Dating With Disabilities
By Frank Kermit
I once went on a date with a woman that had severe food allergies. We went out to a movie and I wished she had told me ahead of time. Although she mentioned that she was deathly allergic to peanuts, what she did not tell me (and I guess she felt I would have inferred) is that a movie theater was not a safe environment for her. She needed to be careful that someone coming in late to the movie and sitting near her was not eating anything that could end up being dropped near any exposed skin of hers. I never ate nuts of any kind at the movies, so it was never something that even crossed my mind. Much of our date was her spending her attention on potential threats to her life.
On the one hand, I could appreciate her trying to accommodate me, but on the other hand, if she had been more direct and told me the best places for us to have a date (based on what she already knew about her disability) it would have made for an even better date for us.
You are your greatest ambassador in your life. You are the one person that can step up and expertly describe to others exactly how you want and need to be treated. Some people struggle with this because they do not know how to stand up for themselves to communicate what they need and want, while others struggle because, they simply do not know what it means to be treated well in general. When someone has a disability of any sort which compromises their means of living in any way, getting into the dating scene can be a little more challenging than most people.
Whether your disability has to do with one of your senses (deafness), a physical challenge (you are in a wheelchair), an intellectual challenge (learning disability of some kind), or any other disability that you assume may get in the way of some aspect of your dating life, the best way to communicate what you need is DIRECTLY AND POLITELY.
Let the people in your life know what you need in no uncertain terms. Tell them what they can expect from you, and what you require from them in order for the two of you to associate and get along. It is not always an easy thing to do, especially if you are not used to asking for help, or even talking about your disability in general.
Not all disabilities are visible and no one would ever suspect it, unless directly told by the person who has the disability that it exists.
A key point to remember is if you act embarrassed or ashamed of your disability, whenever you teach people how to treat you, then your uneasiness with your disability is part of what you are teaching others.
Even if you tell them with your words that it is OK that you have your disability and that you can still have a relationship with them, if your tonality and other communication factors (your facial expression. Body language and the energy in your eyes) tells people something different such as you do not believe what you are saying; you are likely going to be rejected, regardless of your efforts.
When sharing your disability, it is necessary to be positive, and reflect on the gifts your disability has given you. Yes, a disability that has taken something away from you may in fact be the same disability that has given you a gift that is likely taken for granted. If the person with the disability takes it for granted, it is more challenging to have potential romantic partners see the brighter side of it. A disability may have the effect of intangible benefits that are generally not valued as much as tangible benefits.
In my experience, both personal and professional, when disabled people remain angry or resentful about their disability, it is more difficult for them to find qualities they appreciate about their disability. It is human, and very normal, to feel negative about a disability.
However, when trying to establish a certain quality of life, a needed component is the ability to embrace the positive in your life, and that includes whatever positives a person can identify, even as a result of a disability.
For the struggles my own weight issues have given me throughout my life, it has also given me the capacity for a non-judgmental frame of reference when dealing with people and their own body image issues.
Knowing how hurtful it is to be mistreated for the way I look, I strive to endeavor to treat others in an accepting manner regardless of their body type. That is a value, albeit an intangible one. If I acknowledge my acceptance of others as a character trait of value, those around me, are even more likely to appreciate that about me as well. If I were to take my valuable trait for granted, it is even more likely that those around me will also take me for granted. Get it?
Almost every disability has a capacity to give the disabled person a gift. Physical limitations can give someone the ability to have compassion for others. Allergies can give someone a heightened sense of awareness of their environments (to observe any potential threats). Chronic illness can give someone the ability to have a deep appreciation for good days and good people. These intangible qualities are easy to ignore and take for granted.
However one of the most important elements for relationship success is how a person treats you. Much of that important element is based on a person's intangible qualities. When you can appreciate those qualities in yourself, it can be a means of appreciating those qualities (REALLY appreciating them) in others.
That new ability of appreciating the intangible in others is one of the special qualities of being able to sort out the red flags in order to better help you find your future soul mates. Yes, it is all connected; A-ha moment anyone?
Sometimes it can get tiring to always be the one to educate the rest of the world about your disability. Well, get used to it. Disability or not, we ALL have to do it. Every single one of us is responsible to educate others about who we are, and how we want to be treated. It is a never-ending burden that depending how you choose to manage it, can also be an empowering exercise of personal expression.
Finally, we must acknowledge that when you do tell people you want to date and talk about your disability, and explain whatever extra attention you will need in order for that person to be in a relationship with you, that yes, you are taking a chance and YES, you WILL GET REJECTED by some people. It is inevitable.
There will always be those that walk away from you, no matter how well you communicate about how feasible it is to enjoy dating you. On the flip side, there will always be those people that will not be fazed by whatever your disability is that simply would enjoy the chance of dating you. There is nothing to convince those people that they see you as a person with a disability, and not as a disability wrapped up in a person. It is those in the middle (and sometimes they are the majority) who will not know how to act. It is not that they will automatically reject you, or accept you.
They simply do not know enough about your disability to decide. These are the people that you can exercise a power of influence upon. With that said, they will look to you for an example of how they should behave (accepting or rejecting). That is where the ability to connect deeply exists.
Your ability to love and fully accept yourself gets the opportunity to transcend to others, helping others to have the ability to love and accept you. After all is said and done, it is your ability to love and accept yourself, in addition to your ability to communicate that self love and self acceptance to others, and not the disability itself, that will play the biggest role in the creation of your love life.
As for the peanut girl, she decided that she did not want to continue seeing me. One of her reasons was that she felt we could not have a relationship because I would have had to give up going out socially carefree always on the look out for allergic dangers, and she worried I would eventually resent her. It is too bad she disqualified herself as I did not have a problem with that, and I would have loved to see her again.