Disabled and Dating: A Valentine’s Day Special

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This blog was originally published on 14th February 2022.

I don’t think we acknowledge how much having a disability can impact our relationships. Both the effect it can have on existing relationships and its impact on forming new ones. Sometimes I envy kids; they have little to no social filter. They form bonds easily. However, making and retaining relationships as an adult is difficult, regardless of ability.

The lack of understanding and the stigma around having a disability can make it difficult to date. I did some research on disability and relationships to get a feel for people’s opinions. Some top results on google were, “Can you date someone with a disability?”, “Can people with a disability have a relationship?” and “Is it wrong to date someone with special needs?”

Obviously, you can date a disabled person. However, like every relationship, there will be challenges. So, in honour of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d pull the curtain back on my marriage. If only slightly.

I sat down with my husband, Sam, and asked him the questions people have asked me. While this is a romantic relationship, I want to stress that most of these points also relate to familial relationships and friendships.

A man and a woman are sat on a small sofa, kissing each other behind a fan.

Lauren: ‘Okay, so Sam, can you introduce yourself?

Sam: I’m Sam. I’m 29, and I’m able-bodied. I like video games and annoying you. We have been married since May, but together for about four and a half years.

How did we meet?

A mutual friend, wasn’t it? I worked with somebody who you previously worked with. And I think you’d stopped in to see her at one point. She pointed me out to you. I believe your exact reaction was, and I do quote, “Oh my God, I want to squish his cheeks.”

Sam has always been comfortable with my disability, but it has impacted our relationship. From people’s attitudes to daily living. It can be challenging but fun too. When we started dating, we both had to adjust. Sam needed to learn about my limitations and how I got around them. I had to learn how to rely on him and be vulnerable around him. I’m incredibly independent, so that was hard.

‘Do you think my having a disability impacts our relationship?’

I mean, yes, and no, at the same time. As far as, like, the emotional part of the relationship? Absolutely not. We’re two minds meeting. We understand each other, and we work well together. Physically your cerebral palsy does mean we have to adapt slightly. For example, I cook the most because it hurts if you stand for too long. Okay, I think we might need to problem solve sometimes, but we take it in stride.

‘Learning to be vulnerable with you about my disability was hard at first. When we were first dating, I remember that I wouldn’t let you come over if I was in pain or struggling to walk. I didn’t want you to pity me or, worse, realise that the disability was too much for you.’

When you started letting me see you like that, I only found it hard because I wanted to help but didn’t know how to. But I’ve figured that out too. If you’re having a bad leg day, I just give you a hot water bottle and loads of blankets and tea! You’re pretty low maintenance, actually.

‘{Laughs} Thanks, love. I do think that, actually, my mental health impacts us more. Because if my legs are bad and I need to rely on you a bit more than I normally do, then my depression and anxiety go haywire. Like, the physical stuff, we’ve got down to a tee. The mental health stuff is the curveball.’

‘I agree, but you deal with it well. And I don’t know anyone our age that isn’t tackling mental health one way or the other, so we’ve got plenty of people we can reach out to.’

A man is stood up behind a woman in a wheelchair. The main is leaning to the side to look at her face. They are both smiling and laughing.

We started to talk about people’s attitudes and how they affect us. Words hurt, but I’m used to the odd comment. I even let it slide most of the time because I know the questions and comments I get are out of ignorance. I’ve noticed that Sam sometimes struggles with it, though. I’ve also noticed no one ever says anything to him directly. He just hears about it from me afterwards.

‘What’s one of the things you find most challenging about people’s attitudes?’

I mean, I’ve not had anyone say something about our relationship to me. I know you have. It can annoy me because I feel like people view you as fragile or an inconvenience, and you’re not. You’re a person.

‘It’s breaking down those barriers, isn’t it? It’s about getting to know the individual and not just registering the wheelchair or the aids or the learning disability. It’s about breaking down preconceived notions. Which can be hard for people when society naturally tries to separate us for being different.’

Dating was a minefield for me. I’d be lying if said I wasn’t battling with internalised ableism. I understand that not everyone has a negative attitude to disability, but I’d experienced enough bad attitudes to be quite insular.

‘What’s your response to the idea that disabled people should only date other disabled people?’

It’s insanely backwards. And, it’s only non-disabled people that think that. And only a tiny group at that. But I can see why it would make you scared to form any relationship because you don’t know who thinks what.

‘It doesn’t help that people congratulated me for dating an able-bodied person. Like it’s an achievement. I don’t think it’s malicious, but it always makes me feel lesser. Almost like I’ve crossed some line by being with you.’

I’ve also noticed people stare a lot; they’re fascinated.

‘Oh, yeah. Don’t get me started on that. Being married means we must be intimate and disabled people get desexualised a lot. I’ve had people think you’re my career, and then I’ve watched them have a crisis when I’ve told them we’re married. I’ve noticed that people also assume that I don’t have mental capacity when I’m in my wheelchair, which feeds into the career narrative, which is ridiculous.’

I want this article to be positive. I want it to show that even if there are hurdles to overcome, that’s normal. It doesn’t matter what people think of a disabled person and their relationships and how they work. If you’re happy with yourself and your relationships, who cares? Whether you’re dating somebody, or you’re just going out and looking for friendship, or you want to expand your social circles. If you find people who accept and love you for you. It’s all good!

‘What do you want people to understand about being in a relationship with a disabled person? Whether romantic or in a friendship?’

I’m probably repeating myself a little bit here. But it’s the underlying theme that I think everyone needs to understand. Because I think some people say they do, but then they don’t.

A person is not their disability; they’re a human being. They’ve got feelings, they’ve got interests, they’ve got dreams. Take the time to know the person, not the disability.

A man and woman sat on a blanket at the beach, facing towards the sunset. They are leaning towards each other  with their foreheads touching.

About Bua

Bua was founded to increase disabled and neurodiverse employment and inclusion. Bua offers disability and neurodiversity workshops for organisations seeking to change their culture. They also offer courses for disabled and neurodiverse people wanting to improve their skillset – click here to see Bua’s course page. Get in touch to find out more.

About the author

Lauren is a freelance writer from Falmouth. After graduating from university, she took a keen interest in writing about disability, so her story and others like it could be told with passion and conviction.

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