Love at First Swipe: Allie's Ultimate Guide to Dating with a Disability
One of my favorite things about blogging is the way it allows me to answer questions from people near and far. By and large, the most questions I get from people with and without disabilities are my about my dating life. After a lot of thought, I've put together a list of points I think are most important, for all abilities, in every stage of the dating game. HERE WE GO!
1. Take a leap of faith, even if you can't jump.
STOP. TURN THE CAR AROUND. I DON'T WANNA GOOOO!!! On the way to my first date with my now boyfriend, Justin, I begged my sister (and tinder date chauffeur!) to turn the car around.
Seriously, lets just go home. I already know how it's gonna go. These boys only want one thing. I know that nothing will come of this so I don't even wanna get started.
I had stacked the odds against myself, and my date, before our first meeting! Dating in general is intimidating, and dating with a disability can be even more daunting. It can seem like it's not even worth it to do all the work of explaining yourself and your disability when there's a chance it might not go anywhere. But, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take, and I'm not talking about tequila. So often, all the potential horror stories of dating exist only in our imagination. To succeed, you must first try. It's been over two years, and I sure am glad she kept driving.
2. Save the surprises.
I've had several girlfriends perform a sort of social experiment by deliberately leaving their wheelchair (or other visible aspect of disability) out of their pictures on dating sites. I understand this rationale. If a guy doesn't know that you have a disability, how can he judge you for it? It may seem like the ultimate way for a person to get to know you for you, but the truth is, you are leaving out a huge part of who you are. When you hide your disability from a potential partner, you suggest that a disability is something to hide from. When it comes time to meet your date in person, the surprise method almost always backfires- leaving both people disappointed, and likely leaving you more insecure about your disability than ever. Chances are, the guy (or girl!) wasn't scared off by the chair, but confused and caught off guard about why it was such a secret. Choose whatever pictures make you feel most confident, but make sure you aren't cropping out the crip.
3. Consider your wheelchair a personal douche bag filter.
One of my favorite parts of having a visible disability is the way it helps me to screen people from my life. While many ignorant people are deserving of a second chance, sometimes, first impressions are all you need, and this come to life more than ever in the online dating world. You are almost guaranteed to receive repulsive messages related to your disability. My dad is probably reading this, so I don't need to go into detail, but consider these messages a blessing in disguise. Their attitude towards disability sheds light on the type of person they are in general. Hit that block button ASAP and thank your lucky wheels for helping you to dodge a bullet!
4. Even able-bodied hearts can break.
I spent a lot of time in college crying over
frat boys. Sometimes I was ghosted-- we had a great date, only to never hear from them again. Sometimes, I got the typical, I just don't want a relationship right now. Sometimes, I spent months investing in the wrong boy only to have things crash and burn. During the time I spent crying over these boys, it was hard to shake the thought that maybe it was my CP they didn't want. But when I look back on these years, I see that these misadventures in dating were par for the course. For every girl in a wheelchair wondering if their disability ended things, there is a perfectly able-bodied girl carrying her heels home from greek row in tears over a bro. These things can happen to anyone and everyone, and when we use our disability as an excuse for being unlucky in love, we only close ourselves off to eventually finding the right guy.
5. No one wants their date to feel like a science lecture.
Unless you're super into biology, chances are, no one wants to spend a date hearing about the complexities of someone's diagnosis. It can be so tempting to put everything out on the table, air the dirty laundry, explain every aspect of your disability to this guy and see if he wants to stay. While silence isn't the best approach, neither is over sharing. One of the best parts in any relationship is the way you get to grow and learn about each other over time. Nothing about your diagnosis is anything to be ashamed of, but there is something to be said for keeping things a mystery until you're further along in the dating game.
6. Lean into the learning curve.
As people with disabilities, we spend a lot of time with people surrounded my family, friends, and caregivers, who don't need any kind of explanation as to what we do (or don't) need. That is great, and these kind of relationships are such a nice break from repeatedly having to explain yourself, but be prepared to have (a lot) of patience with your new partner. The first time Justin tried to help me down a curb, we narrowly avoided disaster. Now, he's the first person I'd ask for help with a tricky maneuver. Remember, (unless he's a weird chair chaser) that this is most likely totally uncharted territory for him. Have patience. Have grace.
7. He'll probably end up helping you. A lot.
A hot topic in the disability community is setting boundaries between the role of a boyfriend or girlfriend and a caregiver. It is absolutely true that we never want our partner to confuse us for a patient, and there are times that lines should absolutely be drawn. But, the truth is, a willingness to help your loved one with intimate needs can be a part of a healthy relationship. A huge part of the reason we seek a relationship in the first place is to care for each other. My boyfriend sometimes ties my shoes and hooks my bra. He drives me to work and cooks meals. He cares for me in many ways, just as I do him. Your needs may look different from that of an able-bodied girlfriend, and that's okay.
8. If he didn't like you, he wouldn't be with you.
Remember, that above all, he's with you FOR YOU. Not because of your disability or in spite of it. Remember that your disability also promotes some of your most redeeming qualities- a killer sense of humor, out-of-the-box thinking and creativity, or the ability to see a glass half-full. If he's dating you, it's because he likes you, wheels and all.