My Journey to Finding Love (and Marriage) as a Woman With a Learning Disability
From the time I was young, I knew that I wanted to be married. I can remember playing “wedding” with my cousin in my grandparents’ garden. Marriage was considered important in my family, to the point where I swear that my mom and grandma were planning my wedding shortly after I was born. The journey to the altar turned out to be more difficult and took longer than I planned, though.
One of the most difficult parts of having a disability was being rejected because of it. I can recall the horror of my school years with boys who bullied me. Some of them were directly unkind, while others would pretend to like me. I remember wondering what was “wrong” with me and thinking about how difficult it was to watch other peers have relationships.
I also remember hearing the ableist narrative that the only relationship options people with disabilities have are other individuals who share the same disability. I knew a person who had a disability and wished to be married someday. People would say “There are people like her that she can marry.” I knew that I had a disability and wondered if my only option would be having a relationship with another person with one. In theory, it made sense — dating someone who would understand what it was like to have a learning disability. However, when I dated a peer in one of my Learning Support classes, things did not work out. We were not meant to be together.
As an adult, I’ve had people try to set me up with other people with disabilities. One time, the person trying to set us up said, “He’s a good man and God is putting you on equal footing with you both having disabilities.” My date was a nice guy, but I
didn’t share the same feelings and decided not to pursue a relationship with him. I also went out with other men with disabilities. It wasn’t their disabilities that turned me off — I just didn’t share romantic feelings with them.
I have also had other people reject me because of my disability status. Once a guy told me that he didn’t think that he could handle having a relationship with me because of my disability. Another guy broke up with me, telling me that I could drive if I wanted to, and he was tired of giving me rides.
People would often ask when I was going to get married. It was so difficult to be single and wait for the right person to come. I didn’t want to stay in a bad relationship or jump into a relationship just to not be alone. I often wondered if the right person would ever come.
Thankfully, the right person came along when I didn’t expect it. He saw me walking down the street and noticed my red dress. He wondered where I was going, and to our surprise, we were headed to the same place — I was volunteering at an art center, and he was headed there as well. It turns out we also had mutual friends.
We spent the summer getting to know each other and becoming friends. He had a job out of town and would visit once a month. We exchanged email addresses on Labor Day weekend. To my surprise, he emailed me, and we got to know each other better.
He asked me out on Thanksgiving weekend, but unfortunately, I didn’t get his email until after he went home. I called him, and we made arrangements to meet the following month.
On our first date, I told him that I couldn’t drive and that I had a learning disability. He asked me how it felt to have a learning disability, which no other guy had ever asked me. We have had many learning curves in our relationship, but we are able to work them out.
There were so many signs that this relationship was meant to be. Years earlier, a friend asked if I was seeing anyone. I told him that I wasn’t, and he said “I bet you will meet someone.” Little did I know that I would meet a wonderful man and years later have my wedding reception with him at the same place where my friend and I had the earlier conversation.
I also had a friend who had a dream about me. He told me that in the dream, I was wearing a vintage wedding dress and standing in front of our town’s courthouse with a guy he didn’t know. I wore a vintage 195os wedding dress to my wedding, and my husband and I took a picture in front of the courthouse. We will be celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary this June.
My heart goes out to people who are single but want to be in a relationship, especially those with disabilities. So many people with disabilities struggle to find people who accept them. An autistic woman once looked at me incredulously when I told her that I had a boyfriend. She said she never had a relationship with anyone. It brought me back to how hard and lonely those years without a relationship were. It used to be difficult to see other happy couples and to spend Valentine’s Day alone.
Having a relationship when you have a disability is not always easy. You can’t control other people’s reactions. The only thing you can control is your actions and your responses to those people. It’s key to remember that your disability is only one part of you. There are so many other parts that make up who you are.
There are people who will want to have relationships with you, disability or no disability. Lasting relationships simply take time to develop. If you’re honest about your disability and develop a friendship, the right person may just come along when you least expect it.
Getty image by Sanja Radin.