Inclusive and Exclusive Dating
I have never really been the type of person who has been into the whole “one night stand” or “hook-up” fling relationships. I have always looked for something more substantial and long-term in a relationship. Though admittedly I am single now after a 2 year relationship with an able-bodied woman. This is not to say that she has not had her own physical medical problems but without going into what these issues have been for her, I would not classify this person as “disabled”.
When I started to become interested in dating from a young age, about 12 or 13, I treated finding someone who was able-bodied to be with as if it were some kind of silly Holy Grail of dating for someone like myself who has a physical disability and is a wheelchair user. This was always a secret thought or attitude I had up until I reached college/university age even though before that point I had been dating within the disabled community with what I would call somewhat successful. A few months here, six months there, and even one relationship which lasted on and off for about six years from grade seven all the way up until when I started college with a beautiful girl, now a woman who just so happens to have Spina Bifida like I do. However, I did have a few major crushes in high school on girls who were able-bodied, especially when I had periods of singleness…. or what some women in the disabled community whom I have dated may call “moments of being an asshole”. Though when it came to having an attraction to someone who was able-bodied in high school, of course there was nervousness around certain people but I always tried to remain neutral friends with them until I had the opportunity to express to them how I felt. More often than not when I would approach an able-bodied girl and tell them how I felt, the response I would always get was “you’re jus too good of a friend” which in my head said loud and clear “you’re a very nice guy, but I wouldn’t date a cripple”. Of course it could have been very little to do with my disability and indeed they just did not want to ruin a friendship but that did not stop me from taking it so personally.
I even remember having fancied an able-bodied girl who was about a year and a half younger than myself when I was in grade 11 and one day I went out to the front of the school during my lunch break to have a cigarette as I normally did. It was a pretty nice spring day and I spotted a group of girls I had sometimes hung around with who were also just hanging out having a smoke. In this group happened to be the one girl I had a crush on, so naturally I wanted to hang out with her. I think at that time, it was probably known to her through other people that I fancied her just a little bit and after a while I had turned my back to talk to another group of people in front of the school who were behind me and this girl called my name to get my attention. She got up from the sidewalk, walked over and kissed me and then walked back to where she was sitting and started to giggle and laugh with all her friends. I was shocked because in my head the thought still was that there would be no way she would be interested in someone like me, so why bother pursuing such things?. Turns out, one of her friends had dared her to get my attention and walk up and kiss me. There was no feeling, only fake flirtation in that act for and all I could think after I found this out was: What a bitch!
When it comes to choosing to date within your own community, that is, the disabled community, social programming is extremely important. Often times it is hard for an individual with a disability to connect with someone in a similar situation to themselves within their community at large without these programs. Whether it be monthly social nights, dances or even summer camps, these programs are an integral part of social and relationship building within these communities. I can tell you though that without programs like this, personally I would not have had the opportunity to form the friendships and intimate relationships I have had over the years. One thing that really gets to me though is the attitude of some able-bodied professionals who run these programs whom discourage any form of romantic relationship and physical affection within these programs. Particularly within the 14-19 age group. Now I understand that it is only ethical to not want teenagers hopping out of their wheelchairs and other mobility devices in order to shag on the floor but to give a teenager grief for sharing a passionate kiss, cuddling, or holding hands in plain view of program coordinators and staff in the name of ethical appropriateness…. get real. They are teenagers, let them be. As long as no one is shagging on the floor or getting pregnant and are in plain view of everyone else. Let them be. I even had one summer camp experience with a girl who was a few years older than myself.. I was about 14 at the time and she thought I was significantly older than I was but she took a liking to me anyway… let’s just say we paid no mind to the “rules” or to being told not to make out under an outdoor pavilion at the camp in front of a great deal of other campers of the same age group and staff members. It’s not the most “appropriate” thing, but damn was it ever fun! So, note to program providers and coordinators of social events for teenagers with disabilities; as long as two people aren’t being left completely alone, as long as they are not sprawled out on the floor shagging or removing clothing in public.. just let them be. To do otherwise is to discourage the development of healthy romantic relationships.
As I got into my early 20′s I became more familiar with the world of online dating. This is simply because at that time, I was in college and finally had my own computer access in my dorm room at school. Which I never had access to growing up at home. I thought of this as a way to find either someone else with a disability to date or maybe even someone who was not disabled at all. Online dating is a challenge in and of itself though, because at the starting point when it comes to finding someone who doesn’t have a disability to potentially have a romantic connection with, the question becomes; When do I tell those people about my disability and everything that comes along with it?. Personally, I take the up front approach and either put this information directly into a member profile or to wait until you make a connection with someone. The best thing anybody can do is to be up front and honest about every aspect of a disability and then allow the other person to ask any and every question that they may have about it. Online dating allows for the other person to focus upon a person’s personality rather than the disability they have but at the same time if a person cannot accept any aspect of a disability then really, they are not worth the time nor the effort to change their minds about it. One aspect of online dating which can be quite difficult for anyone, but especially for someone with a physical disability is if you happen to be attracted to someone who lives quite a distance from where you live. It is absolutely helpful though if there is family support on one or both sides of the relationship because then perhaps those family members would be able to help two people see each other often. It’s a hard road though, I won’t lie and sometimes because of distance and even a lack of daily face to face communication can lead to the demise of a relationship. Truth be told, online dating may be difficult, especially if there is distance involved but don’t knock it until you try it. You might be surprised in who you could find. Just be very very careful when you approach this route though. Make sure that who you are speaking to is actually telling the truth in who they are and be safe when you first meet anybody from an online dating site. Always meet in a public place first or at the very least make sure they have a webcam so you can have face to face conversations before you meet in person.
It is noteworthy outside of my own perspective to mention that for those with more severe physical disabilities which impair movement much more, that for some, finding a partner who is able-bodied is important. The reason this is in my opinion is because sometimes it may be nicer to have someone whom you are in an intimate relationship with to be able to help with things like showering. C’mon, who doesn’t like shower sex, right ? Or perhaps because there are very, very small things that would be made easier when you have an able-bodied partner. Cleaning up around the house for example. It is most important to say though that most people with disabilities when they date someone who is not disabled, do not want their partners to be seen as “personal assistants” or “aides” because quite frankly that cheapens the romantic relationship. When you see a couple in public on a date and one happens to be disabled, and one is not, please do not assume that the able-bodied person is the others personal assistant. This is completely undermining and quite hurtful to at least one person in that relationship. Also, please scrap the idea of “oh, isn’t that nice that you are dating someone with a disability”. Patronizing? yes, very much so.
The choice is yours really, whether you date someone with or without a disability. I ask that the able-bodied population keep an open mind, learn all you can about an individuals disability. It does not define them, nor me, it only adds to their unique qualities. See passed what is skin deep. For those of us with various disabilities, I only have thing left to say on this matter. Do not be afraid to go safely out of your comfort zone. The absolute worst thing a person could say is “no”. If that is the case then you are probably better off in finding someone else and trust me, you will. Until next time, folks.