Over the past few months, I have been relatively busy over the past few months – attending hospital appointments, travelling to Scotland for a family graduation, seeing friends before the uni year commenced, and OH I downloaded Tinder.
My experience with Tinder has been interesting – I’ve had only decent encounters with people who I matched with, and every single person didn’t seem to care (via messages that is) that I was in a wheelchair. However, putting my wheelchair bound tush out there has been somewhat of a learning experience, and has highlighted issues I wish to elaborate on here.
My dating life began at age 17 – so I want to stress that I’ve never dated someone without chronic illness being a prominent ‘issue’. I don’t think it ever got in the way of my relationship by any means, but it did spur remarks or questions from people regarding my disability and whether it interfered with intimate elements of my relationship.
Those of us with chronic and/or mental illness(es) have heard time and time again questions like “what happened to you?” and “will you always be in a wheelchair?”. This is applicable in all social situations but particularly from ‘interested parties’. Why that would be a part of someone’s dating criteria I’m not sure, but it appears that so many of us get asked such invasive questions, almost as easily as asking someone whether they’re a cat person or a dog person.
British shorthair or daschund? Oh, and are you ever gonna be able to reach the top shelf in Tesco or?
I’ve had the honour of corresponding with disabled content creators on Instagram, and a considerable amount has received highly inappropriate messages regarding their physical appearance, and sex lives – along with backhanded compliments such as “you’re so pretty for a disabled woman”. Therefore this just shows how widespread the views towards disabled individuals in a romantic/sexual context are so different from those of able-bodied, or at least able presenting, individuals.
How does the translate into my personal experience with online dating?
Well, I was lucky in that I haven’t received too many comments or questions regarding my disability. However, I did find myself selecting photos of me in my wheelchair and trying to make light of the fact that I couldn’t walk – not because I wanted to, but because I worried that without doing so, disclosing my disability may provoke hurtful responses which I could avoid; and lessen the shock people may feel when they see me literally rolling up to the restaurant.
Plus I felt the need to try and compensate for the fact that I wasn’t able to do some of the things their other matches could do, but I was funny and easy-going. That even though I wouldn’t be able to dance with them, walk down the street holding hands, or be reflected in what they had always pictured an ideal relationship to be like, that I would still be a desirable choice.
As someone who has lived with chronic illness for as long as they can remember, but has been a wheelchair user for a few years, I have observed unfair and hypocritical behaviour towards disabled folk when it comes to dating, hence why I grew to feel the need to compensate. Growing up I have known many people to say that they wouldn’t date someone who’s paralysed because it would make sex difficult, or someone with limb loss because it would ‘freak them out’. The same goes for people with other disabilities, as many think of it as a burden to ‘take on other people’s problems’. These toxic attitudes are what caused me to have this subconscious automatic response to someone projecting these societal perceptions onto me, because it was something I encountered quite often.
This made me feel like dating would inevitably mean someone having to take on my ‘problems’, i.e. the nature of my condition, and compromise if they were to choose me over someone else.
However, after a while, I once met someone who made me realise that it was entirely possible for someone to think entirely differently. Nothing is a burden, and the wheelchair is just a unique part of our relationship. My needs are always fully accommodated, and THIS is what true dating should be like for those with chronic conditions; this is was it took for me to realise how my mindset prior to that relationship was so warped.
I truly believed, and still believe we should all be loved and accommodated regardless of our conditions, yet I was willing to accept that people could see it as a compromise, and deep down could view my condition as burdensome. This led me to wonder how many people do this, and feel this way, and what it could take for us to independently realise our flawed mindsets and alter them.
I have a few ideas, number one being to seek mutual support and viewpoints from people in the chronic illness community (respectfully of course). Secondly, representation is vital and there’s very little representation of disabled people in the media. So allies if you’re reading this, please consciously seek out disabled creators or figures, and support their work if it appeals to you. Educate yourself on issues disabled people face, and how you can help. Then join us in our fight for equality by supporting accessibility campaigns, signing petitions calling for media giants to be inclusive, and then use your privilege by passing the mic to us.
What I wish for those of you with a disability who are dating – or even looking to date someone, to take away from this post is: that by setting boundaries for yourself and really ensuring that your mindset and perceptions of yourself, your worth, acceptable attitudes from others, and what you wish to gain from a relationship, are healthy – and that you truly won’t stand for toxic behaviour from others. Especially if you can’t stand at all(!)
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