I am a member of a shocking (appalling, really) number of dating apps which means that the simple act of checking my messages can feel like drive-by ableism that I’ve brought down upon myself. Throughout my life, I have cultivated a well learned, low threshold for bull–it’s what has gotten me this far. For better or for worse, I can assess a person’s character in seconds with a precise level of accuracy. I don’t get tripped up, so I don’t fall. But if love means falling, then how can someone who’s spent their entire life trying to avoid the ground find love without injury?
A few days ago, I opened a message from a guy I’d been talking to for several days without incident. I told him about my disability and ripped that particular band-aid off and he seemed to accept the information without issue (have you ever sprung your disability on a date? Not fun). But Oh, what a difference a few hours makes in 2017. “I feel really sorry for you,” he wrote instead of his usual “how are you doing?” I was a mere tap from simply blocking his behind, but I decided otherwise. Instead, I asked “why?” to speed things up a bit, he didn’t really have a concrete answer for me but to say he thought that I would think of him as a better guy if I knew he pitied me. (Please take this moment to laugh out loud).
The rest of this story is somewhat more sordid, but this particular piece highlights my biggest hang-up with dating as someone with a disability: more often than not, in interacting with me, potential dates treat me like an ableist prop for their own social standing. This is a learned behavior, but I simply don’t have the energy to un-teach it, especially in a situation in which being vulnerable is hard in the first place. We are inundated with films and television shows that show able bodied characters as saviors when they date a disabled person and our friends share “inspirational” videos of smiling brides with their disabled husbands when clearly that’s just a match made in perseverance. And, arguably most damaging, are the interactions with people we care about where we’re told “someone will like what you have going on!”
Disability is an important part of my life, but unfortunately so is the internalized ableism I have to fight to know that I’m worthy of my own love story. Each time I’m about to swipe right, the stories that paint dating me as exceptional of my partner plague my thoughts. So, I’m going to say the following for me and anyone in my crutch (please insert own mobility device here): Dating someone disabled doesn’t make you my hero, exceptional or special and I don’t have to accept any relationship that makes me your social stepping stone. Getting to know me and loving me, I admit, is difficult, like hitting a wall but unfortunately, I’ve earned every brick before you. Treating me—any disabled person—like you’re in an episode of Touched by an Angel won’t get you far with us. We deserve love, not your ableist BS.