Dating is awkward for Sandra Liz Aquino, 41. She's divorced and beautiful, but she's also HIV-positive. So last month, she signed up with Prescription4Love.com, a dating Web site for people with sexually transmitted diseases and other health conditions. The site, which launched last year, is becoming a go-to spot online where singletons who also happen to have diseases from hepatitis to herpes to irritable bowel syndrome can find love and companionship without having to worry about the big reveal.
P4L, which has 1,200 members, is one of a rapidly growing set of niche dating Web sites for people with disabilities and disease. The explosive success of online dating was followed by a proliferation of sites catering to people with HIV and STDs. Those were followed by sites like IrritatedBeingSingle.com, for people with irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease, and C Is for Cupid, catering to romance seekers affected by cancer. P4L is one of the few sites that cater to people with a variety of ailments. Although P4L began with only 11 categories, lonely hearts with an array of conditions lobbied aggressively for inclusion. Eleven more categories were added four weeks ago: arthritis, burn victims, epilepsy, HPV, little people, lupus, multiple sclerosis, paraplegia, Parkinson's disease, quadriplegia and transplant patients.
The principle behind the site is that no matter the disorder, everyone with a special condition understands imperfection—and shares a need for love and acceptance. "Even if they don't have the exact same illness, I'm hoping to find somebody that would understand what I go through and not see it as a burden," says David Eisikovits, 45, whose bowel disorder frequently forces him to stay inside.
Ricky Durham created the Web site after watching his brother Keith grow increasingly lonely after being diagnosed with Crohn's disease: "It was really hard for him to tell someone he had a colostomy bag." Even though his primary goal was to connect people with the same condition, he ended up tapping into an underserved market—people with not one health problem but two or three. "My members are signing up with obesity, diabetes and deafness—some have five conditions," says Durham.
Most mainstream dating sites leave it up to members to decide whether to disclose medical issues. Match.com advises that "honesty is your best relationship tool," but there is no explicit policy about disease. At Nerve Personals, users can decide for themselves when and how to share personal information. But caveat emptor: some may choose to do it late in the game, or not at all.
Donica Callucci, 39, a mom in Phoenix, had a hard time getting even good friends to sympathize with her painful arthritis and spinal disease. Recently, she met a local man with diabetes and a deteriorating bone condition, and the pair—who are both single parents—have become an item. Now they see each other twice a week and "do all the normal stuff; we go out to eat; it's mostly kid-focused. It's cool I met someone that has the same thing, but that's not what we talk about." Indeed, having a diagnosis doesn't make people less romantic—or less choosy. William C. Rickard, a recovering alcoholic with bipolar disorder who is on six antidepressants and tranquilizers, says he prefers to date women who have red hair. "I'm very picky in spite of my disability," he says. Aren't we all.