Over the years, and especially since I started writing this blog, I have been asked for the same advice over and over again. People want to know my advice for dating with a disability. More specifically, they want to know how to find someone that can “see past” their disability. I have always hated giving advice on this subject. For one thing, I am not an expert and it seems like a lot of responsibility. What if what works for me doesn't work for others? I hate giving advice unless I know that I am right. (Which is why, certain friends who shall not be named, when I do give you advice; you should take it and run.) For another thing (and I know so many of you are going to want to punch me square in the jaw when I admit this, but please don’t; my mother loves my face.) I never found dating hard, at least not after high school anyway. That is about the time men grow independently thinking brains and can date whoever they want without needing the approval of the whole damned town. Lastly, I really don’t know what I do differently than those of you that are struggling. The truth is there is no magic potion for dating with a disability, no program.
However, people keep asking me, and so I feel like I should at least try to answer them. So here it goes.
The first thing, and this is true for everyone regardless of ability, is that you have to be comfortable with who you are. So many times I hear people say to me, “How do you find someone who can see past your disability?” The answer is you don’t, because anyone who sees past your disability isn’t really accepting it. Some argue that this is just semantics, but I don’t agree. If you are willing to settle for someone who sees past your disability, then you have not accepted your disability as a part of who you are; a part of you that is awesome and does not need to be swept under the rug, but embraced and appreciated.
So how does one do that? Well, it isn’t easy. I spent years ashamed of being disabled. Then I went to a place called Indian Trails Camp near Grand Rapids, Michigan and my whole life changed. While there I met my first boyfriend. He was also the first person I met with a disability that was sort of ‘in your face’ about his disability. He joked about the things that were awkward, and brought up the things that everyone was thinking but was too afraid to say. He gave me a new perspective, showed me that I didn’t have to apologize for my disability. It was not a mistake or something wrong that needed fixing, it was a part of me; like my short stature and my weird gummy smile. So just like that shortness and the weird smile, it was something that many people could love about me.
Once you have accepted your disability, it’s pretty easy to get others to accept it. Think about it, most guys wouldn’t refuse to date a girl just because she had brown hair instead of blond right? So why should they refuse to date you just because you maneuver about the world differently? That’s just silly. For some though, disability is a BIG deal. When I was dating, I usually tried not to make it the focus of the conversation. If they asked me a question, I stayed away from technical terms and tried to personalize and redirect the conversation. For instance, if a guy asked if I could walk at all, I’d say yes. Then I’d tell them the story of when I was walking with two friends behind a dorm at college, our arms linked, and an RA came running out threatening me with a M.I.P. (minor in possession of alcohol) because she thought I was drunk. This story answered his question, but without a long explanation of how I am just like everyone else. I have friends, I get in trouble, and sometimes my disability makes for hilarious situations. Humor is a great way to make people feel more comfortable about things they aren’t used to. If you don’t have a sense of humor, I suggest you pick one up. A cripple without a sense of humor is like a 7:00 a.m. telemarketing call; no one is interested.
Another tip is to stay positive. Yes we all have bad days and you are probably going to need to vent once and a while, but no one wants to date someone who is always complaining. You can’t constantly moan about how horrible your life is and expect someone to share it with you.
Now, there are those of you out there that are funny, self-loving, positive people who have a lot to offer and still can’t get a man to notice you. I know how that feels, that was me in high school. The only things I did differently in college were become a lot more social, and get an internet connection. You HAVE to put yourself out there. The perfect man or woman is not going to walk up to your door and ring the bell. You have to get out there. Join a book club, a writing group, or a gym. Attend community events and social gathering at your church, or get involved in a movement that means a lot to you. Once you’re there, don’t just sit and wait for someone to approach you, be social, introduce yourself, and engage in conversations.
Confession time, out of my 3 long term relationships (lasting a year or more) I met two of them, including my husband, on the internet. The internet can be a great place to meet people because you really have to focus on who the person is instead of who they hang out with or what they look like.
That being said, the internet is much more dangerous now than when I was meeting people. Always have your guard up. Remember, online people can be whoever they want; that hot 26 year old might really be a 46 year old widow with a drinking problem and 6 kids. If you start to think you might have feelings for someone online, arrange to meet them. If they make up an excuse, move on. If they agree, meet in a public place and bring a friend; or let a friend know exactly where you will be and when you should be returning.
In my experience with online dating, being up front about my disability from the start has been best. Putting up a picture where your disability is obvious and touching on it in your profile might mean you get less people contacting you, but it also weeds out the assholes and helps to avoid an awkward conversation later. You will probably get a few devotees (people for whom disability is a sexual fetish). But they are usually pretty easy to spot, and if you aren’t into that, just block them from contacting you.
So that’s it. That’s all the advice I have. Here is the short version for all of you that skipped over my long windedness:
- Accept your disability as a part of who you are.
- Don’t let your disability be the focus of your interactions with others. If all they care about is the disability; they aren't interested in you.
- Use humor to engage people and make them more comfortable.
- Try to stay positive when first meeting people, don’t whine or carry on about how horrible things are for you.
- Get involved in your community, put yourself out there. Don't sit around and wait for Mr. or Ms. Right to find you.