Online Dating And Learning To Embrace Differences
In February I often think about dating and relationships. Dating can often be a challenge — specifically online dating — but dating when you have a disability can be much more difficult. I can only speak from my experience, but quite honestly, I do not really know where exactly to begin. We all have our own insecurities when it comes to dating and relationships. Those insecurities, though, can become much more amplified with a disability, or as I like to refer it— being differently “abled” but I will get back to that a bit later.
I never dated in middle or high school. Not due to lack of interest; it was just because of timing I suppose. At that age, people are so consumed with self-image and outward appearance, and less concerned with getting to know someone on a deeper level. You end up getting that infamous line, “we are better off as friends.”
Years passed, I was in graduate school and decided that I wanted to test the waters with the online dating scene. Writing an online dating profile is such an odd and daunting task especially for someone who does not like talking about themselves. What do you write? How do you make yourself stand out? There is the cliché “I like going to concerts” or “I enjoy hanging out with family and friends” and while those statements may be the truth, they are used quite often. Let’s not forget that most of these online dating sites begin with the “swipe left” or “swipe right” primary photo which again lends itself to the outward appearance and you need to click or show interest in order to dig a little deeper. The question I asked myself while writing my profile, and changing it throughout the years is do I disclose upfront that I use a wheelchair? Or do I wait until I get to know the person better through talking and then bring it up during the conversation?
While I have gone back and forth, I ultimately decided to disclose my disability after some conversation, instead of putting it out there in a profile. Back when I was in grad school, I started talking to this man, messaging back and forth, and the conversation was going so well. We had lots of things in common and it seemed like we had similar personalities. Although I was super nervous, one night I told him I am in a wheelchair. He did not seem to be fazed by this in the slightest.
We continued messaging back and forth, and I eventually asked him out for coffee. We had not made official plans on what time to meet, but as the day grew closer to when we were supposed to meet, I became increasingly anxious. Thoughts of my past experiences flooded my mind, causing me to doubt the situation and instead of feeling like I could voice these concerns in my “You’ve Got Mail” correspondence, I just could not bring myself to go. I messaged him a brief explanation — I do not even recall now what I said, but I do remember that his reply to me was, “you should have given me a chance”. He never spoke to me again.
From that day forward, I vowed never to let that happen again. I realized that no matter what my past experiences had been, or what my future experiences would be, I would chalk it up to just that: experiences. They were something to learn and grow from. No matter what, all you can do is be yourself. The right people will ultimately come into your life and get to know you for who you are on the inside. They will take the time to learn your story and what makes you tick.
I often go on the Push Living website which was started by a woman named Deborah Davis who sustained a C6–7 spinal cord injury from an accident in 1985. She created pushliving.com, an online magazine based on a wide variety of topics from travel to accessibility, and living life to the fullest in general. The mission of pushliving.com is to create inclusion for people with disabilities. She is most passionate about building a network of people with disabilities who are empowering, supportive, and who want to create a more inclusive world. Recently I came across two articles on this website. Written by Ali Ingersoll, the article My First Solo trip with my Boyfriend as a Quadriplegic — The Art of Compromise talks about her trip home with her boyfriend as her caregiver. While she had been on trips with him before, he was never the person that was solely responsible for her care. She says, “I wanted to keep the romance alive because I never thought there would be men out there that would want to or be willing to dive into certain aspects of my caregiving.” This is something that honestly terrifies me, as far as finding someone open and willing to love me for all aspects of who I am.
Ali and her boyfriend, Aaron, met online and they have been dating for a year and a half. He also wrote an article entitled My Experience Dating a Disabled Woman. In the article, Aaron was asked, “What is it like to date someone in a wheelchair? His response was “I gave her the only answer that I had because it’s Ali!” Ali made a comment that was as profound to Aaron as it is me, “Dating a person whose anatomy works differently may be too complicated and scary for a lot of different people, for a lot of different reasons.” I understand the sentiment and it gives me hope that there are more people out there like Aaron who reached out to Ali and was able to find out that they had shared interests and similar outlooks on life.
Would the wheelchair bother you? For a lot of people, the answer is yes. There are a lot of questions that may run through someone’s head when starting to date a woman in a wheelchair but when you meet the right person they will not see the wheelchair, they will see you.
Obviously, when getting to know anyone you have questions. Questions are okay. As difficult as it may be, try to be as open as possible, communication is key. As Aaron writes, “There are many unseen things that occur which can excite you, scare you, bring you in the moment, fascinate your imagination take you out of the moment, reward you with utter joy, or the unfortunate crushing you on your knees heartache.”
As I stated in the beginning, we are all differently “abled”. It is just that some of those differences may be more complex than others. Try to keep an open mind and an open heart. It is important not to judge a book by its cover. There may be things that are unseen, but when you get to know someone, you have the opportunity to uncover them. Things you never knew could be a possibility that can excite you. Embrace the things that scare you because they can give you the opportunity to learn something new about yourself and the world around you. Remind yourself of what is truly important, stay in those moments, and stay present. Push the boundaries and the limits of what you never thought could be possible. All the different things we go through, the good times and the bad, make us the people we are and bring us the people who are meant to be in our lives.