Online dating and I have a very dysfunctional relationship, mainly because I seem to have the apparent misfortune of attracting interesting and peculiar characters on dating websites. I usually am adamant about online dating for a month or so, and then give up due to the lackluster dating options available. Being someone who is a social butterfly, loves going out, and willing to try new things, my dating profile seems to attract men who are the complete opposite; though opposites may attract, these candidates were not compatible to me. After taking a yearlong break from online dating because of my previous frustrations with it, I decided to give it one more try because I am serious about finding love. I am a single woman who would like to spend her time with someone special. I love my independence, but even an independent woman needs a romantic companion to be a support while she takes the world by storm. So, at 30 years old, I believe this is the time to look for that companion, and to build a partnership that will uplift and fulfill the need I have in sharing my space and love with someone.
I’m tired of the “Woe Is Me” dating narratives for disabled women. As a disabled woman I know and thoroughly understand the struggles of dating while disabled, which, in some ways, has contributed to my online dating mishaps. People erroneously believe that disabled women are not interested in dating, will date just anyone, or cannot be “picky” because we should be grateful to have someone being willing to date us in the first place. All of these offensive ideas stymie our ability to confidently date online and in person, as well as allow potential romantic suitors to view us equally as our able-bodied counterparts. Some disabled women shy away from dating altogether due to these inaccurate views surrounding our sexuality, femininity, ‘womanness’, and ‘dateability’. There are many articles online about our fears in finding love at all, struggles with accepting ourselves and combating what society says about who and what we should be, and trusting the attention we do receive and not dismissing it for politeness. These narratives are indeed important to addressing the challenges we endure; however, there are fewer articles that candidly detail what dating with a disability as a woman looks like once we refuse to internalize the sexism and ableism surrounding our identities, bodies, and dating potential.
At 30 years old I am the most confident I have ever been–-from my body to the talents, personality, and presence I will bring into a relationship. It took me a long time to gain this level of self-assurance and to realize that I am just as deserving of love, and healthy and fulfilling partnerships, as anyone else – having a disability does not diminish that at all. I fully love the image I see in the mirror; both flesh and bone, and metal, rubber, and plastic. I truly see what everyone else has been telling me all these years: I am a pretty (and to some, sexy), smart, educated, caring, talented, exciting, energetic, and fun woman–the complete package that any man would be glad to date and share a life with. Though I had heard it from those I knew it took me years to internalize these positive statements about myself, which countered the societal ones that focused on my disability and stripped me of my personhood, ‘womanness’, and desirability.
I wholeheartedly understand that I do not have to settle for any old kind of relationship simply because I am in a wheelchair or disabled. I deserve a good, healthy partnership and to date men who value me and see all of me–disability and beyond. I do not have to hide my disability because truthfully, it is kind of difficult to conceal 20-30 pounds of titanium and rubber. As my favorite Mary J. Blige song would say, “Take me / As I am / Or have nothing at all” – If I cannot be who I am with potential partners, then those are not the persons I need to be involved with, plain and simple. It may sound harsh, but when you love yourself unconditionally, you cannot go back to receiving less from others, and will only expect others to love you in the same manner.
There is a need for more racially diverse stories about dating with a disability. Not only is there a need for more diverse narratives when it comes to what we experience in the dating world, there is an even greater need for racial diversity to exist. I find that disabled White women write many of these narratives, which is completely fine, but what about disabled Black, Asian, Native and Latina/Latinx, biracial and multi-ethnic women who date? Where are their stories, and most importantly, who are telling our/their stories? Disabled women of color do date and have to combat additional struggles when you factor race (and possible racism and fetishization) into our ability to be confident and foster healthy and loving partnerships that respect all of the identities we possess. For me, being Black is just as important as being disabled and female–you cannot ignore one and claim to see the whole me. Intersectionality is especially dire in allowing disabled women from all racial and ethnic backgrounds to hear stories from women, who have endured and conquered against racism, sexism, and ableism while dating, and learn from their experiences and feel empowered so that they too can find what they are looking for.