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When a Matchmaker Suggested I Try a Disability Dating Site Instead

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“So you are saying you don’t believe non-disabled people can date people with disabilities?” I asked a woman who opened a new matchmaking service in town. “Well it’s just that…” She paused, trying to choose her words carefully. Perhaps she didn’t realized people with disabilities might use her service. Furthermore, how could she guess that two men with cerebral palsy would call her within an hour?

It was by sheer chance that I ended up having a debate about dating and disability with this woman. A friend had called my office complaining he had been rejected as a client by a new matchmaking service in town. After I talked with him, I decided to try and sign up as a client, too. When I called, I was barely able to get one word through before the woman cut me off. “I don’t think I can help you here, but I have some disability dating websites you can try,” she said.

Jacob Lesner-Buxton.1-001

Oh no, not the disability dating website routine. It’s not that I am opposed to them but all the ones I have tried are a) outdated, b) connect you with someone in the middle of another country, c) are filled with college students trying to complete an “interview of a disabled person” term paper or d) filled with people who have fantasies about making love to someone with artificial limbs. In the nicest way possible, I made it clear to the woman that I wanted some real help in the dating game from a person, not a search engine.

“Well I am not sure I can help you,” she said. “I just started my business, and I am not sure if I have enough clients to serve you.” Enough clients? What does she mean? I am only looking to date one woman. Maybe she’s implying that she might be forced to set me up with dates with a few different women before I find the right one. However, isn’t that a job of a matchmaker?

Her rationale that there might not be enough clients interested in dating guys like me may be true. Perhaps she has an intake form that lists the types of disabilities one would be OK with dating. However, I didn’t reveal my disability. Perhaps she is psychic and knows my disability and knows her clientele asked not to be set up with someone with my condition.

After more verbal ping-pong about whether people with disabilities could date “normies,” I claimed a temporary victory. She agreed to let me upload my profile to her site. If she likes it, maybe she’ll invite me to meet her for a free consultation. Her prices are steep ($2,700), but I figured I could open her eyes about disability and dating. Maybe I could charm her so much that she would take me on as a client for free. I could be the poster boy for this service. Her ads could say, “If I could help this poor slob find love, I can find it for anybody.”

With my friend’s help, I upload my profile to the site. I hear nothing back except for a few invites to $40 wine tasting mixer and a $30 square dancing singles night that are sponsored by her company. So far I have resisted the temptation to dust off my cowboy boots or pretend I’m a wine snob. However, maybe one day I will find the enthusiasm to take part in her trendy hipster dating activities.

The suggestions this woman made about me dating other people with disabilities has surprisingly been made by a lot of my progressive friends. Whenever I ask for dating tips, some have asked me if I tried dating women with disabilities. Being advised to stick to your own kind is ironic coming from people who claim to be anti-racist. None of my friends would ever tell a person of color to try dating their own kind, but for some reason that message is fine when it comes to disability.

Looking at the situation from my friends’ perspectives, I can understand why they give me this advice. I think they assume a disabled mate will be able to relate better to someone like me. While I often have an easier time talking about same subjects with folks in my community, I also get great support from non-disabled allies.

My friends’ suggestions of dating your own kind also extend to whom they try to fix me up with. Nine times out of ten if a friend says they have someone I should meet, the person often has a disability. Even though all my friends’ choices for me have been great, I can’t help but wonder why they are pushing me towards other people with disabilities. I would like to think they have my best interest at heart, but I can’t help but wonder if there is an unconscious fear of suggesting me to certain people. They might assume if they set me up with someone they know, that person might think they’re playing a mean trick.

To many that statement may sound exaggerated, but it could be based on some truth. Last month, I was talking to a friend who does attendant work in the area. She claimed her husband and a few friends believed she was developing feelings for her client. My friend wasn’t mad that people thought she was dating an employer, instead she was upset when people thought she had a “thing” for a man with a disability.

When I tried to ask what was wrong with dating a man with a disability, she said, “Come on, Jacob, you know.” I said I didn’t know. She continued, “It would look weird me dating someone like you.” Again when I asked why she simply said, “You know the answer.”

My friend’s reluctance to address why it is odd for people with disabilities and able-bodied folks to date each other mirrors the tension around the issue that exists in the media. I have seen talk shows where guests are vilified for saying they would never date men in wheelchairs. However, I have also seen many programs that refer to these type of relationships as taboo.

According to Webster’s dictionary, a “taboo” is something that is banned on grounds of morality or because the activity is risky. In the United States, there are no laws forbidding people with disabilities from having relations with those who are able-bodied. Yet many articles about disability and relationships contain the word taboo. For example, critics sometimes use the word when talking about films that feature images of disability and sexuality.

The word taboo should be reserved for crimes like sexual assault, abuse of animals and other crimes that cause great harm. People with disabilities in relationships with non-disabled people should not fall into the category of taboo. If we have to use words to describe relationships, how about we use the word “normal.”

As a child of left-wing hippies, I often run from the word normal, but in the realm of dating, I would love to be considered normal and have a matchmaker turn me down because I didn’t have money, instead of doing it because of my disability. I would like my friends to tell me that I need to lose 20 pounds or use mouthwash when I ask for dating advice. I would like to approach someone at a singles event and have them not clam up when they hear my speech impairment.

Singles events and matchmaking through friends aren’t the only way to meet people. For all I know I could meet the love of my life at the 7-11 tonight. However, I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have the same access to dating tips and matchmaking services that some of my friends have.

In the year 2015, I find it ironic that some in society still have the idea that people with disabilities should be together. This is even more ironic when this belief is shared by individuals who claim to be for the liberation for all people.

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Originally published: December 9, 2015
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