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Dating With a Disability: It's Not Impossible

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Dating is tough (if this is news to you, consider yourself truly lucky). The process of meeting someone, getting to know them, and connecting is enough to leave anyone a bit jaded. When you have a physical disability, however — and especially if you’re a wheelchair user — the obstacles increase to an almost ridiculous degree. Seemingly minor things can require major planning and preparation when organizing a date, not to mention the social constraints of being a person with a disability (more on that later). Despite the Sisyphean task of dating, it can all be worth it if you’re able to find someone who is willing to accept the disability instead of ignoring it or “working around” it — and  that happens more often than you might think.

First, a disclaimer: I’m no dating expert. I’ve been in two serious long-term relationships in my life, and like everyone else out there, I’m figuring out things as I go along. I have, however, been on many, many dates, and these experiences have given me unique insight into the dating world that a 20-something inhabits. For the sake of privacy, I won’t be using names here.

Physical limitations are a natural part of life for a disabled person; we encounter them every day, and dating is no different. The difference is this: in our daily lives, we often have a routine that makes things easier. Dating has no such routine — or at least, mine never did. When you schedule a date with someone (or even just an outing with friends, for that matter), you have to plan far in advance. Is the restaurant wheelchair accessible? What’s the parking like? Does the movie have captions? All these things and more have to be taken into account.

I remember one of my first dates was with a woman who also had cerebral palsy. We were both in power chairs, and on the way back from dinner, her wheelchair battery died. I was forced to push her back to my apartment, which was not only embarrassing for both of us, but also dangerous as well. And this is just one of many dating stories that I would never have if I didn’t use a wheelchair. Another time, I was unable to go to a date’s apartment for dinner because of stairs — and this happened repeatedly with the same person.

On numerous occasions, my lack of a driver’s license during my early 20s prevented me from going on certain dates or forced me to rely on public transportation, which would in turn make me late. Happily, this obstacle has been rectified in more recent years. I can recall at least three separate occasions when I was late to a blind date because I couldn’t drive due to the difficulties required in obtaining a license.

By far the biggest obstacle to dating for me was societal perception; it’s a sad fact of life that social stigma against people with disabilities is still alive and well. I did a lot of online dating, particularly when I was in college, and while I enjoyed it, I became best friends with rejection during this period. At first, I didn’t mention that I had cerebral palsy in my dating profile. “This doesn’t define me,” I thought, and while that’s true to an extent, I had many women simply stop replying to my messages once they found out I had CP. I was too “different.” There were other reasons of course, but this was a fairly common one.

It became so common that I eventually changed my profile so the very first sentence on my profile stated that I had a physical disability. Even then, I encountered people who were arguably disgusted by my “differences;” one time, a date became annoyed with me and practically demanded that I stop moving the table at dinner, completely disregarding the fact that I had literally no control over my muscle spasms. Perhaps the most memorable occasion occurred during a first date; upon seeing me, the woman looked me up and down and saw my wheelchair, and then said “No,” before turning around and walking away without another word. While I’ll freely admit I’m not the most good looking person around, I’d like to think that this woman might have been more willing to go out to dinner with me if I hadn’t been disabled.

All these things happened because of my disability. These bad experiences were due to the simple fact that I have cerebral palsy. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have bad dates for other reasons — but that’s another article entirely.

But these are extreme examples. I had pleasant dates too, of course. By far the most enjoyable ones were where the other person was willing to accept my limitations and assist me. In fact, this is part of the reason my current relationship means so much to me. Such experiences typically involved my date offering to move chairs out of the way at the restaurant or something similar. And while none of these dates never evolved into long-term relationships for one reason or another, I always enjoyed myself. and I’d like to think my various dates enjoyed themselves too. Perhaps more importantly, these positive experiences showed me that for every person who didn’t accept my disability, there was someone who would. My current relationship — which has been going strong for two-and-a-half years and shows no signs of stopping — is a prime example of this. My girlfriend (who is also my caregiver) is always willing to help me with transferring, carrying groceries, and even showering, among countless other examples every day.

My point is, don’t let rejection get you down. I also can’t overstate the advantages of online dating. Sure there are downsides to it, and no matter who you are, you’ll encounter people you rather wouldn’t, but online dating is a great tool for allowing someone to get to know you as you, without the risk of them simply seeing the disability and not the person. Additionally, because you can pick and choose when and how you respond to a match, you can take your time in getting to know each other before you meet. My girlfriend and I, for example, talked via Skype for three months before we met face to face. While there were (and still are) limitations to overcome, by talking so much beforehand, we had a better idea of the other person and what to expect.

Ultimately, dating with a disability can be a serious challenge. But with a bit of patience and searching, it doesn’t have to be insurmountable.

Getty image by Kieferpix,

Read more at Stay Through the Credits.

Originally published: March 19, 2018
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