Disability and Love: It’s Not Impossible

Though I’ve touched on this before, it bothers me that there’s a stigma of disabilities and love within society. Maybe not a stigma…but hesitation. It’s there. I’ve experienced it first hand, and I’ve observed many depictions in the media where a disabled person finds love and it become a news story….or my personal favorite…the article about two people with disabilities getting married. Hear me out, though. There is nothing wrong with two people with disabilities being together in an intimate relationship. If you find the one you love, and they have a disability too, but they also love you right back, then that’s wonderful. However, please don’t settle for a mediocre relationship just because you want to be with someone. And don’t think that just because you have a disability you won’t find love. I’m living proof that’s not the case. However, that also doesn’t mean that a disabled person in a relationship is newsworthy. It’s not. It’s every day life. Unless you’re a celebrity, are you going to have an article in the paper about your date to prom? No.

Was I overwhelmed by the dating process? Yes. Was I worried that someone might not want to be with me because of my disability? Also yes. But you know what? You don’t want to be with someone like that anyway. If someone’s put off by your disability, they aren’t right for you. Simple as that.

I by no means am a relationship expert in any capacity. I just have my own experience as a disabled person trying to find a companion for life. My fiancé does not have Cerebral Palsy like me. Truthfully, I had concerns about being with someone who also had CP simply because I knew the amount of help I’d need physically as I got older, and I wouldn’t want to put someone in a position where they didn’t feel comfortable doing that. Would I have considered it if the person I fell in love with also had CP? Maybe. I’ll never know.

What I do know is this: Find someone who cares. Find someone who loves you AND your disability, not just you (i.e. they don’t have to necessarily be thrilled about your disability, but if they have doubts about your ability to love or be in a relationship because of your disability, you deserve better). Find someone who you can talk to openly about disability logistics (and that right there is the cornerstone to my relationship). If my fiancé and I couldn’t talk openly about how my disability impacts our relationship, we wouldn’t work. Getting to that level of openness with a partner could take some time, but if you haven’t had a conversation about your disability and how it would work in the context of a relationship after a few months, maybe there’s a reason. It’s also possible that you may have no idea how your disability will impact / affect a relationship. That’s okay too. When I first started dating my fiancé, everything was uncharted territory regarding relationships. But we got through it together. We learned side by side. Sometimes we had no idea how to handle certain things. When we went on our first date, he didn’t know whether to help me or whether I’d take offense to that. *Hint, hint*: He asked me what he needed to do / how I wanted him to help me, and I told him. Sometimes I needed an arm to steady myself; sometimes I didn’t. Either way, I communicated my needs to him. Because news flash: someone doesn’t know you need help until you ask. And it’s okay to ask. If you ask, and they say no, run. That person’s a jerk. You’re better off without them.

Love is possible as a disabled person. The smartest love advice I was ever given was: “Stop looking. Love will find you when you’re doing the things you love.” However, I’ll amend that advice to say this: It’s highly likely you’ll find love when you stop relentlessly searching. However, don’t expect love to fall in your lap, either. I had to do my fair share of work in meeting my fiancé. For instance, I initiated conversation first. I approached him first. I knew enough to know I’d likely have to do that, which some may be frustrated by. And it’s certainly not required. I just knew I needed to be proactive, and I knew I didn’t want love to pass me by.

I was lucky. I have found a person to spend my life with who doesn’t view me as a burden. It’s possible for others with disabilities too. Trust me, I’m living proof.

Dating With a Disability [Part 2]

The initial dating with a disability post I wrote back in March was such a hit that I wanted to do a follow-up. I think sometimes society has a hard time understanding that people with disabilities want the same things everyone else does: love, success, lifelong friendships. And those things are attainable for the disability population. However, it may just mean there are more logistics to figure out.

In the case of dating, for me that meant thousands of questions were going through my head: 1). When should I tell him about my disability? 2). How will he respond? 3). Will he care? 4). If we get serious, will he resent me for what I can’t do? 5). If we get serious, will he feel like my caretaker?

