Sami Jankins asks if dating with a disability really needs to be a challenge.
I’ve been living with a disability my whole life, and my life has been extremely complicated because of it. It always feels like I have to work that much harder to keep up with other twenty-somethings. My social life has suffered, to say the least. I’ve considered on-line dating and was wondering how exactly I’m supposed to do this. Do I put it in my profile? Should I tell them on the first date? What if they aren’t OK with it?
Dating with a Disability
Dear Dating with a Disability,
Dating can be challenging and complicated as it is. Add in fitting in dating between doctor appointments and it can seem like something impossible. Scope, an organization out of the UK, has found that only 5% of non-disabled people have gone out with someone with a disability. This may seem frustrating, but I’m here to say let’s firmly demolish that statistic. I’d like to think I’ve made a solid dent. While I’m not actually qualified to give this sort of advice, if you’re willing to take advice from someone who successfully hid taking medication with meals on each dinner date, I think we’re in business.
Back when I was a young dater, I thought dating medical students would be a brilliant idea. I don’t know if it was a moth to a flame effect, as I’d never send them messages first, but I went on dates with at least five medical students within a year. I naively thought that I understood their world having grown up chronically ill, and they would therefore understand me. This was wrong. One actually broke up with me in the hospital because he was embarrassed I was an inpatient at his place of work while getting a blood transfusion. Another told me that no one would ever want me except him because I was damaged. This is not a medical student thing. I have lovely friends who are doctors. This was the result of me dating with low self-esteem.
Here’s the thing, if you are ready to get into the dating game you have to go in knowing that some people will be OK with your disability and others won’t be. It will be great if the assholes make themselves readily apparent from the get-go so your time isn’t wasted. We will all encounter our bodies failing at some point, and their life will suck tremendously when they are incapable of dealing with their own life challenges.
You have no one to keep up with. It may seem like we are all supposed to reach milestones, but everyone’s life really varies if you take the time to look beyond the surface of what’s being posted on social media. Know that you are not “lucky” to have someone dating you. Why not you? You are awesome. You are a badass. Why? Because of all the great attributes I imagine you have. Why? Because of your fantastic taste in music, movies, or your general ability to make people smile. The right person will never make you feel like they are doing you a favor by spending time with you.
It’s up to you if you want to put your disability in your dating profile. If you are in a wheelchair, it’s probably not a bad idea to make the chair visible in a photo. That way, your date will know who they are looking for. Again, disclosure is completely your call with a visible or invisible disability. At one point I just listed that I had migraines in my on-line profile. Migraines are my gateway health issue…it’s the mildest (although be it most annoying) of my health issues and it allows me to feel out someone else’s vibe in regards to someone being ill. I received a plethora of “you are so brave” and “you’re inspiring” messages. Because of migraines? Unless these messages come with some other interesting questions about your life, you are being reduced to just having a health issue or disability. Keep in mind as to whether these are the people you want to date.
Don’t ruin your own dating life because of your fears. Tell the other person about your disability when you feel comfortable enough to. When did you tell your friends? That might be a good gauge. I always overanalyze sending messages to people I’m dating, and I had a friend say to me – “Would you be questioning whether or not to send me that text, or would it have already been sent?” They were right.
Sometimes people who have spent their lives managing their own health issues can get a little defensive when someone else comes along and wants to help – “I can do this myself!” “I’m independent!” “I don’t need to be taken care of.” Remember there is a difference between allowing yourself to be cared about and becoming helpless. I had an excruciating migraine a few weeks into dating someone. I don’t know how he sensed it because most people can’t, but he knew I wasn’t OK. I couldn’t even lie and pretend I was OK because we have this whole thing about being completely honest. My parents had to retrieve me from his house to take me to the hospital, although he did offer to take me in. I was in so much pain that I started sobbing. I immediately went to retrieve my sunglasses so he couldn’t see me crying. It was all too much realness. However, after his request I took the sunglasses off and allowed myself to be taken care of. It was hard.
What will eventually happen is that you will find someone, and you will be so surprised that having a disability in no way bothers them. While you’ll never fully understand because it’s still not entirely easy for me to grasp – to the people who care about you, having a disability is just a part of you and not all of you. Believe them when they say it doesn’t bother them. Don’t push them away when you get scared they’ll leave when they know too much. Put yourself out there even if you are unsure of what the results will be. I can’t live my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. I can’t live happily while waiting for disaster. Not every date will be great, but have fun and know you’re worth the incredibly awkward dating experience that everyone else out there is having.
Here’s for better dating days ahead,
Send your pressing questions for Sami to answer for Dating in the Digital Age to [email protected].