Disability, Dating & Relationships

A while back I read an article that talked about a typical day out for a handicap person and much of it did strike a chord with me because any sort of outing can rapidly become more involving than is obvious. I have given this dating thing a whirl and in most cases, it does not get far enough before I see that there is no way it is going to work. This is not going to be another one of those sob stories about “look at the poor handicap guy or gal”. If you are not aware, I am a physically handicap guy and I do take some amount of pride in being physically handicap; I can comfortably state that the idea of waking up one morning and not being handicap does freak me out. Having said that, living life as a handicap person necessarily needs a different approach to getting things done as there are moments in which you will need someone to give a hand.

Last year, I did make an effort to date and truly see how far it could go. It was an enlightening experience on so many levels but at the end of it, I am not entirely sure it is for me. There seems to be a myriad of unstated norms that are expected in dating that sometimes conflict with the basic assumptions I have made about how I lead my life. These are assumptions I have become comfortable with – call them personal norms. Don’t get me wrong, I have spent time with some wonderful people in the past year that I am currently left comparing the good experience and dare I say I am thinking of actually asking the persons in question to provide some commentary so as to allow me to have an insight as to how they have such better understanding of me.

A disability can be generally defined as something that affects an organ or two of a person’s body that results in the organ(s) in question not working normally. Based on my experience with dating (little as it is) and my attempts at establishing a stable relationship, I think that definition alone is fundamentally misleading because that abnormal working (or lack of it for that matter) goes further than simple physiology. It defines how you see things in life, how you value things thus shaping what kind of person is important or not particularly important to you in any given situation. But the most important part is that it also creates a unique sets of fears that to most normal people just don’t make sense. They don’t make sense because for an able-bodied person, it just does not make sense that you can’t see all the colors that are there or you can’t hear the good music or perhaps can’t fully grasp the idea of standing and walking unaided.

My disability is not the sort that you can hide and so disclose it when the time comes; it is there in broad daylight for all to see, judge and react to accordingly. Here, I must point out that one of the most important tasks in my younger life was to become comfortable with who I am. For those who have ever taken the interest in my disability, they may perhaps come to the conclusion that I don’t mind discussing my disability as long as it is treated with respect and my dignity as a person is given its due respect. One of the most important things that I always tried to do is to communicate: if you are not sure ask questions. This is so much engaging that at the end, wrong assumptions are avoid entirely. As I typed that sentence, I am reminded of the adage that it is better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission … well, for such an adage to apply in any context in which I am involved, the perpetrator better have above average people’s skills.

Communicating is one of the key components that have allowed me to develop relationships that are both supportive and appreciative of me. I have always maintained that as a handicap person it is important that I understand what it is that I want though that also means that I don’t like assumptions being made about me or what I might do. I am not sure how many handicap people feel like that but I would think it is a common feeling because it is one of the ways of defining yourself as an individual separate from everyone else. If you think about it, this definition of what it means to be an individual, disabled or not, is the fundamental basis of any relationship. I believe that people in any relationship need to have sufficient understanding of themselves as individuals that they are able to support each other and know who (and when) to turn to for help.

For a handicap person, there is this constant assertion that you are not really part of all that goes around you that it is easy to get lost. For example, think of what goes through the mind of a handicap person who uses a wheelchair when he/she comes across a storied building that does not have a lift? How likely will it be that he/she comes across this building because somebody decided on a whim that they should checkout some fun join in the building? From my own experience, I use crutches to move around but that movement is no where close the average walking pace of a normal person. So when I walk with able-bodied people and they happen to have a faster pace than I can keep up with, it is likely that they will leave me behind. I don’t think it necessary to slow down everyone to my own walking pace unless of course they think that it is the most appropriate thing to in the context. I can get a vibe from a person based on how he/she is walking next to me; if they walk in a sloppy manner (walk too close or tend to make abrupt stops when close to me), then it means that it is quite likely that they are going to kick one of my crutches or their foot may be caught in the path of one of the crutches. Here is the most annoying bit: some people walk too close to me to such an extend that it requires additional stunts (attempting to regain my balance) to avoid hitting them and at the same time not to fall down.

Such subtle incidents tend to give me a better idea about what goes on in a person’s mind; in picking up these clues as they are, the challenge of communicating becomes impossibly huge. The key obstacle is that in most cases when I talk to a date about my disability, they seem to get this impression that it is politically incorrect or I may find it offensive. The conversation will end up being side trucked somehow and it all evaporates into thin air which of course means that the same old ways of doing things continues. The conversation may well end before it starts but the greater challenge is how does a handicap person tell an able-bodied person that he/she is walking too closely and should be more aware of how he/she walks; I want to walk on the street and not have to shout at someone who is walking with me because they are far away or worse yet walk in a single file – yeah, that would make for some quality conversation.

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