Even now, after my boyfriend and I have been dating for 3 and a half years, some of those questions still surface. However, we’ve dealt with them just like we’ve traversed the rest of our relationship: with openness, frequent communication, and love.

When should I tell him: Honestly, it was answered on its own. Because my disability is visible, it’s not something I could hide. No, I didn’t have a “I have CP” tattoo on my forehead, and I have never introduced myself to someone by saying, “Hi, my name’s Amelia, and I have CP.” However, I’ve always prided myself on being open with people. The reality of my disability came out pretty early on…and even though I fretted over how the conversation would go, it went as smooth as though I had said, “My day was good, how was yours.”

How will he respond: My Cerebral Palsy mattered to him, but it didn’t all at the same time. It didn’t prevent him from wanting to date me. However, it mattered in the sense that he wanted to understand it enough to know how to help me when he could, which I was grateful for. More than anything, he wanted to know how living with a disability shaped the way I viewed the world. And in that moment, I knew I wanted to spend my days helping him to understand the world I lived in: the world of oppression, marginalization, discrimination…but also the world of a culture that has its own language, values, history, and perspective.

Will he care: He did. But he cared in the sense of, “It hurts me to see you in pain,” as opposed to, “I don’t want a girlfriend who has a disability.” Yes, it’s part of our relationship, but it’s not the only piece. It means we have to do certain things certain a little differently, but it doesn’t prevent us from loving each other. However, I will say it does take a special person to care in this way. You want someone to care enough about your disability that they see it as part of you, but not so much that it is the only thing they see when they look at you. I’m happy to say that’s what I’ve found. And honestly, each day it amazes me. Sometimes it still takes my breath away that I’ve found someone who cares enough about my disability that he has taken up the disability fight out of sheer love for me. For example, the first time my boyfriend became enraged when he saw a car parked in a handicapped space without an appropriate license or placard…I felt heard, I felt seen, and finally, I felt like I didn’t have to face the injustices of the world alone.

If we get serious, will he resent me for what I can’t do: Honestly, I still worry about this one. Since we are serious, it’s a thought that bounces around in my head pretty regularly. And since we are so open with each other, it’s also conversation we have often. Do I think he resents me now? No. Do I think there are things he wishes we could do together that my disability prevents? Sometimes, yes. The majority of those things have been centered around activities that require extended walking. However, about a year ago, when I invested in a mobility scooter, a new world opened for us. With my scooter, I was able to get out and be more active and not be as easily exhausted like I’d get if I was walking everywhere. Therefore, we’ve been able to enjoy things like going to the mall or walking around downtown, whereas previously I’d avoid those things because more walking meant pain…and pain meant both of us being unhappy. However, in another sense, sometimes I worry how my disability will impact me as I age. What if in two years I can’t do what I’m doing now? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about it. But if I know one thing, it’s this: I’ll figure out a way to handle those obstacles as they come my way. I always do. It’s who I am.

If we get serious, will he feel like my caretaker: I still worry about this one too. It’s a conversation we have very openly, as neither of us wants to reach a point where we have a caretaker/patient relationship. Honestly, what’s made the difference is understanding and perspective. Are there things he has to help me with? Absolutely. But do I help him with aspects of himself that are weak because those are my strong areas? Yes. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. The give and take. In my case, many of the ways my boyfriend supports me are physical in nature, but he’s also incredibly kind, loving, and caring too. When I look at a caretaker/patient relationship, I see it as very one-sided. And that’s not what our relationship is. It’s two people supporting and strengthening each other to be the best versions of themselves.

At the end of the day, dating with a disability is just the same as typical dating, but with a double scoop of openness, communication, understanding…and a dash of humor (because if we’re not laughing through life, what’s even the point).

Dating With a Disability

Even though I eventually got lucky with my boyfriend (who I’ve now been with for 3 years), the dating scene was intimidating for me through all of my teen years and throughout college.

