Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am 27-year-old Jewish male working in a good job as a manager at a large corporation. I am tall, smart, funny and caring. I recently found out that I contracted a disease which has a stigma associated with it. I am skeptical whether a woman would be receptive to me if she knew I had it.

This leaves me in a difficult position. I want to meet a nice Jewish woman and settle down, but my playing field is extremely limited. What advice can you offer me in finding that special someone.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am intelligent, attractive, and well liked by friends and co-workers. I have a psychiatric history -- in my case, bipolar disorder. I've been stable for years. The main difference between me and other people is that I have to take medication on a regular basis (even though that is not so unusual -- people with diabetes, thyroid problems, and other conditions do so, too).

I don't have a lot of baggage about the condition itself, but the situation changes drastically when dating comes up. Stigma, misinformation and stereotypes still abound. When I'm up-front about it, it's a non-starter. After all, who wants to meet someone "crazy," no less marry them?!

If I wait till later, I'm accused of "withholding information" and "practicing deceit," because, after all, would they have gone out with me had they known? If my condition comes out, I'm a leper.

So... are the legions of us with psychiatric disorders doomed to a life of singleness?

ROSIE & SHERRY REPLY:

It is a terrible mistake for anyone to classify someone with a mental or physical illness as being crazy, unable to cope, unable to have a normal life, etc.

Some people with diseases or disorders have severe symptoms and do not respond well to medication, others can never really accept the fact that they have a lifelong condition and don't discipline themselves to take medication, while others manage their condition well and can even have good marriages. All of these are extremes on a long continuum.

If you have been able to manage your condition over a number of years, and know when to seek medical intervention, there's no "technical" reason why you cannot lead a normal, albeit challenged, life, marry and raise a family.

We can suggest how to go about dating when you have a chronic condition, as we have to men and women who suffer from illness such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, mental illness and other conditions.

The first is to become as well-educated about your illness as possible, and to manage it to the best of your ability. Maintain a good relationship with your doctor, both to acquire the information about how to manage your illness and maximize your health, and because in the future someone you care about may want to discuss your condition with your physician.

We recommend that you join a support group of people with a similar condition who also would like to find a nice person with whom they can settle down and raise a family, as well as people with the condition who have already married and are dealing with their condition in the context of a marriage. This will give you the encouragement to know there are many other personable, "normal" men and women who are successfully facing the same challenge as you.

As for what point in a courtship to reveal your condition, we recommend that you consult with a rabbi or other advisor who specializes in difficult questions such as yours. That way, when the time comes to make the disclosure, you can introduce the subject by explaining that you've got a medical condition that has been under control for many years, and that you have received guidance about when to disclose it to someone you are dating. If you adopt a sincere, straightforward and informative approach, you have a much better likelihood that your date will decide to continue the courtship.

We suggest explaining to your date that you have a condition that you are able to manage, and does not stop you from enjoying a fulfilling life, but it has a stigma attached to it and that is why you did not discuss it until now, since s/he is a person you would like to keep dating.

We suggest you also explain that you are dating with the goal of getting married and having a Jewish home, and that your doctor assures you that you will be able to accomplish this, and that your condition will only minimally interfere with marital life.

Be prepared to answer a number of questions. You can also let your date know that your doctor is happy to talk to him/her about your situation and your prognosis, either now or at some time in the future.

A disclosure at this time allows the two of you to begin to develop an emotional connection, so that when your date evaluates how she feels about it s/he will be able to balance this with the fact that s/he thinks you are a nice person and would like to continue to date you. It also saves you the embarrassment of letting someone know about your condition before you decide whether or not you would like to keep dating them. On the other hand, if you wait until much later along to disclose, s/he may believe that you betrayed trust by waiting until the two of you are more emotionally involved.

In general, after dating a number of times (usually four, five or six dates), and the man and woman have decided that they like each other well enough to continue and see what develops, the disclosure has to be made.

Of course, it is difficult to know how any date will react to news of a serious condition, particularly one that carries a certain amount of stigma. And it will certainly be painful if your date decides against continuing after you have explained your situation, but s/he is entitled to this. It will be much easier on you both if a break-up occurs after a small number of dates, than after the two of you had developed a stronger emotional attachment.

We know that these days, dating is not easy for most people, and anyone with a medical condition faces more challenges. Fortunately, many of them lead fulfilling lives and have good marriages. We hope that you will soon find yourself in this group of people.

Rosie & Sherry