Blog post

Love me as I am: Dating on dialysis

How to navigate dating and finding love while living with kidney disease.
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It's no secret that dating can be stressful. Finding "the one" can take time, effort and patience, and it can be quite nerve-wracking for a lot of individuals. But for people living with kidney disease, that nervousness can be magnified several times over. 

Dawn Cerruto, an AKF Ambassador who was on dialysis for three years in the late 1990s, said the biggest issue for her when it came to dating during that time period was her struggles with body image. "How I felt about myself affected my self-esteem," Dawn said. "I was on both hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis [at different points], so I had catheters that stuck out of me. [I'd wonder to myself], 'if I'm going to be intimate with somebody, what are they going to think?'" 

For Jamie Smythe, also an AKF Ambassador who used hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, her biggest challenge dating was the fact that many of the people she went on dates with had little or no knowledge of dialysis and kidney disease in general. "What I've found in all the years that I've been sick is that people who aren't part of the kidney community really aren't educated about [kidney disease]," Jamie said. "They [don't know] basic information about how it affects people or what those effects are."

To explain what she was going through, Jamie would ask her dates to put themselves in her shoes. "I would tell them that when I was 23 years old, I woke up spitting up blood and was in complete kidney failure," she said. "I'd say, 'as shocked as you are to hear it, I'm just as shocked to have gone through it.'" Jamie would then explain that she had to spend multiple hours a week on a machine that functioned as her kidneys because her real kidneys did not work. "That was the simplest, easiest way that I could convey to them that I was different from others they were dating," Jamie said. 

Dawn echoed that sentiment of openness and vulnerability, saying that while it depended on the person, she oftentimes would tell dates right away about her health situation. "My attitude was if you can't love me as I am, then you're not worth loving me," she said. 

Anthony Phillips, the partner of AKF Ambassador Undrella Woody and a dialysis patient, also emphasized the importance of honesty. "[It's important] with any kind of illness that you be open and honest about it upfront," he said. "You want that person to be able to make the decision [about whether or not they want to date you]. If [your kidney disease] is something that deters them from wanting to pursue a relationship, then it probably wasn't meant to be." 

Dawn also discussed the value of asking your date questions to get a better sense of who they are and how they would handle being the partner of someone living with kidney disease. "I would ask, 'How would you feel about going to sit with me in the hospital should I spur the moment need to go?'" Dawn said. "I had enough self-esteem to [recognize] that if somebody wasn't going to go sit with me and be with me [at the hospital], then maybe they're not worth it." 

But while talking about your journey with kidney disease is important, Jamie advised people on dialysis and in the general kidney community to remember that they are more than simply their illness. "[Your date] is not just getting the illness," Jamie said. "[Who I am] includes my disability, but I want [my dates] to learn 'me' first. I would show my strengths, characteristics and my personality and wait until [my dates] were opening up a little bit more and being more transparent about what they desired and what they were looking for, and then I would share my circumstances with them."

When it comes to red flags that people should watch out for while they date, Dawn said a major warning sign is if someone is more interested in how you look than how you feel. "Your body goes through major changes [on dialysis], and I had weight gain and weight loss," she said. As a result of this, Dawn urged people to not rush into a relationship and "let people get to know you and your situation" and meet you where you are. 

Part of "meeting you where you are" involves your date being flexible around your dietary constraints as a person living with kidney disease. Dawn emphasized that people should plan ahead to account for their needs. "Look for restaurants that have choices where you can change things," Dawn said. "You may have to call ahead of time and find out. [In addition], look at menus online to see if they have kidney-friendly food, and be honest with your partner by saying 'Why don't we try this place instead? They have more that I can eat so I can enjoy my meal.'' 

While people living with kidney disease have more factors to consider when it comes to dating than people without kidney disease, at the end of the day, the main takeaway is the same: don't settle for less and wait for the person who chooses to love and accept you exactly as you are, chronic illness and all. 


Jenni Muns

Jenni Muns is the associate director of communications at AKF