My therapist asked me if I had a pessimistic view of love. I replied, "No, I am realistic."
I am a woman with a disability.
I use a power chair and have spinal muscular atrophy. This condition causes severe muscle weakness. My first date was with a person who did not know that I use a power wheelchair, even though my dating profile clearly showed pictures of it.
Since then, I've had a number of such encounters. Perhaps men aren't paying enough attention to profiles, even though a wheelchair weighing nearly 300 pounds is hard to miss. Or maybe they're not used to seeing people with disabilities dating.
When my doctor asked me about my sexual life and my reproductive plans, I felt relieved. Many medical professionals believe that disabled people can't have kids because they are asexual. It's no accident that Gem Turner, a disability activist who is outspoken, wrote her first dating experience at the age of 28 as a confession. When I read Rebekah's love story from her memoir, "Sitting Pretty": The View From My Ordinary Resilient Disability Body, I held on to it as if it were a prayer.
People with disabilities are often the victims of apologies. Sorry if my needs cause inconvenience. Sorry, I'm unable to attend this event. I'm also looking for love.
After reading Rebekah’s memoir, I hardly ever saw disabled people in romantic relationships. Now, they are everywhere: dating and engaged, divorced, remarried, with a child in tow. Disabled people, however, face unique challenges.
I didn't think my disability was an obstacle when I started dating. This was a simple automatic filter that ensured I matched with men who were open-minded and socially aware.
Ben was a great match in February. He was curious, kind, and excited to see my wheelchair with its USB port. ('Can speakers be plugged into it ?').? I had not only a full-length photo of my wheelchair but also a short video showing me speeding through a corridor lit with fairy lights.
We sent each other rambling voicemails and teased about our accents. He introduced me to Sedecordle, a death spiral game. Before our first meeting, I asked him if he thought I needed assistance as I use a wheelchair.
He said, "I'm just worried that I can't promise I'll be here forever."
I hesitated to speak, not knowing what to say.
He then added: "But you could have an assistant?"
I was elated. Before that, I never asked directly if my disability made it impossible or undesirable for me to find a romantic partner. I began to believe that I could find love. It was a mistake to be optimistic, as the messages stopped soon after that conversation. Ben had made his excuses by Monday.
This experience was encouraging, even though it did not lead to a romantic relationship. I downloaded Bumble and threw some pictures up, then had meaningless conversation. After a year of using dating apps, all I had to show was some amusing stories.
Josh came along and pulled me out of the spiral. We flirted with each other on Hinge and had a video chat. He messaged afterward and the following day. I was enamored by his sunburn, and the fact that he had rung his church bells. He then ghosted.
My mother's question: "Did he realize you were disabled?"
It's hard to believe that he did not, considering how many times he said I looked cute in photos. I have always had a version of my mother’s question in the back of my mind. But-for-causes is something I'm taught as a lawyer in London. The question is: If it weren't for my disability, would I be a good romantic partner?
After Josh I fell and had nothing to stop me. I then faced the question that I had been putting off.
Nearly everyone I know has a committed relationship, which makes me stand out even more. Some of my friends think I'm picky. But I have only three things that I won't compromise on: he must live in the same town as me, and we both have to be compatible culturally and religiously. I don't care about my height (my chair is height-adjustable) and I'm not looking for someone who shares all of my interests. Even so, it's better to be viewed as picky than undesirable.
Julie had the same medical condition that I have and she just moved to London from France, where she joined Hinge. She said as we exchanged stories that she thought educated men would be more open-minded and respectful, but they weren't.
It is a reflection of my own experience. Cambridge, where I went to university, was awash with educated men. My current social circle is dominated by London-based lawyers. I've fancied some of these people a little, and others a lot. No one has fancied me -- or, at least no one has dared admit to a crush on this disabled girl.
Julie told me this and I laughed. I laughed when Julie said this.
I'm not less loveable or dateable because of my disability, says the part of me who posts proudly about it on Instagram. When I've never had someone fall in love, it's easy to mistake pessimism for reality.
After my experiences, I have a persistent feeling that men only vaguely know I'm female. They are aware enough to be comforting and soft but not enough to want me. It would have been rude to tell me this.
I once had strong suspicions that a friend might have feelings. But, I was wrong. At first, I thought I was pleased because I wanted clarity and I thought we were close enough to him that he would know I didn't like him. Recently, I've been pondering his unquestionable clarity.
I'm not so conceited as to think that every man would be captivated by my winning personality. But I fear the men who have been enchanted are already dismissing attraction: how can a person with a disability be a target of desire?
People seem to be concerned about dating someone with a disability in two ways. The first is whether we are able to have sex and the second is whether our partners will become our caregivers.
The answer to my first question ('Yes', but not with me') is simple. The second question is more complicated. It's fair to say that disabled people are looking for many different things in love.
These questions are rooted in fear, a fear that is based on ableism. It's easy for people to be afraid of the unknown when it comes to disabled stories. They are not mainstream and they're not seen as sexy. I've hidden my disability from friends because of my desire to be trusted and my fear that they would see me as a burden. When I've been honest, even in small doses, people have shown me love. It has led to a mixture of understanding. One friend helped me with my heavy bottle of water, while another suggested accessible venues rather than leaving it up to me.
As I felt the weight of all their care, at times I wondered what a romantic relationship would be like in this situation. My concern is internalized abilityism. Every day, people care for one another: They pour the water at the table, help a friend who is clumsy, and make sure a vegan colleague eats. Why is it that these acts are normalized, but my care is seen as a dependency?
People with disabilities are often seen as only able to receive care, and therefore are not able to be partners. Love and care can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. I have provided comfort to loved ones at the end a long, hard day. I know someone's vulnerability and hold them with love.
I'm ready to use my life-long experience in caring for others and put it into a romantic partnership. For too long, I've been hampered by the ableism of society and its assumptions. This is my only problem. I am tired looking for a rare man that will embrace me with the same passion and love as if it were my peanut allergy.
Love is not an individual journey. It's not my responsibility to educate a society who doesn't recognize or value my wants and desires. It is not my job to educate. However, I'll keep looking for someone who will be open to learning how we can make our everyday life extraordinary.