Online dating is more common than meeting people by chance nowadays. With everybody unable to function without a device firmly glued in the palms of their hand, highly controlling almost all aspects of their daily lives – it’s easy to recognise dating has simply accompanied the times.
Yet before dating was sought after, rather than waiting for it to naturally occur, people with disabilities utilised online dating as the most accessible way to find and build romantic relationships, disabled people – like me…
My 1st encounters with online dating were back in 2003 when I was just 15. While my peers had been on the dating scene since they hit puberty, sneaking behind the science portacabins for some discreet snogging and coo-ing over who’d bag a date with the most popular lad or lass in the class – I wasn’t part of that. It’s not that I didn’t crave to date or share the same curiosity to explore my sexuality as they did. It was simply because secondary school antics of the dating kind were accessible to everybody except if you had a disability. That combined with the fact I was painfully shy and introverted (believe it or not) made for a bit of a delay before I joined with my peers in on the dating game.
When I did take the plunge and recognised online dating to be the most accessible way for me to get out there and meet people, I decided I wanted to try a disabled ONLY dating site. Why? You may ask. Now, this was down to personal preference. I’m not and never have been a 1-night stand type of girl, I was looking for somebody who had common interests so that there’d be a good chance of it developing into a nice relationship. However long or short didn’t matter. I knew from a very young age I wanted to find someone that could relate to me. It was more important (in my books) to receive emotional support in terms of my health from a potential partner than it was to have a big, buff boyfriend who would *never* (no offence able guys) “get it” the way I’d need them to. So that meant in order for a guy to truly “get it” or get me rather – as if he had a disability of some kind too. So there I found myself on DisabledUnited, no idea if it’s still around but that was the first dating site I tried.
Sadly I gave up on that site after a month as it just wasn’t for young people, back then it was all people 30+ and getting into a relationship with a MUCH older guy wasn’t my thing – nor do I think my parents would be very impressed!
Fast forward a tad, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give the run of the mill dating sites a try. By this point, I’d had 1 long term relationship, had a break and was ready to get back on the saddle!
I found myself on free online dating sites such as Plenty Of Fish and Oasis. Still living at home and relying on the bank of Mum and Dad, a girl couldn’t be forking out for no eHarmony. No matter how appealing their match questionnaires appeared. I’d just have to pluck the weeds on my own.
Like many wheelchair users, when it comes to creating a dating profile we never know whether to mention the disability or not. Or if it’d be in our best interests to upload a photo showing or not showing our chairs. On one hand, you could argue, why hide it? The disability is a part of you and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. On the other, the reality is – even in a photo you’re more likely to have them see your wheelchair before you – just as the case is face-to-face. Which totally defeats the beauty of online dating, where you get to show the individual what you want them to see first, the best of you!
Originally I decided to be honest, it’s not like I could hide my powerchair when meeting any guys off the site for real and they could see it as being deceitful otherwise – I’ve seen this happen before. The disabled person not declaring the disability until the person has got to like them, it’s all going well and they want to meet and BOOM! The disability bomb is dropped and suddenly the able person forgets all the common interests, flirty chats, initial attraction because many people just can’t see past the disability. It’s so very sad.
I used some nice photo shoot photos that made me feel sexy and confident. Picking a head shot of one, where my headrest is in the background and briefly mentioned I was a wheelchair user in my profile. Now don’t get me wrong, some guys – scratch that – 80% of guys do not read the girls profile. All that time and effort basically selling the best of yourself in a big essay is totally wasted on some people. This is likely how somebody had a light bulb moment and invented Tinder…
Yet as I was open about my disability, guys felt it was appropriate to message me with the opening line;
“Hey babe, not being funny like but can you still have sex?”
No flattering compliment on my photos, no comparison of common interests – they wanted to know such an intimate detail about me before even giving me the time of day. The 1st few times this same opening line came up, I’d educate them that disabled people are NOT asexual. In fact, we are naturally more creative in bed due to our limitations! Thankfully I don’t take offence easily and I put it down to ignorance, perhaps lack of contact with anybody with a disability in their family or circle, but the more this happened the less passionate I became to attempt to challenge the stigma with Every, Single, One of them in defence of the disabled community. It got old, it got depressing, it started to get to me. Try as I might power against the tide of ignorance in the dating pool, I began to ask myself if I was even desirable. I remember a guy following up the “can you have sex?” question with the honesty that if my answer was no, it would be a deal breaker for him and that’s why he was asking it first as he didn’t want to waste my time as much as his. I could see the admirable side of his brutal honesty, at least he gave me an explanation unlike the other guys as to why he wanted to know this intimate detail up front, it didn’t do anything for my confidence. With every message about sex, my confidence took a knock. The sheer strength of the stigma that disabled people can’t or don’t have, nor want sexual intimacy hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like I consumed the stigma, that the stigma itself made me asexual.
That’s when I took my honesty out my profile, taking away their ability to judge me on my condition before me and changed my photos to where my chair was hidden. I felt almost ashamed of my disability as if these sites weren’t for people like me and I didn’t have a right to be looking for a date. So I concealed.
The difference was like night and day. Suddenly I was being called “Beautiful,” “Sexy,” “Gorgeous” and no one asked me about sex. Yes, like I’d been warned one guy did get his knickers in a twist when I told him I was actually in a wheelchair before we met. He called it all off, but that only showed me he wasn’t the man for me. I deserved better.
After that I met a guy, we talked for 2 weeks about life and decided to meet. This time when I confessed I was a wheelchair user, he wasn’t phased and then he confessed he was visually impaired. That was 7 years ago and we’ve lived together for 6 and have 2 beautiful little girls – that, of course, meant we’d of had to have sex for that to be even possible!
Ultimately online dating gave me a thicker skin, though not initially but I’ve learnt you can only educate ignorance. Most importantly if a guy asks you about sex on the first message or two, you know then and there where his priorities lie and after that it’s up to you whether you think you deserve better. I’ll tell you right here and now, if you’re a disabled woman reading this and dabbling in the online dating pool – you are MORE than a sexual object and you deserve to be loved and respected for the wonderfully sexy woman you are. If they are the right guy/girl for you, your disability won’t matter in any way, shape or form – including beneath the sheets!
This post is part of the @MDBloggersCrew “After Dark” collab! See below for further blog posts from this series…
My Tinder Experience – Ross Lannon
Valentine’s Special Q & A – Carrie Aimes
Let’s Talk About Sex Baby! – Kerry Thompson
Disability, Sex and Dating as a Wheelchair user – Emma Muldoon