Recently, I’ve seen many people in my chronic illness support groups expressing that either their long-term relationships are falling apart or that they want to get out and date but worry about how their disability will interfere with being able to get a second date. I’ve been living with disabilities for multiple years and only met my current girlfriend about a year and a half ago so I’ve seen some misconceptions come up. I want to lay out the 7 big ones I see and explain why those misconceptions are nonsense.
Disabled People Can’t Handle Romantic Relationships
This is one that stems from the tendency to infantilize disabled people. We treat disabled people like children so often that we internalize the idea that they wouldn’t want things like romantic relationships or sex. I understand how this kind of idea can be helpful for actual children as imagining a 5-year-old falling in love is awkward and not really developmentally appropriate. However, when we look at disabled adults, most are developmentally ready and mentally capable of having full adult relationships.
A way to illustrate this idea is that someone I follow on Instagram recently posted about how she drove for the first time in 2 years since the onset of seizures. She has spent those 2 years learning how to manage her seizures and work up to being able to drive a car. When she posted her excitement about being able to drive, some people berated her for being irresponsible and reckless. As someone who has seizures and doesn’t drive as they occur too frequently to make me feel confident to drive, it frustrated me to see such bullshit. I have a 12 tab planner with 24 extra sections filled with all the medical nonsense I have to keep track of to really manage my condition. When I feel confident enough to drive like the person I follow on Instagram, I will have plenty of charts to make doctors happy to clear me to drive. But because we aren’t seen as capable adults, we are chastised for children while often being more responsible than the people chastising us.
The other component of this is the fact that we dehumanize disabled people. In order to be okay with how society treats disabled people, we have a lot of stories around disabilities that aim to make it okay to treat them so horribly. These can be ideas like how they would be better off dead or how they will get cured. But so often these ideas harm disabled people. They also plant in the unconscious the idea that disabled people are meant to be pitied or discarded. It is hard for a relationship to blossom if you can’t view your partner as a partner. When some part of you feels the person is worth less because of their disability, it shows up in the relationship. This can also be true if we as disabled people believe these lies on some level. When we don’t value ourselves, it’s hard to attract the right person who can love us for who we are and not devalue us because of our disabilities.
Disabled People Can’t Go On “Normal” Dates
This one can have a kernel of truth as despite legal actions to help with accessibility, many places still aren’t as accessible as they should be. But it doesn’t make a lot of these dates impossible. It just makes them different and possibly more difficult. But there are many normal date ideas that you can do with a disabled person that also appropriately accommodates their disability. I had a date with my girlfriend earlier this year where we binge watched Bridgerton season 2 on Netflix. She just wanted to see the show people were talking about and relax after the day before at a wedding. Many classic date ideas are possible with a bit of consideration and planning. Any business where they can’t accommodate a date with a disabled person but can accommodate a date with able-bodied people is a business that isn’t worth giving your money to.
Disabilities Make Dating Awkward
The truth of the matter is that this myth is very nuanced. Some disabilities can make dating awkward. My disability has made situations awkward plenty like when I didn’t realize I had a toothache because my body is incredibly used to pain and I started slapping the cheek by the tooth as my body’s weird way of getting me to pay attention. Dating can be awkward. However, dating with a disability isn’t really any more awkward than dating in general. While there are awkward moments caused by the disability, more often than not, the disabled person has a sense of humor to move past it.
On the other side of the coin, some mobility issues can create awkward situations where because of inaccessibility, dates can go off the rails. This doesn’t have to be any more awkward than a normal date. Getting help to address the inaccessibility doesn’t need to be any more awkward than complaining that they made your order wrong. People make mistakes and it doesn’t need to be awkward to point them out. If the inaccessibility makes the experience awkward, don’t be afraid to bring it up with a manager. You may feel awkward about doing so but often these issues will go ignored if we don’t speak up. If it helps you feel more confident, think of how you are advocating for the next person who has to deal with the same thing.
Disabled People Should Only Date Disabled People
This one feels like a joke but it’s an idea I see a fair bit. Some people that disabled people should only date other disabled people, but it’s often rooted in some of the same fears and prejudice that made interracial marriage illegal until recent history. It’s often rooted in seeing disabled people as others who should stick to their own kind. It’s ableist nonsense. While some disabled people may find it easier to be in a relationship with a partner that lives with the same disability, it doesn’t mean that it’s a hard and fast rule for everyone. Having someone who understands and relates to your experience is a powerful way for people to come together, but it isn’t the only thing that can spark the romantic flame. Disabled people can date or not date whoever they want as long as they have consent from all involved parties.
Disabled People Are Burdens
If you believe this, congratulations, we’ve found your ableism. Disabled people are valuable. Our world would look very different if we ignored everything about Stephen Hawking besides his disability. He’s provided a lot of useful research to the field of science that makes his name better know for science than for disability. But it doesn’t change the fact that Stephen Hawking lived with a disability. Like everyone else on the planet, disabled people are people. We feel feelings. Outstanding careers are possible. We can be as complicated and complex as every other person on the face of the planet. Our disability isn’t our entire identity. We have negative and positive components that make us each who we are, just like every other human on the planet.
Disabled People Aren’t Sexy
I’m not usually a person to rely on pictures in my posts unless I’m explaining how to do something. But I feel like the best way to address this is to share a few shots of some of disabled celebrities who clearly show that disabled people can be sexy.
Have I made my point yet?
If you are unconvinced, search for sexy and disabled on Instagram and you will find even more examples of disabled people being sexy.
Having A Disability Takes A Toll On the Relationship
This sounds very similar to a previous myth I pointed out. But I wanted to address this myth in particular because I find it comes up for people who have the idea that a relationship itself isn’t work. Every relationship has conflict. Every relationship requires work to maintain. Dealing with a partner’s disability is a bit like dealing with family. Sometimes it creates beautiful moments. Sometimes the disability drives you up a wall. When both partners are putting in the work to make a relationship work, the relationship will be fine. If someone can’t handle you with your disability, they probably aren’t really ready for a relationship.
Those are my 7 myths about disability and romantic relationships. Did any of the myths surprise you? Have any thoughts you want to add? Put them in the comments below.