Dating with Disability: Keeping My Mind Cynical and My Heart Open

Dating with Disability: Keeping My Mind Cynical and My Heart Open

Would he give me “the look”?

During the week leading up to my first date in what felt like a lifetime, I pondered this question repeatedly. Online dating can become complicated when navigating life with a physical disability. The emphasis of potential compatibility based on physical appearance is augmented with online dating rituals. After my birthday earlier this month, I took the plunge to explore this realm after nearly a decade’s hiatus.

One of the most prominent differences in online dating between my previous experiences and my current one is that men seem to want to meet much sooner. After what seemed to be a jovial, flirtatious interchange with one potential suitor, he asked to meet. I agreed, already anticipating any number of hypothetical responses he might have upon learning that I have a disability. “The look” is an all-encompassing term for what I’ve come to know as a countenance displaying surprise, disappointment, nebulous indifference, and rejection, simultaneously. I’ve observed it throughout my online dating interludes and will undoubtedly see it again.

No shortage of advice exists online about how to approach online dating with a disability. Given the oversaturation of technological connection opportunities, it seems likely that people may connect through this kind of modality. I’ve read several advice columns recommending that people with disabilities “confess” early on in the exchange. Frankly, the concept of doing so makes me cringe.

What message are we encouraging about disability when we make it a focal point of human interaction? If I were to inform a potential date about my disability before meeting him, not only would I be identifying this label as a primary status for myself, but I would also be giving it immense negative power. This idea makes me feel as though having a disability is a crime, a blemish on my résumé for which to beg pardon.

My disability does not define me. Should I make a point of informing a stranger about cerebral palsy, something about which he is unlikely to have knowledge, I’m dehumanizing myself. Simultaneously, I am providing him with a way out. If, by telling him that I have a disability, I’m allowing him to change his mind about me as a potential mate, what would I be saying about my self-worth?

My definition of disability is rarely reflected to me by society. I believe that the totality of physical characteristics that comprise my so-called disability is nothing more or less than what it appears to be. It is only through our culture that we label and assign meaning to the amalgamation of these physical characteristics.

You might be unsurprised that I chose not to mention my disability before meeting the aforementioned online match. Although this decision isn’t one I’ve needed to second guess, I still felt an escalating sense of doom over the idea of reading his facial expression upon seeing me for the first time. How would my wobbly movement, involuntary twitches, and uncoordinated gait reflect in his face? Would his expression change at all?

Previous dating experiences have conditioned me to believe that my disability can be a deal breaker. Knowing that it can quickly reveal the nature of somebody’s character is a golden nugget to hold onto — however small. People have many assumptions about what disabilities mean specifically concerning procreation, sexual ability, and desire. As these topics are culturally taboo, we rarely have a chance to speak openly about our needs and abilities. Therefore, when I saunter into a coffee shop, tip into a seat, slosh my drink over the edges of the glass, and smile, I feel as though I have bricks of erroneous assumptions stacked against me.

Nonetheless, as dismal as my outlook may seem, I have to remember that the opportunities to meet and connect with people who will see me for me are vast. So, I venture out into the world, untamed hair wild, mind cynical, but heart open and hopeful.

“Hello, I’m Briana. Nice to meet you.”

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Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.

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