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Dating with disabilities

Posted Mar 14 2008 6:40pm

DG reader Sherri asks:

I recently met a man online who had one arm. We talked on email and by phone for about a month before meeting because we live 60 miles apart. When I finally met him, he was cute, funny, smart — but I could not get past the disability, which was more unusual than it appeared in the picture he’d posted.

As the date progressed, it seemed that he could tell that I was withdrawing because he seemed to get more and more needy, trying too hard to please. We parted, he asked to see me again, I said “sure” because I just couldn’t bear telling him to his face that there was no connection. When I got home, I immediately emailed him and said that I didn’t feel there was a romantic connection, wished him well, and thanked him for the date. He emailed 6 more times before finally fading away.

I feel really crummy about this — shallow and hurtful. I’ve told myself that it was his neediness that turned me off, but deep down inside I know that I’d shut down because of his disability. Is this something you’ve ever experienced? Or known anyone who has? I’d love some feedback — not to try to change the way I feel about the man, but to better understand my own visceral reaction. I mean, it’s the soul and heart of the person is what’s important, right? Am I alone in my reaction?

What a sensitive and thoughtful question. Good that you noticed what was happening with you and explored your feelings about it, and for letting him down as kindly as you could.

It’s an unfortunate fact that many people wouldn’t have accepted a date invitation from someone they knew had a disability. It seems harsh, since you point out he had a great personality and was cute to boot!

Yet most of us have an image of who we see ourselves being with. Some of these projections are delusional — the slouch imagining herself with an underwear model; the unkempt nerd longing for his “match” of a model. So when someone approaches us who doesn’t fit our picture of our match, it’s easy to dismiss him.

wheelchair man While I’ve not been in your situation with a date, I did find myself strongly attracted to a colleague in a wheelchair a few years ago. We hit it off really well, getting close by working on a months-long project. he was smart, accomplished, witty, warm and charming. I found myself being drawn to him although he was married at the time. I wondered if he weren’t married could I see myself with him? I imagined our life together. There were so many things this man did that I admired. It seemed there were few things he didn’t attempt, including riding all-terrain vehicles, “walking” on the beach (in his wheelchair, of course), driving a motor home, traveling the world. I decided that yes, I could see myself with him. But it became a moot point as he died within the year of my crush. Later, I learned he and his wife were talking about divorce. I wondered what might have happened if he lived and they divorced.

Another dear friend survived two accidents, one left him unable to use his legs, the other left him burn scars over 80% of his body, including his face. Yet he is rarely without a beautiful woman at his side. He’s been married 3 times! He is charming, thoughtful, intelligent, accomplished and giving.

We all want to be loved for exactly the way we are. Yet many of us feel that there is something wrong with us no matter how many limbs we have or don’t have. Some of us carry our disabilities in our head; others are outwardly noticeable. The outward ones are the ones that show someone’s mettle. They have had to learn how to live differently and deal with others’ perception of them. If they are happy in life, you know they have overcome lots of obstacles to achieve this.

Does this mean you should reconsider going out with this man? Not necessarily. But if he has many of the qualities you’re looking for why not give him a second chance? I have found if a man isn’t immediately physically attractive to me, he can become so when I get to know him a little better and experience the treasure inside. Soon he gets cuter!

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