*written on 2/14/17
One of the biggest misconceptions about people with disabilities is that they don’t have the social skills to understand what love truly means, or they don’t want to have a significant other. I’m here to tell you that is false. People with disabilities have the same desire as anyone else to have a relationship.
I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. I’ve dreamt of the day I would get married in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee and ride off in the Gen. Lee from the “Dukes of Hazzard.” My experience dating in society with a disability has always been challenging, but I didn’t want to just share my experience with dating; I wanted to bring awareness to dating with a disability.
I haven’t had the best track record when it comes to dating. I feel that’s mostly because I wind up “catching feelings” for men who weren’t open to learning about my disability. It made it very difficult for me to open up about my health problems because they didn’t understand, nor did they have the desire to know.
If you see my disability as an obstacle and not part of what makes me the active, beautiful woman I am, there is a problem. That’s a huge deal breaker for me. I have stopped getting to know men for that reason — because they would say “I like you, and I think we could become something… if it weren’t for your disability.” I would often reply to them: “Well my disability is always going to be a part of me, so it was nice getting to know you, but I don’t think we could continue to get to know each other.”
I firmly believe that if more people would take the time to research the needs of those with disabilities and understand what the disability is — whether it be muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, autism, ADHD, or mental health conditions — they would be more open to dating someone with a disability. Besides doing research, it’s up to the person to see the other person’s beauty inside the heart, because looks don’t matter at the end of the day. The hottest guy ever can be a complete jerk, and the guy who looks like Steve Urkel could have a good heart, have strong feelings for you, and treat you like a queen.
I always said to my girlfriends when I was going to school that I would never be with somebody with cerebral palsy like myself. I was always into able-bodied young men. Now I feel sorry for saying that and having that mindset because I am currently going steady with my boyfriend Austin, who has spastic cerebral palsy. We met online four years ago and have been in a long-distance relationship ever since. That just shows you never know what life is going to throw at you.
I feel as a woman that it’s hard to find a significant other who accepts you for you. Not everybody understands what it’s like to have a disability. Others can only sympathize with you, but they never fully understand your journey. Having dated both able-bodied people and somebody with a physical disability just like myself, I would rather have a significant other with a disability. I feel we can connect more because we really understand what the other is going through, and we can be there for each other more on an emotional level. However, being single with a disability isn’t as bad as people make it seem. Before you consider dating anybody with a disability, you must take the time to accept yourself — fall in love with your disability and your body and be at peace with it.
Be proud of who are and (if you’re religious) the way God made you. You are unique, creative, and most of all beautiful, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of your disability. If you’re going on a dating site, don’t hide the fact that you have a disability. This goes back to accepting yourself — if you have low self-esteem, it will ultimately turn the person you’re interested in off. I’ve been in plenty of situations when I was single where I would start talking to a young man with a disability, but he had low self-esteem — he was angry at the world because he had cerebral palsy, and his parents wouldn’t make it any better, saying he wasn’t smart enough — and that was a big turnoff for me. I feel like parents have a lot of responsibility when it comes to pushing their children and motivating them, and I personally couldn’t see myself with somebody whose parents were opposite from mine. The parents’ mindset could pass on to the person you’re with, and it could affect you without you even noticing.
When it comes to dating with a disability, you have to set boundaries for yourself, just like everyone else. Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a standard for the way a partner should treat you. I have a particular standard: if you have an issue with my disability, then I will stop having an interest in you. If you’re not willing to support me and the decisions I make toward my health, then you’re gone. If you don’t respect me, you’re gone, but that’s like any relationship.
When it comes to being in a relationship, the one thing I most want people to understand is that you’re beautiful in your own way. Before you can find somebody, you have to embrace yourself and love yourself in your own skin regardless of your disability. If you don’t love yourself, how can you expect others to fall in love with you?