I Am Disabled and Tried Online Dating. This Is What Happened.
Dating in general is hard, but it is often especially difficult for those with disabilities. When you are disabled and disclose your disability, it is often too much for people to handle. Although many disabled people do have luck when it comes to dating someone who is able-bodied, many resort to dating platforms specifically geared towards the disabled community. I’ve had a few friends try these disabled dating websites, and from what I gathered, it was a disaster.
In the past, these websites have been notoriously overrun by people with various disability fetishes and I am wondering if the people running these platforms have finally put an end to it. Quarantine has given me a little cabin fever, so I decided it was the perfect time for an experiment! I signed up for five different online dating platforms specifically for the disabled community.
As soon as I had finished setting up my profiles, I started to receive messages from men between the ages of 40-84. Let me remind you, I am 25 years old! I couldn’t figure out why I kept matching with old men since my preference was set to 22-30 years old. As it turns out, these men who are obviously 50+ years old lied about their age on their profiles, claiming to be in their 20s, all so they would match with younger women. How creepy is that? Some of these men are old enough to be my grandfather!
The biggest issues I have encountered are that there aren’t many young people utilizing these dating platforms and that people’s true ages aren’t being verified. Most people do not want to be hit on and harassed by men twice their age or older, and I’m sure it is a big deterrent when it comes to young people using these dating platforms. A little over 60% of all the messages I received across all five online dating platforms I tried were from men 55+ years old. It honestly felt degrading.
I kept the dating profiles open for a week while I played around with the features and tried to have some conversation with the various age-appropriate men who messaged me. Although there are a few cool young people using these platforms, it was an overall disappointing experience and not an option I would ever seriously consider.
After everything that happened with the disability dating platforms, I decided to try to get an accurate depiction of what dating is like for wheelchair users on mainstream platforms. I decided to create Hinge and Tinder accounts and match with every man within certain criteria.
I was very surprised by how many different ways the wheelchair conversation would go, but even more so pleasantly surprised by the number of men who handled the wheelchair conversation really well. However, many men did disappoint by doing the exact opposite of what they should have. I kid you not, some men had the audacity to start the conversation with “I’ve never been with anyone in a wheelchair before!” In case you didn’t already know, that is an extremely fu****-up way to start a conversation with a wheelchair user!
Some men went for it and asked me about my wheelchair right away, while others waited until a few messages in. I often found that it was brought up after the whole “what are your interests” spiel. Surprisingly, a lot of men never even asked me about my wheelchair.
Some men asked me how I ended up in a wheelchair, while others only asked me whether I was paralyzed or could move. Some only asked about how my wheelchair pertains to my sex life. Again, that is not an appropriate question to ask anyone, let alone someone who is essentially a stranger! Some conversations naturally fizzled out, while I had to end others because it was time to cut them off. Overall, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by how well many men on Hinge and Tinder handled the wheelchair conversation. The results were honestly much better than I expected. Even more so, I was relieved that very few men on mainstream dating platforms singled me out specifically because of my wheelchair.
My experiences with these two different categories of dating platforms were night and day. I honestly feel like I didn’t encounter many men with wheelchair fetishes on the mainstream dating apps because these men are specifically utilizing the platforms geared towards the disabled community. It makes sense; if they are looking for someone with a disability, you go where the people with disabilities go. And although this is happening, it isn’t OK and I really hope that this issue is resolved in the future. It’s hard enough dating while disabled, so when dating platforms for people with disabilities are created, they shouldn’t be more degrading than mainstream dating platforms. We need the problems we encounter while dating resolved, not amplified.
A longer and more detailed version of this story is published on my blog at https://www.graceandmito.com/post/dating-while-disabled
Getty image by AndreyPopov.