Dating with TS: When to Disclose and How it Affects your Relationship

By Hannah Horner, TS Advocate and NJCTS Youth Council

If you grew up watching High School Musical, the Twilight Series, any Disney movie, or Shrek, you’ve likely anticipated the day when you find your Prince/Princess Charming… or Ogre. For some, this hunt begins in high school. Others may wait until college or later, and there are a few who feel ready to start dating in middle school. For people with Tourette’s Syndrome, regardless of when your journey kicks off, uncertainty about how TS might affect your romantic endeavors can be an added stress to an already emotionally turbulent experience.  In this blog post (and autobiographical exposé), I’ll address questions regarding when you should disclose that you have TS and give insight as to how having TS might affect your relationship. Before we begin, I’d like to be clear that while the advice in this article may also be applicable to young adults dating with TS, I myself have only ever experienced dating while in high school; Therefore, I cannot give an accurate perspective on romance beyond the context of a high school environment. With that out in the open, let’s get going!

1. When should I tell them I have Tourette’s?

    Telling someone that you have TS can be a vulnerable experience; How and when you choose to share such information is up to personal preference. In general, I’d suggest you do so sooner, just because it can take a weight off your chest. That being said, it’s probably more comfortable to wait to say something until you have some form of relationship with them. I find that the more casually you present the information, the more casually it’s received. This heads up can be dropped into conversation face-to-face or virtually over Snapchat or text if doing so is more comfortable for you. Ideally, any potential date wouldn’t care if you have TS or not, but they may not know how to respond to what you are sharing. They will deduce how to respond based on how you seem to feel about telling them, so the less concerned or nervous you seem, the less nervous they will be reacting. Revealing that you have TS can also be a good litmus test. If your date reacts poorly, you will know that they aren’t someone you want to pursue a relationship with. 

    2. Is it awkward when you tic in front of them?

      If you had some kind of relationship with your romantic interest prior to dating them, then they’ve definitely seen you tic before. My (now ex-) boyfriend and I had been good friends for two years before we became involved romantically, so I neither had to tell him that I had TS nor watch him adjust to seeing me tic. If you are pursuing a relationship with someone that you weren’t previously friends with, then there may be more of an adjustment period. As with a new friendship, the first few times they see you tic might be a bit startling or funny, but it will very quickly become normal.  Some people may imitate you or otherwise comment on when you tic because they want to make light of any shock they experience. If you sense that they have good intentions but are uncomfortable with their actions, it’s best to have a conversation about how you would like them to respond when they see you ticing. I personally prefer that people ignore me when I tic, but some people like to make jokes about themselves. If their behavior doesn’t change or you sense that such commentary is meant to shame you, you don’t want to be in a relationship with the person making it.  

      3. What if they don’t care, but I’m embarrassed/want to be alone when my tics get out of control?

        Do what you need to feel comfortable. Maybe you’re alright with your partner seeing you tic but if they become intense you prefer not to have an audience. I go to boarding school, and am very good at managing my tics throughout the day, but when I get back to my room at 7:45p.m. I often experience bouts of ticing that continue in several minute increments for the rest of the night. These “tic attacks”, as I call them, typically involve a combination of clenching my elbows into my body and tensing, intertwining my arms in various patterns, snapping my eyes shut, and vocal clicking. I come out of them panting and red in the face.  I don’t mind my friends and family seeing me tense my shoulders, or hear me hum, click, or say random words on repeat, but I don’t like anyone seeing me when I experience such attacks. If you know that you experience something similar, or want to have privacy when you tic, you need to know your boundaries and communicate them to your partner. You can agree to text them when you want to be alone, or develop another signal.  Some people may interpret you wanting privacy as a slight against them or how much they care about you. While their reaction comes from a place of wanting to be close to you, they need to respect your boundaries, and you need to be firm. The same can be said about any boundary in a relationship; Don’t let anyone violate your boundaries physically or emotionally, regardless of how much they may claim to care about you. Someone that truly loves you will respect and honor your convictions and comfort levels. Unfortunately, such maturity can be difficult to find in high school. If you don’t find it now, don’t be discouraged. It’s easy to feel like what happens in high school is the be-all end-all, but you have many years and millions of options ahead of you.

        How much TS affects your relationship really depends on your own comfort level with both your TS and your partner. Comorbidities such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD are also factors that influence you and how you function in a relationship.  I have relatively moderate TS and no diagnosed comorbidities, so my experience will be less informative for someone with more severe TS and several comorbidities. Dating is as much, if not more of, an opportunity to learn about yourself as it is to learn about another person. As Paul Halmos said, “The best way to learn is to do.” So, when you’re ready, put yourself out there! Determine boundaries for yourself before you get involved with another person, and (yes it’s a cliché) be yourself! The more honest you are from the beginning, the better you can gauge compatibility. You’ve got this!


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