He May Die Young

Q: When is it appropriate to tell my serious girlfriend that I am predisposed to ALS, a serious illness that I may die from early in life? I love her desperately and imagine the family we could have together. It has only been five months, though, and I fear springing my family's cursed medical history on her now might scare her away (as it has with two other women in my life). I don't feel like I am hiding anything since none of my longtime friends know. And while she would be entitled to that sort of information before making a decision about kids/marriage, we aren't there yet. I'm kind of hoping to get her to fall hopelessly in love with me before I tell her so she'll just have to accept me. — Ben, 32

Dr. Susan: You don't feel like you're hiding something? You've spent five months with a woman you love without telling her about what most worries you? Instead, you're trying to trick her into getting so deeply involved that she can't back out. I see your situation as somewhat similar to that of people who have any serious condition, such as herpes or a positive HIV status. My opinion is that after a few dates and a sense of mutually increasing intimacy, it's time to open up.

I suggest getting all the facts you can and then sitting her down and sharing your fears. If your predisposition to ALS is due to family genetics, genetic testing may or may not be useful in your case. Consider genetic counseling so that you can be honest about your odds. This is something a mate needs to know before deciding to commit to you and have your kids. Knowledge in your case can be scary, but you owe it to any woman who may love you to include her in decisions that may affect her so much.

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