Q: I RECENTLY met a handsome guy in a wheelchair and he is asking me out. I kind of like him but have fears around dating a man with a disability. I have never dated anyone living with a disability before and have been thinking that it could be slightly different. I don’t have any experience at all with someone living with a disability. I am afraid that there will be challenges around our sex life and our quality of life. Will he be able to go out dancing with me and be comfortable in other social settings? I am worried that if I don’t invite him to some activities then I would be excluding him and if I invite him, what will happen if there are challenges and I seem insensitive? Could you give me advice on the things that I need to be aware of when dating a person living with a disability. – WORRIED
A: DATING any individual isn’t easy. Dating someone with a disability comes with its own set of issues. Our country, and certainly the world over, is still conservative about even openly talking about entering into a romantic relationship with a person with a disability. This is mostly due to people not wanting to be seen or come across as politically incorrect and insensitive. Hence, it is totally justifiable to have fears and anxieties around entering into such a relationship.
In the course of our daily work as relationship coaches, we come across numerous relationships like this. Moreover, we have a family member living with a physical disability. Here’s what we have learnt from these experiences, when it comes to dating people with disabilities:
¦ Treat him normally – Why do you have to assume your potential boyfriend can’t navigate through life in his condition? Your potential boyfriend will welcome genuine interest and you respecting his manner to share his own feelings, experiences and dreams. You’ll be surprised to learn that he’ll teach you a thing or two about his world. Just because you’re not exposed to his world, don’t assume he is abnormal in how he lives his life.
¦ Trust him to tell you what is good for him and what he needs – One of the biggest frustrations we hear able-bodied people express to people living with disabilities is that they did what they thought was something considerate and compassionate, only to have their partner with a disability respond with bewilderment, sadness or even anger. A good relationship for everyone, no matter who or where, is to just ask what someone needs instead of assuming you already know. Don’t tell your potential boyfriend what he should or shouldn’t be doing, eating or drinking. He already knows. He does need to let his hair down every now and then. He needs to go “walking” alone sometimes, without you worried that he might be run over by a car. He’s as independent and stubborn as you are. If he needs your help, he will ask. Stop trying to think for him or pitying him as though you know what it is like to walk in his shoes.
¦ Just because he can’t be on the dance-floor, doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to go to the party – If you get this one point, you would have averted half your frustration and conflict. Many times we deal with cases like yours, we always find that the able-bodied partner is more worried about their own selfish issues than the partner with a disability. The question always is, are you comfortable being seen in social spaces like parties with your partner with a disability? Like any partner, he wants to be incorporated into your life on all levels. You need to learn to do things as a couple. If he’s physically or mentally up to it, he’ll be there. But if he doesn’t want to be there, that’s fine too. It’s not the end if he doesn’t want to see your friend who makes wheelchair jokes or the aunt who squats down to talk to him like he’s a child.
¦ Your sex life will be just fine – perhaps even greater – Why wouldn’t it be great anyway? Are you planning to stop communicating what you need and want? Are you going to not reciprocate, shut down or gloss over his needs and wants? Those are deal-breakers and intimacy-killers even between able-bodied individuals. Chances are, if you’re attracted enough to someone to have sex with them, it’s going to bring down the mood if you’re not both enjoying it. Yes, some people living with disabilities have special considerations that they’ll want – or not want – to let you in on. But that’s part of the communication process we’re referring to.
FEARS AND ANXIETIES
The fears and anxieties of entering into a relationship with a person with a disability by able-bodied individuals is quite disempowering. We sometimes forget that we may begin a relationship as able-bodied partners, but later one of us can be confined to a wheelchair due to a possible accident. What will you do then? All you need to do is stop assuming that individuals with disabilities are unable and begin to strategise the best way to use individual strengths for the benefit of your relationship. Don’t deny yourself a potentially awesome relationship because of anxieties.