I used to consistently doubt that I’d even ever find someone to be with because I thought, “who’s going to love me that way with my physical disability?”But the point I’m trying to make is this: that thought wouldn’t have entered my mind so strongly were it not for societal perceptions of disability. People don’t think about disability and intimacy in the same sentence. That may be harsh, but it’s true. I know this because it’s been my reality.

I remember when I was a teenager and I started liking boys. I went through the typical phases of having crushes, but with an added hiccup. I constantly wondered whether the boys who liked me actually liked me or if they felt sorry for me due to my disability. Most of the guys I ended up liking in those early years were the boys who were consistently nice to me, and because I was so used to being indirectly bullied through school, I gravitated to the boys who treated me with kindness and friendship that felt genuine and real. However, even with those boys, the crush was only one sided, and I was “friend-zoned.” I liked them in the “I want you to be my boyfriend” sense, but they just wanted to be friends, and that was heartbreaking for me at the time. It took me years to realize that those friendships were not only real, they were the kind to stand the test of time and still be strong throughout the seasons of life.

I should also add that up until my junior year of high school, I attended private school, and at my private school, I was the only student with a disability. Being surrounded by friends who had no problem getting boyfriends was consistently frustrating. I watched my friends with their boyfriends, knowing they didn’t have the added challenge of wondering if someone would ever take them on a real date as opposed to a “pity date.”

It wasn’t until I was in college that I started feeling more comfortable with guys. Yes, I still had a lot to work through, but in the weird (and wonderfully hippie) city of Asheville, I had finally found a place where I belonged. Throughout my sophomore and junior years of college, I still had some experiences with guys that weren’t ideal and didn’t last, but I was learning. Once, I started talking to a guy who worked at a nearby bakery. When one of the first texts he sent me was, “Are you even capable of having sex?” I blocked his number and never talked to him again. In another instance, I had a few dates with a guy who was incredibly outdoorsy but also incredibly full of himself. While he was initially respectful of my disability, he later wanted to be intimate before I was ready. When he would not respect my decision to wait until I felt comfortable, his inner jerk surfaced, and he said “But no one’s ever said no to me before.” My response, “Looks like I just did.” I kicked him out of my apartment and my life.

I should note that even these early experiences taught me a lot about dating and relationships, and especially dating with a disability, and they helped prepare me for when I would meet the right guy. My friends and family will tell you that I spent years wanting nothing more than a relationship. I used to get so discouraged when they’d say, “It’ll happen when you least expect it.” Turns out they were right.

Sometimes it blows my mind that the first guy I entered into an actual relationship with ended up being the one that stuck. But in other ways, it made total sense. We met in an unconventional way, but looking back on it now, I know that we would never have crossed paths had we not met in that way. By the time we met in my senior year of college, I knew what I was looking for in a guy: someone who treated me with kindness, had a good sense of humor, and wasn’t at all repelled by the fact that I had a disability. When I first met my now-boyfriend, he was all those things and more, and within a few weeks, we were completely smitten with each other.

However, I was still unsure of a lot. I was unsure whether this was a guy that could see my disability, but also see that it was only a piece of me. I didn’t know whether he would comfortable with the fact that I have certain limitations that are always present. But more than anything, I knew I didn’t want to screw this up. For once, I didn’t want my disability to prevent me from experiencing something I really, truly wanted.

I remember the first time I caught my boyfriend staring at me. We were in the kitchen of my apartment, and I was washing dishes. I glanced over, and he was staring right at me. Confused, I responded with “what?” See, up until this moment, I had been stared at my entire life because of my disability, and I couldn’t even fathom that someone staring at me could be a positive thing. When he responded with, “I’m just looking at you,” I broke down crying. I broke down because I was falling for him, and I broke down because for the first time, I truly felt seen. For once, I wasn’t being stared at because of my differences. And for the first time in my life, a guy wasn’t just seeing my CP, but every single part of me…and it was wonderful and terrifying all at the same time. But it was love. It was our story. And it was only the beginning.