a thoughtful approach can reduce the challenges of dating with diabetes.
To Tell or Not to Tell
It’s up to you to decide when to tell someone that you have diabetes. You might feel you want to keep it quiet on a first or second date, especially if you don’t know if you’ll see that person again. Or, you may decide to be more open about diabetes from the start – especially before something like an insulin dose or treating low or high glucose levels needs to happen during the date.
“It’s important to be comfortable with your diabetes yourself first, because it can be hard to open up and share it with someone else,” said Lexie Rosendahl, 21, who attends nursing school in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Rosendahl, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 11, started dating Jordan Paulsen, 24, in October 2020, after meeting him on a dating app. She said she was nervous about disclosing her diabetes.
“I was super up front about it, though some people said, ‘Don’t say anything right away,’ but I thought, ‘This is a part of me,’” she said. “If you are talking to someone, and they aren’t accepting or they make you feel bad, drop them. Don’t settle. Someone out there will love you for who you are.” This advice applies to anyone, with or without diabetes.
Rosendahl said Paulsen asked many questions on their first date, when they got ice cream.
“He said, ‘I want to know about this as much as possible,’” she said. “As a nursing student, I do a lot of educating, and I made a little chart he keeps on his fridge about what I look like if I am low. He is also good about throwing a bag of fruit snacks in his pocket in case I go low. I am pretty self-sufficient, but it’s nice to have someone who gets it. It’s really cool; I like to be independent but he is supportive but not smothering me.”
At the same time, many advise not overwhelming a new relationship with too many diabetes details. It’s a balance that can be tricky to strike.
“You don’t have to give a full dissertation on diabetes during your first date,” notes Stephanie Watson in an article for Healthline.com. Also, she writes, “be open about your condition but don’t dwell on it. Try to keep the conversation light. You don’t want to worry your date by talking about [long-term complications], especially if you’ve just met.”
Anyone who would be frightened away or otherwise dismissive of someone’s diabetes doesn’t deserve a moment of your time. If nothing else, someone who has a problem with your diabetes, cites inaccuracies or myths about it and isn’t open to learning why those myths are wrong, is sending indications that spending time with them will likely be more of a burden than bliss. Learning this makes it easier to move on to someone who will be so much better for you.
Ultimately, you already deal with the day-to-day aspects of diabetes. You want to be with someone who supports and promotes you during that journey – not someone who will make it harder.
Whether you’re having a date over a meal, an activity like hiking, or something low-key like watching a movie, plan ahead so you have what you need to keep your focus on the date, not on your diabetes.
Like anything else with diabetes, preparation is key.
If you are eating at a restaurant, look at the menu ahead of time to figure out what would be a good choice and what the carbohydrate count would be for that meal.
If you are drinking alcohol, know how alcohol affects your blood glucose numbers before the date. Sweet drinks will cause increases, while less-sweet drinks can cause your blood sugar to drop, especially if you aren’t eating at the same time.
If you take insulin, ensure you have a source of fast-acting carbohydrates on you (in a purse or pocket) so you can treat a low blood sugar early on, rather than needing to rush to find something to treat in the middle of your date.
If you’re planning an activity for the date, adjust your insulin if necessary to avoid low blood sugar, and eat a snack either ahead of time or carry one on the date to manage your glucose numbers.
If you use a glucose meter, take it with you and make sure you have enough strips, working batteries, and anything else you need to make it work correctly. If you use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), make sure the sensor is functioning properly.
If you wear an insulin pump make sure it is working properly before the date; fill the pump ahead of time if it’s almost time for a site change or the insulin is running low.
If you use syringes or insulin pens, make sure you have them handy so you can take your medication easily before a meal or in case the date is going well and continues longer than you anticipated.
If you wear an insulin pump and it malfunctions, carrying a syringe and a vial of fast-acting insulin in a glucose meter kit can help you have access to your insulin immediately, instead of needing to end the date.
Finding out a partner is flexible when things happen can be reassuring, said Rosendahl. “We were ice skating when my Dexcom CGM failed,” she said. “We had to run back home so I could change the sensor out, and Jordan said, ‘No judgment, whatever you need,’ It was a nice sign of unconditional love.”
Being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes helped Liz Cambron identify some of the things she valued both in life and in a partner. Cambron, 29, who has a PhD in cellular and molecular biology and manages a research lab in State College, Pennsylvania, described herself as “a partier and drinker who ate a lot of fast food” before she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes seven years ago. After her diagnosis, she changed her eating patterns, drank far less alcohol, and began working out each day. She now runs in half marathons, lifts weights, and is a partner in an on-demand online exercise program.
“It helped me re-evaluate my priorities and what type of life I wanted to live,” she said. “If I was dating a person who ate a lot of junk food or was a heavy partier, if I took the drinking or the partying away, the relationship didn’t last long and there wasn’t a lot there.”
She met her fiancé, James Kopco, four years ago when both attended a group counseling program for graduate students at North Dakota State University. “I would vent about frustrations about having to deal with low blood sugar events in the lab,” she said. As they began dating, they would keep each other accountable by eating healthy meals and exercising together. “Voice what your needs are,” she said. She offered other advice:
“Many first dates are going out for a meal or a drink, and if you say you can’t, the person will expect an explanation. There is stigma around type 2 diabetes – that people are overweight – and it can be a challenging first impression. But diabetes is not something to be embarrassed by. You are not a stereotype and don’t be embarrassed to have open communication.”
“Be open with your healthcare team about your medications and any side effects. A lot of medications can affect your libido and that can affect your relationship. If that is putting stress on your relationship, don’t feel like you’re stuck on that medication.”
Dating Another with Diabetes
Some people go looking to date another person with diabetes and some just find each other. Shanna Walker, 42, is a recruiter at her local fire department in Spotsylvania, Pennsylvania. She dated someone for about a year; they met through an online dating site and lived about 40 minutes from each other.
“As we were talking, I mentioned I was a diabetic, and he was like, ‘Me too!’” Walker has lived with type 1 diabetes since age 16, while her boyfriend was diagnosed with type 1.5 diabetes (also known as LADA) at age 35, six years ago. “It was very convenient, to be honest. We both had a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor, and we gave each other supplies. We know about highs and lows, so it was nice not to have someone freak out when an alarm went off. We would kid and show each other our numbers to see whose were ‘better.’”
There’s at least one Facebook group devoted to single people with type 1 diabetes: T1der. Launched in 2019, the group exists for people to “Meet other single type 1 diabetics, complain about the struggles of dating as a type 1, post memes and more.”
The group was started by Nathan Elmen, 24, who met his girlfriend, Heather Chambers, soon after the group began when she commented on his photo in a group post. Besides diabetes, they share career goals: Elmen is a registered nurse and Chambers is enrolled in the nursing program that he graduated from. The couple lives together in West Melbourne, Florida.
Regardless of diabetes, dating should evolve naturally, Elmen says.
“My advice is to not force yourself into a relationship,” he said. “It can be like winning the Lotto sometimes, and you really just need to bump into the right person – that was how Heather and I met.”
Ultimately, diabetes is just one aspect about you, and when looking for a new relationship, it’s important to focus on all your positive traits. “Just be yourself,” said Walker. “Diabetes doesn’t define you.”