Dating, for anyone, in today’s world can be awkward and confusing. First there’s trying to meet new people. Where exactly do single men in their 30s and 40s spend their free time? Then you have to decide what you really want in a potential partner or relationship. Once you’ve figured all that out you get to go through all the emotionally grueling parts of dating: the excitement and anticipation of first dates followed by the nerve-wracking “To call or not to call” self deliberation in the days that follow. You want to express interest, but don’t want to come off needy, right?
At least that’s what all the “experts” say. When you have a physical disability, that just amplifies the awkwardness and head spinning confusion! We have all the the same thoughts and concerns about meeting new people, but we have the added pressure of having to “address” our disability with a potential suitor.
We live in a society that still hasn’t normalized disabled people doing ordinary things like grocery shopping. People stare at me, as if they’ve just seen me walk on water simply because I’m loading groceries into my car. Imagine if they saw me on date! Cue in the oohhs and awwwws from the gawkers.
Am I Hot or Not?
Like any other tech savvy single woman I’ve ventured into online dating. Mostly, it’s just been liking photos, exchanging a few emails and maybe some text messaging. But every once in awhile there’s someone I think that I might like to actually meet. I would get a knot in my stomach. “You have to tell him” I’d think.
When I first started online dating I refused to disclose that I was disabled. I theorized that if a man got to know me, and really liked me the fact that I have a disability wouldn’t matter. I was young, and far less self assured than I am now. It was easy for me to pretend I wasn’t lying by omission. After all, they were all my real pictures.
Did it truly matter that I cropped out the wheelchair? That lead to a lot of disappointing first dates. I quickly learned I was not only cheating my dates out of having all the information about the person they were going to meet. I was also cheating myself out of the opportunity of meeting someone genuine who may not care that I am disabled, but would be more concerned with the fact that I was not forthcoming about it.
Lying by Omission?
So I made it a point to disclose. I remember the first guy I told. His name was Mike. In the late 90s there was a website called Hot or Not. It was completely superficial. No profiles. Just a bunch of pictures and you literally selected if you thought the person was “hot” or if they were “not.” Being a nerdy 18 year old with deformed limbs and terrible teeth, I was drawn to that website.
Something about receiving an email that a guy thought you were “Hot” fed my ego, at the time. I met Mike on that website. We were talking for awhile, and I really liked him. We wanted to meet. I wanted to give myself the best shot at having more than just a first date. I mustered up all the courage I could to tell him I was disabled.
Yet, I could only mange to blurt out: “ I can’t walk long distances.” At the time that was semi true. I only used my wheelchair at places that required a lot of walking, like amusement parks, or a trip to NYC. I did’t have the stamina to walk all day. Mike was nice about it and seemed unfazed by my admission. He replied, “Good to know! At least I know you’re not gonna drag me to the mall to walk around aimlessly all day on Saturday.”
I wasn’t sure If I should thank him for being supportive or give my “Can’t walk long distances” confession some context by throwing in something a little less ambiguous like “the ADA was made for people like me!”
The truth is I had no business dating in my teens and 20s. I was searching for someone to love, when I hadn’t even learned how to love myself. I was hoping a stranger from the internet would accept a part of me that I couldn’t even articulate,“I’m disabled” or “I have a disability.” It’s so easy to say now that I don’t even recognize the girl who struggled with it. Even though that girl hung around until my early 30s.
She was the pesky voice of self doubt. She was the reason I averted my eyes when passing a full length mirror. Self acceptance is a learned behavior. For me it was not one moment in time. I didn’t wake up one day absolutely in love with myself. It was a decade’s long journey.
Eventually how I perceived myself evolved. What I was unprepared for was the societal messaging surrounding disabled people and how ingrained that messaging had become in the psyche of men my age. That had not evolved.
If I had a nickel for every time I told a guy I had a disability or was a Little Person and they replied with some version of “I thought you said you had a job?” Or “Who do you live with?” I’d be a millionaire.
Disabled is not synonymous with unskilled, unemployed, or incapable. When I could get men to be able to wrap their minds around the fact that I am a fully functioning, independent, adult woman they wanted to know just how functioning.
