Dating And Cancer: The Dos and Don’ts
Today’s digital dating landscape leaves a lot is up for interpretation. Profiles, pictures, sure, but so much more. Add a breast cancer diagnosis into the mix and dating can feel like one big scary mountain to scale…one day.
Well, we’re tackling it today. Here, together with Dr. Jess Carbino, Bumble Sociologist, Relationship & Online Dating Expert, we dig into what it means to date with a cancer diagnosis and how to deal with everything from etiquette questions to the down and dirty.
WHAT ARE THE DON’TS FOR ENTERING THE DATING GAME AFTER A CANCER DIAGNOSIS?
Don’t feel pressure to discuss your health with a potential partner before you’re ready. “Personal information of any kind, particularly health-related information, should only be shared with someone who has earned your trust,” says Carbino. Be patient with yourself regarding expectations for what you can contribute to a relationship. “If you are not feeling well, it is okay to take time for yourself and not feel as though you must do everything that is perceived as conventional in a romantic relationship.”
HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE TOPICS LIKE MENOPAUSE (AND ITS EFFECTS) AND FERTILITY DURING THE DATING STAGE?
Medically-induced menopausal symptoms may interfere with your sex life. Vaginal dryness, painful intercourse and hot flashes can be an issue and may require a conversation about what does and doesn’t feel good for you when you are intimate. Knowing your body, your erogenous zones and what works best to get you in the mood will help arm you with confidence. Give information as you need to with the caveat that you set the pace and the rules. One way to deal with menopausal symptoms like vaginal dryness without killing the mood [a result of medically-induced menopause and some treatments] would be to make sure that you have and use lubricant, recommends Carbino. “A conversation regarding lubricant is fairly straightforward and simply can be that I like how it feels when I use lubricant.”
While fertility is an obvious concern for women with breast cancer, discussions around fertility and family planning presumably do not occur often in most relationships until a baseline of commitment has been determined when the relationship would be at a point where you can feel comfortable discussing it. “The conversation around fertility does not need to be broached with a date until you determine that a long-term relationship is likely in the cards. At that point, being open regarding your health and potential family planning options would be appropriate,” says Carbino.
WHAT IS A GOOD APPROACH TO BRINGING UP PROMINENT SCARS FROM SURGERY?
Include it as part of the larger conversation that you would have before having sex (i.e. protection, sexual health, etc.). Carbino says, “Embedding the conversation about surgical scars in the broader sex conversation hopefully can mitigate the discomfort associated with discussing the subject.” The more comfortable you are with your scars and your body, the easier it will be to show them to partners so go slow and be easy on yourself. It can take time to get acquainted and comfortable with your new body. Learning to love it and your scars takes time and hopefully your partner will give you the space you need.
WHAT ARE SOME QUESTIONS TO ASK TO WEED OUT THE STRICTLY-CASUAL PROSPECTS?
Thanks to the nature of online dating, filtering for the type of relationship you want is easier than ever. Done with casual relationships? Try filtering for individuals only seeking a more serious relationship. Carbino suggests looking beyond the date for pointers. “Upon going on a date, consider not only what happens on the date but what happened prior. For example, did they provide you with the time and place of the date in advance, were they on time?”. She says that questions regarding the type of relationship people are seeking are best asked directly and those will come over time as the relationship between the couples evolves. “To understand whether someone may be prepared for a serious relationship, try asking questions about their work, their friends, their family. If there is a lot of stability in their work, at home, and if their friends are partnered, it’s likely they will be ready to be partnered as well,” she says.
DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR PICKING YOURSELF BACK UP AFTER A FEW “I HAVE CANCER” STUMBLES?
Dating with cancer can present challenges, like the potential perception of cancer by a romantic partner. While we cannot control how others will feel upon learning about our situation, we can control how we present our lives to other individuals. Through controlling how and when we share information about ourselves, we can feel better if the outcome is not desired. “I would recommend practicing difficult conversations with friends, family, or a therapist to feel more comfortable. Ask them questions about how they perceived what you said and how they would feel if they were hearing this information from a potential romantic partner,” says Carbino. The most important thing is to consistently work on loving yourself before entering the dating seen. This will breed confidence and allow you to feel safe with your past and present.
Dr. Jess Carbino is Bumble’s Sociologist and renowned relationship and online dating expert. Dr. Carbino, who’s often referred to as “Dr. Jess,” has been called “the Dr. Ruth of the swipe right generation” by The New York Post and “the Nate Silver of online dating” by the host of This American Life.
As Bumble’s Sociologist, Dr. Jess regularly analyzes user data to align social needs with product and user experience. Her primary responsibility is to improve Bumble’s user experience through understanding their needs and behavior.
Dr. Jess received her PhD in sociology from UCLA. Her doctoral research has broadly focused on sex, dating and relationships. Dr. Jess’ dissertation, “Dating in the 21st Century” used data from several online dating sites to answer the age-old question: “what do men and women want?”
Dr. Jess was recently named one of the 100 Most Creative People by Fast Company magazine. Her work has been featured in major news outlets including The New York Times, Time Magazine, Marie Claire, Cosmo, Men’s Health, New York Magazine and The Colbert Report. She has appeared on many TV programs including Good Morning America, Nightline, 20/20, The Doctors, CNN and Huffington Post. Dr. Jess also regularly speaks at conferences and events, most recently at the Oxford Union.
She is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and attended Emory University, where she graduated with High Honors in just three years. Following Emory, Jess worked on Capitol Hill. Dr. Jess previously spent three years working as Tinder’s in-house sociologist.