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What I've Learned About Dating as a Woman With a Disability

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My name is Jess Paciello, and I am 21 years old. I guess that makes me a millennial (yikes!) but I am not too fond of millennial culture. Anyone who knows me knows I love my quiet time alone (you can probably find me binging on Netflix) and casual wine nights in. I am terrified of setting foot in clubs or big bar scenes, I have strong negative views of “hook up” culture, and I would just prefer to fly way under the radar.

I do want to talk about dating with disabilities though, because I believe this topic is super-important. Why? Often society views the disabled population as inferior and almost non-existent. According to much of society, disabled people are undesirable and therefore can never be “dating” or partner material. This absurd idea is completely false. As someone with cerebral palsy myself, I think I can tackle this subject with some firsthand experience!

Jess Paciello.
Jess Paciello.

First off, coming from a female’s perspective: dating is hard in 2016, regardless of whether or not you are disabled. But, disabled people face more negative experiences in “first-time” dating, and that can totally ruin the outlook of hope you had before. I cannot, and I am not trying to, speak for every disabled person in my age range, but after talking with my friends, it is fair to say we’ve all been significantly discouraged or disappointed when we started to put ourselves out there.

It took me a long time to admit to myself that I had CP, and then accept my body for all it is. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give to those of you who want to begin dating is please make sure you are ready! I was one of those people who rushed it in the beginning, and that did not end in my favor. Be confident in all of the kinks and quirks your body has, because if you do not accept them, it’s a safe bet your partner won’t either.

I have been lucky and I am incredibly grateful; every guy I have dated has been so gracious when I told him about cerebral palsy, and what it means for how my body functions. They all have said that CP is really a non-issue for them. It is funny thinking about how I was treated, because I am now realizing there may have been some level of self-sabotage on my end, which ultimately led to some dating demises. Again, gaining confidence in yourself is incredibly important here! I have been working on building my self-confidence for a long time now, and I am finally in a good place, so I promise you it can happen!

So… what happens when you are ready to date because you are confident in yourself and your self-worth? Those of us with disabilities have a little extra step to tackle with our partners. Disability disclosure. This is a tough topic to give advice on, because it really is so subjective for each individual.  The first time I was disclosing to my boyfriend at the time was one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever done. Again, self-sabotage kicked in for me. I had created all these fictitious scenarios in my mind, such as “You won’t be accepted anymore,” “He won’t accept your CP and you won’t feel safe,” “He could do so much better” and the list went on and on.

Another important aspect of disclosure is listening to your partner. If they have questions about your disability, answer them as truthfully as you can. Dating is not a one-way avenue. Support your partner as much as they are supporting you. I promise disability does not become the be-all or end-all of a relationship if your connection is genuine. Allow your partner to get to know you as a whole, and not just by what you physically can or cannot do. Dating somebody will not last very long if you have no common interests.

Luckily, like I previously stated, he was more accepting than I imagined and I was totally in the wrong. Disclosure leads to stronger bonds being formed, and I will say to anyone: if you do not feel comfortable disclosing your disability to your partner, they may not be the Prince (or Princess) Charming you seek. There is nothing wrong with you if a disclosure process goes awry!

I’ve written this for young adults with disabilities, but I would like to take a second to appeal to parents of disabled children here, too. It can be frustrating to see your teenager struggle in the dating world if it happens, but it’s important to allow personal growth at this crucial time of development. Please allow your child to discover themselves, even if that leads to dating disappointments.  If anything, I really think it helps establish high standards.

Do not settle for dates. Anyone who is worthy of your companionship will accept you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. You may have to “strike out” a few times in the dating scene before you succeed. It happens to the best of us! Remain optimistic no matter the obstacles, and the results you want will manifest quicker than if you wallow in sadness. You are worthy of intimate connections, despite what society says about those of us with disabilities.

This story originally appeared on the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

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Originally published: December 12, 2016
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