Dating with a disability: advice for people with disabilities entering the world of romance

Image of a person with a disability in bed with partner
Need some dating advice?

Almost everyone knows the feeling of uncertainty, fear, and excitement triggered by the chance to spend time or go on a date with someone you are interested in. The heart-pounding when you see your crush walk by, pre-date jitters when picking out an outfit – these are not unfamiliar feelings. However, this uncertainty around dating and relationships can often be heightened for people with disabilities. How will the other person respond to a disability? If it is an invisible or not obviously-apparent disability, when should it be disclosed? Is it required to even share information about a disability at all, or is that more of a third date conversation? Luckily, many different disability rights activists are speaking out and giving advice on the topic of dating with a disability. Lucy Edwards, whose YouTube channel has over 20,000 subscribers, is addressing the topic through her videos, below, and writer Andrew Morrison-Gurza has addressed the concerns often faced by people with disabilities as they enter the dating world in the Huffington Post article, Boys in Chairs: Body Image, Boyfriends, Sexuality and Self-Image — What It’s Like to Be Inside Our Intersectionality.

Morrison-Gurza, who self-identifies as a ‘Queer Crip’ argues that often times when relationships involving a person with a disability are discussed, the conversation focuses on how the able-bodied person is responding to the disability, rather than looking at the perspective of the person with the disability. The emphasis is on convincing everyone else that the person with the disability is “viable,” i.e. still capable of going on an average date, still able to have sex, etc. While these are important aspects around breaking stereotypes about people with disabilities, Morrison-Gurza makes the point that it is just as important, if not more so, to consider the thoughts, fears, feelings, and uncertainties of people with disabilities in regards to dating and relationships. Drawing on his own experiences, as well as discussions with peers with disabilities in the LGBTQ community, Morrison-Gurza has identified three common concerns felt by people with disabilities in regards to dating: body image, help/personal care, and ‘boyfriends’.

Morrison-Gurza argues that the issue of body image is amplified for people with disabilities because they often cannot work out as much or in the same way as the majority of their prospective partners. In addition, according to the author many people with disabilities are suspicious when someone does give them a genuine compliment due to the frequency of receiving patronizing or inspiration-porn-inspired compliments. Around the idea of the help/personal care concern, Morrison-Gurza states that, “One of the most anxious moments of any date for a cripple is that moment wherein you realize that you actually need help with something.” He continues; “Imagine you have survived a night of awkwardly navigated crip-sex (and the guy actually stayed the night), only for you to wake up and need to pee. Under normal circumstances, you’d call your care-worker in to help, or pee in your leg bag (urine bag) and take care of this. No can do. This beautiful stranger who actually stuck around, can never actually know how much work is involved with you…you must pass as able at all costs.” Finally, the ‘boyfriend’ concern comes from the commonly-felt fear that a partner will gradually turn into an attendant, rather than a lover.

Morrison-Gurza concludes his piece with an insight for both people with disabilities interested in dating, as well as for their potential partners. However, both offerings of advice seem to be connected through the common foundation of the fact that no-one really knows what they are doing – there are no strict rules, there is no recipe for perfection. Yet, if both people in the relationship understand that there will be uncertainty, and that they are in the good company of many others who have experienced similar situations, then a genuine, giving relationship is not too far out of the question.

Morrison-Gurza makes many solid points, and personally, I stand firmly behind almost everything he says, which is why I wanted to share his thoughts over here with our Rooted In Rights readers. However, I would like to make a point of clarification – my interpretation of Morrison-Gurza’s article is that he is making the assumption that the relationship within question are between one able-bodied person with no disabilities, and another person with a physical disability. This is an extremely valid view of dating for Morrison-Gurza, seeing as he uses a wheelchair and seems to have experience dating able-bodied people. Yet, there are many different combinations of disabilities possible when it comes to dating, and the thoughts and fears explained above are just as valid for a person with a mental illness entering the dating world, or a person with a physical disability entering into a relationship with a partner who has an invisible disability, or two people with disabilities dating.

On the other hand, Lucy Edwards’ video, Blind Life Hacks: First Dates, below, offers practical advice for navigating a dinner date when you have a disability and it is time to actually go on your first date. Edwards focuses on dating while blind, sharing knowledge learned from her personal experiences with suggestions such as, “Don’t hunch over your food, there is a tendency to do this when blind. I know, I tend to always do it,” and, “Systematically eat around your plate,” in order to avoid “[missing] the food you’re really, really wanting.”

However, the majority of the advice given in the video is relevant for any individual who wants to make a good first impression and avoid making a fool of themselves, such as the tips; “Order solid food so you won’t make a mess,” and, “Have a set position for your drink, as this is easier to access, and you are less likely to spill it over your date.”

In the end, people are people, mistakes will happen, and sometimes the person you are going on a date with turns out to be horrible. But, as emphasized through Morrison-Gurza’s and Lucy Edwards’ experiences, dating with a disability is not an impossible thing – in fact it is very, very possible. And with every day, more knowledge is shared, more awareness is raised, and it gets a little bit easier.

This video may begin with a commercial which was not chosen by or for the benefit of Rooted in Rights.

Emily Pate is a third-year student at Seattle University interested in Strategic Communications, learning Spanish, and working with non-profits. Her work for Rooted In Rights is focused on discussing current events in the community of people with disabilities. Her experience previous to Rooted In Rights includes writing broadcasts for KBOO radio in Portland, OR, and managing a neighborhood blog in the Seattle community. In addition to work, Emily enjoys drawing, spending time with her friends and family, and backpacking.

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