The Question We’ve All Been Asked
I’ve been asked, more times than I care to remember if I am capable of having sex. The most infuriating part about that question is that men really feel like they are entitled to the answer! They have no qualms about asking upfront. I often wonder if I say “No” does all conversation just stop?
Once I got really annoyed. Some guy said “So I get you can’t walk but can you still like do stuff?” Me, naively thinking he was talking about activities I said “Sure, I can do plenty of things. I have lots of hobbies.” He said “No, like other stuff.” I realized this grown man was trying to ask if I could have sex, but he was talking about it like we were in eighth grade.
We hadn’t even gone out. Who knows if we would even like each other much less pursue an intimate relationship? I guess he wanted to be sure he wasn’t getting stuck with a girl who couldn’t pursue that. He continued to ask. I knew he wasn’t going to let up until I answered. Even though by this point I had lost all interest in him. I shot back, “Yes, I can have sex, but I won’t be having it with you!” Needless to say we never met.
When I get past all the awkward conversation and actually make plans I would secretly hope my date would suggest something I could physically do. I was so psyched when a guy asked me to go play miniature golf. There is no more perfect first date activity for the 3’ 11” woman with Brittle Bone Disease than mini golf!
Another guy guy asked me to meet him at a bar for a drink. Great! Not as simple as mini golf! Bar stools come up to my chest. This guy was about to see what I call “Little People Acrobatics” on full display. He pulled out my stool and immediately sat in the one next to me. “Dude, I need that!” I thought to myself .
Typically, to get on a bar stool I put one hand on the stool I’m going to sit on and the other hand on the adjacent one, hoist myself up, and in one swift move swing myself onto the stool. It’s not super graceful, and it normally draws the attention of strangers who stare expecting I’m going to fall.
My date looked at me perplexed as I surveyed all the stools in the bar area. Since he had just helped himself to a seat he took the only other free stool. “Do you need help” he asked sheepishly, as he stood with outstretched arms. I’ve never been the greatest at accepting help. I certainly was not about to let a man, I had just met pick me up. “No, I got this!” I replied, and he sat back down.
What’s a girl to do? I couldn’t stand there all night. So I slid my hand under his thigh and proceeded to push myself up like I normally would if his stool were empty. The look of sheer terror on his face was priceless. Poor guy didn’t know if he should stand up, help me or just sit there and enjoy the cheap thrill of my hand wedged under his butt. “Don’t worry, I do this all the time!” I said, in an attempt to normalize this very weird position he was in.
It’s not everyday you go on a first date with a Little Person and she shoves her hand under your butt!
Then there’s the painful sting of rejection. Everyone has dealt with that. It’s never fun. I think when you have a disability there’s this external factor that you have absolutely no control over.
You always wonder if that’s why you didn’t get a second date. Did he truly understand what I meant when I said I was a Little Person before we met? Did I do a good enough job emphasizing all the things I CAN do? Did he feel too uncomfortable with all the people staring at us? Was he worried that I need someone to take care of me?
I always want to ask those questions, but never get the chance. Only one guy ever admitted that my body “freaked” him out. I could have internalized that. I chose not to. I actually respected his honesty. I’m not naive to the fact that I look “different.” My body is extremely unique in its’ size and shape.
I don’t want to be with someone who feels like they are “settling” because I don’t look or move like other women. I want someone who will adore all three feet and eleven inches of me. Because this is me!
I bring all the same things to the table, as my non disabled counterparts. I have many of the same hopes and dreams. I just come packaged differently!
Everything I want in a partner is out there and in the eyes of that person, I will be everything they want! They will be impressed by my “Little Person Acrobatics.”
He won’t find it odd that I’ll walk an extra ten feet to the curb cut on the sidewalk. He’ll understand that my knees don’t agree with steps and I’m liable to fall if I try stepping off a curb. That’s something I’ve strategically been able to hide from all my dates.
“Most importantly, they will add to the love that I already have for myself and the woman I’ve become.”
Disability is not a hindrance in dating, but it sure does complicate things!
Taniya Faulk has Osteogenesis Imperfecta and dwarfism. She is a motivational speaker, writer and actress. Her memoir is currently in production. Her philosophy is “What defines you is so much bigger than what limits you.”
More to read…
Here’s another article about dealing with the dating dynamics for disabled females. https://www.audacitymagazine.com/lesson-in-love/