Like most people in their later 20’s, as a 27-year old woman, I dream about that day when I will meet my soul mate and eventually marry and start a family with him. Yet, it can be challenging for me to meet prospective dating partners who can look beyond my cerebral palsy and take the time to really get to know the woman who lives inside of me.
It was not until very recently that I had gotten up the nerve to get out there and join a bowling group for single adults that gets together every Saturday night. I decided to join the bowling group with the mindset that even though I probably would not be able to bowl with the group, it would, nevertheless, put me in a social setting where I could increase my chances of meeting someone special.
At first, I had worries about how the other people in the bowling group would take to me and whether they would think it was crazy for me to join their group if I was not sure I even would be able to bowl with them.
Needless to say, though, the other people in the group and I had wound up taking very well to one another.
In fact, one of the men in the group, who is turning out to become a really good friend, had gone the extra mile to find out if the bowling alley where we bowl had a special ramp designed to make bowling easier for people with disabilities to allow them to bowl by simply rolling the bowling ball down the ramp.
Similarly, it also pleased me to see the others in the group taking my desire to meet someone special just as seriously as they would anyone else.
Although I still have yet to meet my special someone, I know I have taken the first step towards making that dream come true simply by joining a group for singles.
While it is easy to see that my experience of having joined a group for single adults has been a positive one, many disability activists would point out that the experience of entering “the dating world” as a person with a disability often is not a favorable one.
In her article “Dating is Hell on Wheels”, published in the January/February 2003 issue of Off Our Backs, New York City resident Michelle Leahy stresses that although people living in her region have a very open-minded attitude towards people with disabilities, this open-minded attitude does not extend over into the area of dating.
Leahy explains that dating in New York City, in and of itself, is hard enough for people who do not having disabilities. As a woman unable to walk and dependent on a wheelchair, however, Leahy discusses that she finds it very difficult to meet any men who are looking for women other than those who resemble women found on the cover of Glamour magazine.
Nevertheless, Leahy acknowledges that she does date. In fact, Leahy shares the experiences she had had of getting back into the dating scene after ending a one-year relationship. Leahy’s experience of reentering the dating world reminded her of how difficult having a disability makes it for one to enjoy causal dating. Leahy attributes the reason why disabled people find it difficult to enjoy causal dating to long-held misconceptions that people with disabilities are “asexual”.
Long-held misconceptions of disabled people as being asexual are fueled by media portrayals of people with disabilities. When the media portrays disabled people, the portrayals are rarely, if ever, shown in a romantic context.
Katie Leason, author of “Cupid’s Arrows Miss”, appropriately timed to have been published for Valentine’s Day in the February 10, 2005 issue of Community Care, further examines the obstacles presented for disabled people in the dating world by illustrating the frustrations Geoffrey Long, a man living with blindness, encountered when going out on his first date at the age of 17.
As this had been his very first date, it was shocking for Long to learn how others could react with such little understanding of his desire to date and not comprehend why his date would chose to go out with someone disabled by blindness. It was not soon after when Long realized that it was not uncommon for other people to react negatively to disabled people in the dating world.
Nonetheless, Long was no less determined to get out there and enjoy the adventures of dating.
At the same time, Long’s blindness causes him to be met with unique challenges when dating.
One particular challenge is that he needs to give thought to what types of places and things his date and he can do that would be both enjoyable and practical. For example, since his blindness prevents him from enjoying films, it is not sensible for Long to take his dates to see a movie. This leaves Long to prefer to spend time with his dates going to restaurants and taking walks.
Another challenge Long encounters when preparing to date is that his blindness prevents him from being able to look around a room to see if there are any women in the room he may be interested in dating and catching a particular woman’s attention before another man catches it.
Long explains that because he cannot look around a room to see if there are any women in the room he may be interested in dating, he has to rely on other people to introduce him to women who might be a good match for him.
Still, Long says that he does not have a hard time meeting women.
Leason, however, reports that the majority of people with disabilities do not find it as easy to meet potential dating partners, as in the case of Long. Instead, as perceived by Anne Pridmore, a woman unable to walk as the result of having cerebral palsy, societal misconceptions held about disabilities cause dating to be more difficult for disabled people.
In Pridmore’s eyes, the keep component that makes dating more challenging for disabled people is the attitudes others hold towards people with disabilities.
Similar to how Leahy describes people living in New York City as being very open-minded about disabled people except when it comes to dating, Pridmore emphasizes that even though it is now the 21st century and great strides have been made to better the lives and encourage society to be more opened-minded towards people with disabilities, this has not held true in the area of sexuality.
Since the time at which her husband, who also has a disability, ended their twenty-year marriage, Pridmore has gone out with many men who do not have disabilities.
Yet, Pridmore exclaims that many times the men only desired to be friends with her. To Pridmore, the men saw her as being “a perfect vehicle” to unload their problems and quickly lost interest in her when the issue of sex had come up. The men could not conceive of the idea that Pridmore would wish to have anything more than a friendship with them.
In May 2005, Paraplegia News featured an article written by rehabilitation therapist Stanley Ducharme, entitled “The Dating Game”, advising people about how to reenter the dating scene after spinal cord injury (SCI).
As a therapist who visits patients in rehabilitation centers, Ducharme says patients often ask him how they can establish sexual relationships again. Some of the types of questions Ducharme is asked include: “How do I meet women?”, How do I start dating?”, “How do I get into a relationship?”, and “Where do I find a sexual partner?”.
As in the cases of people with other types of disabilities, adults with SCI are faced with unique obstacles, making meeting new people and dating more challenging.
The obstacles are those related to issues of transportation, medical matters, finances, personal care, and accessibility. Additionally, SCI causes people to confront emotional issues that may make meeting new people and, later, establishing romantic relationships with others more difficult.
While many already had found it to be awkward to approach someone new before their injury, the move of approaching someone new can become even more intimidating after SCI.
Ducharme, however, suggests that there is really no secret to meeting a potential sexual partner after SCI. That special someone can turn up virtually anywhere. Intimate relationships are just as likely to evolve between friends who have known each other for many years, as they are to evolve between two strangers who have just met.
Throughout his career of working with patients, Ducharme has come to realize that the “whole dilemma” of dating and being sexual after SCI can be summed up with one simple explanation. The explanation is that, for a multitude of different reasons, after having endured SCI, men and women seem to forget “the art of flirting” and sending someone the appropriate signals to let the person know they would like to get to know them. Ducharme finds that people in wheelchairs rarely flirt.
Unfortunately, because of this, potential partners tend not to respond to them.
The key to signaling one’s interest and being an active participant in the dating game is to feel secure about one’s own attractiveness. Once one is confident about her own attractiveness, she must display this confidence to others.
Ducharme puts that notion into the following perspective: Sexually active adults stick to one simple rule. This one simple rule is that if a person wants others to perceive him as being sexy, then he first must consider himself as being sexy. To send other people the message that he considers himself to be sexy, it is very important that he maintains good posture when sitting, maintains eye contact with others, smiles, converses, is witty, and presents himself with confidence.
On the other hand, if this man was to appear slumping, looking as if he is sad, and avoiding eye contact with others, he is sending those around him the message: “Don’t look at me; I am not attractive enough, and I am having a tough time.”
Amy L. Benimoff, M.A., is president of Diverse Researching, Inc. and the publisher of Unlimited Potentials, a publication that examines a wide variety of issues encountered in the lives of people with disabilities and other life-alternating health conditions.
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