Disability Dating

Update

After a long hiatus from writing “The Girl With The Pearl Scooter”, I am making my glorious return to your computer screens! The reasons for my absence are plentiful. During the last 18 months I have met a guy, got engaged, and started a new job. To add to the grown up-ness we even bought and moved into our first home together this month! So plenty of exciting developments in my world. Alongside all of these milestone events, the usual highs and lows of living with a disability have featured and these I will discuss over the next few blogs. In the meantime, happy reading!

Disability Dating

I’ll kick off my return to blogging by writing on a topic people regularly ask me about – what it is like to date with a disability. The topic of love and relationships can be a delicate subject for anyone. But for someone with a disability it can be particularly fraught and is often laden with many deep and dark “what ifs”. Meeting the right someone is challenging in a day and age where people are so heavily consumed by their jobs and are so attached to social media that they forget to go out and enjoy themselves and the company of others in an environment free from the intrusion of technology. Rare are the days where people meet their future partner in pubs, libraries, cafes and parks. More commonly my generation are meeting future partners via dating apps and internet websites and in a world where judgements on a person’s worth seem to be made within the first 30 seconds having a pair of crutches, a walk similar to Pingu and often a wheelchair in tow can mean that the odds often feel stacked against you right from the offset.

That being said, in early 2014 I decided that if I can’t beat technology, I might as well join it. I was feeling settled and happy in my own skin and I decided that it was time to take my first foray into the world of online dating. This is where our story picks up and I will go on to share a few of the lessons I learned throughout this process whilst sharing a few of the funnier and more shocking experiences.

Lesson #14 of Life with Emily:  You will only be happy with someone when you are happy with yourself

I began my online dating adventure with Plenty of Fish and Tinder and I must admit, it was an eye opener! Without wanting to sound arrogant, I was immediately quite popular and was enjoying the attention greatly. However, when it came to meeting up with people, I began to get nervous. When you meet someone in a bar or are introduced by friends, your prospective date is immediately aware of your disability and has the opportunity to decide in that moment if they want to continue with this particular interaction. When you meet someone online, unless your profile picture or blurb states that you are disabled or shows a crutch/wheelchair, there is a very significant piece of information yet to be shared with your prospective date.

Different people hold different opinions about how best to deal with this scenario. Broadly speaking, there are three options:


1)      Don’t tell your date until you meet them in person

This for me was not an option. Having been on the receiving end of that split second recoil and look of shock (followed by the awkward silence) when standing up and reaching for my crutches having been chatted up at a bar, I can 100% tell you that this is a bad idea. Furthermore, I really do not feel that it would be fair on the guy that I was meeting and immediately puts him in an unfairly awkward situation. With me, what you see is what you get, and if I had not at least introduced the idea that I was a little bit “different” prior to meeting up I think I would’ve have been doing both my date and myself a massive disservice.  

2)      Tell your date everything about your disability before you meet them

This is something I tried early on in my online dating adventure and controversially I must admit that it was not my favourite option! When Googling “Spina Bifida” a plethora of information appears on your screen and in truth, paints a pretty horrendous picture. Although my Spina Bifida is severe, I manage to adapt many activities to be able to participate in some way, be it slightly modified or very modified. But, when presented only with the results of a Google search, I can think of nothing more terrifying and off-putting for an individual who knows no better! It certainly explains why all of a sudden a few matches I had made mysteriously disappeared right after “Spina Bifida” was mentioned.

That being said, the benefit of this option is that it provides an immediate way to exclude those individuals you really don’t want to meet. Sharing your disability status candidly with your potential date leaves you wide open to being asked a whole variety of questions ranging from the sensible to the downright weird: I have heard them all! The topic of disability certainly brings out the weird folk. I have been asked everything from “do you wear splints and if so, do you wear them to bed?” to “can I help you catheterise?” **SHUDDER** I can assure you that these individuals were not privileged with my presence on a date!

3)      Mention your difficulties and warn your potential date that you will be arriving on crutches but save the details for a face-to-face conversation

This is by far my preferred option. Knowing that my date is already aware that I have some sort of disability is reassuring as I know I will not be faced with immediate shock! It avoids making the first ten minutes of meeting even more awkward than they already would be and allowed me the opportunity to explain my condition to someone in person. Hopefully when someone meets me, they will realise that despite my disability, I have an awful lot to offer and can be quite good fun! I can wholeheartedly vouch for the success of this option with all guys I went on a date with telling me that they appreciated my honesty prior to meeting up and if they were successful in securing a second date, telling me that Googling Spina Bifida is scary!

Lesson # 15 of Life with Emily: Honesty is the best policy – no matter how scary.

Regardless of how you go about this initial disclosure (or lack of disclosure), the real fun and games begins when you start going out on dates with the individuals you have been talking to. This is where you start to get to know the person properly and as with all people trying to find a significant other, get to know the nittier grittier aspects of a person’s character.  I have been fortunate to meet some truly lovely guys who have been kind, gentle and funny and although we were not meant to be, showed me a really good time and treated me kindly.

On the flip side, not all of my dates were so successful and there is one particular series of dates coming to mind. I had met this individual on Tinder and trialled option 3 to good success. He asked sensible questions and reiterated his interest in meeting up and taking me for dinner. We met up, had a lovely dinner and arranged to meet up the following week. On arriving at date two, alarm bells started to ring. He was asking me questions about how to “fix” Spina Bifida and whether I had pursued all avenues of medical treatment. I explained the congenital nature of my condition and the fact that it is permanent with no cure. He went quiet and we continued our date. On meeting for date three, he was straight onto the topic of Spina Bifida. He explained that his parents were flying into the country in a few weeks and that he wanted to introduce me to them (which already freaked me out – slightly too soon?!). He then continued to explain that he could not introduce me to his parents in my “current state” and proceeded to present me with a list of doctors for me to meet with. For one stunned moment, I wondered if I had entered into some sort of alternate reality and looked around to see if I was on a hidden camera show. Unfortunately, this was not the case and before me was a very ignorant and naïve person. I calmly explained that this was not appropriate and that I did not want to be with someone who wants to fix me and is embarrassed to introduce me to family and friends as I am. I then proceeded to pick up my water glass and throw its contents in his face! I never thought I would have that movie moment in my life, but it was too good an opportunity to miss! What makes me laugh to this day is that his list of doctors included a microbiologist, a gynaecologist, an ophthalmologist and a dentist none of whom could help me in any way!

Yet as with all things in life, you take the good with the bad and I am so pleased to report that I have endured the bad and found the good with regards the dating game. A few days before giving up on Tinder entirely, I matched with a guy called George. He was kind, funny, intelligent and not remotely creepy. I actually took option 2 and disclosed my disability (because I was in hospital at the time of talking and needed to explain why I couldn’t meet for a little while) and was met with concern purely regarding my current admission and interest into Spina Bifida’s impact on my life. He did not seem remotely put off and two weeks later we met up for our first date. Ten months later we were engaged and 14 months later we moved in together!

More about George to come…


Lesson # 16 of Life with Emily: Good things come to those who wait!

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