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So You’re Disabled and Looking for Love…

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I’m 31, almost 32 years old. I have been in multiple relationships since I had my first kiss with a girl I met while working at the mall, but am three months single now. In 10 years, you learn a lot about what you like, what you don’t like, and what you really want. I know that at 21, I had no clue what I wanted. Now throw in having a disability that manifests itself outwardly in bladder and bowel incontinence and the inability to drive a car due to hand tremors that could cause me to go flying into a ditch. That’s a gauntlet and a half to go through.

So after 10 years, what advice do I give to someone with a disability when it comes to the dating world? Here are my top tips.

— Be honest and upfront about your disability when you do find a potential partner. When I meet any prospective mate, I first make sure they’re OK with being with me. That means accepting my inability to walk, my incontinence of bladder and bowel (and the very high likelihood that I will always carry a few pairs of protective undergarments when we go out), and my neurological issues that cause my hands to shake violently at times for no apparent reason. At age 25, I found a girl I really liked. At first, she told me she was okay with me as I was, but after we got engaged, she cheated on me – later having the audacity to say that it was because of the neurogenic bladder and bowel, and she couldn’t accept being with a guy who had to wear what she called  “diapers.” That both hurt me and made me mad – and ever since then, I’ve made it a point to hammer home that being with me means all of me.

— It’s especially important to make it a two-way relationship. Both parties need to be willing to bring something to the equation in any relationship, but this is even more important for those of us with disabilities. The person we choose to be with forever, as mentioned, needs to be willing to love and accept us as we are. But we have the responsibility to accept them, too. They’re imperfect like we are… just in a different way. Reassure them they’ve made the right decision to accept you as a partner and give them affection. Communication is critical. My last relationship ended because the other half wasn’t communicating. Don’t let that happen to you, but by the same token, be willing and able to let your significant other do their own thing. They need space, too.

— If the relationship goes wrong, resist the urge to blame yourself, especially if you don’t deserve the blame. I hate to bring up my last relationship again, but this really hit home for me three months ago. I blamed myself for it going wrong – but the reality was, I had tried to communicate, but was receiving no communication back, sometimes for weeks at a time. There are times where the other side really does deserve the blame for things going wrong. Just don’t take it to the other extreme, either. Find the happy balance.

— Take care of yourself in the event of a failed relationship. Not only did I go into “self blame” mode, but the night things ended with my last girlfriend, I turned around and got totally drunk to forget about it. In hindsight, that was not the best idea because I woke up the following morning super hung over. Do something to take your mind off the mental aspect, but in so doing, don’t neglect your body’s need for nutrition and sleep.

— Lastly, if you’re having trouble dating, be willing to step back. Focus your energy outside of dating for a while. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll end up meeting someone through outside projects. That’s what I’m doing now. I’ve thrown myself into advocacy and into my technical consulting work. I’m not focused on dating and I feel great, three months later.

It is my hope that reading this will help you as much as writing it has helped me. Remember, you’re not perfect. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be something you’re not. I have a saying that helps me in times like this, and it goes like this: “Like me or hate me, I really don’t care… I can only be me.” Just be your awesome self and everything will be just fine!

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Thinkstock photo by Yacobchuk.

Originally published: July 3, 2017
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