Disabled dating
May 30, 2013 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 23 year old recent college grad who has yet to go on his first date, let alone sleep with someone. All my life I was panned as some asexual anomaly and so the societal pressure to date that haunts so many other people well before their 16th birthday never really got to me. That is, until recently. I'm a reasonably good looking and witty guy, and yet, in 2013, it's way harder than it ought to be to find someone that's okay, on a fundamental level, with dating someone in a wheelchair. It doesn't help that a) I'm bisexual and b) have an issue with my speech where I will tend to block up/ get spastic. It's usually, though I can't say exclusively, an issue when I need to face the anxiety of meeting someone new.

So, my questions-
Are there any GOOD disabled dating sites ( ie ones that don't make you feel sad for humanity and pathetic about your prospects) that anyone's had success with?
In the event I meet someone able-bodied online, what's the best and most tactful way to bring up the issue?
And finally, what are some steps, in terms of personal development, that you think it'd be good to take in order to increase my chances of success in the dating world?
posted by marsbar77 to Human Relations (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: That you're bisexual doesn't need to be a huge stumbling block. Just understand that (as a dude) you're going to, ironically, get more interest in your portfolio if you list yourself as being interested in either men or women than if you say you're interested in both. I wouldn't look at it as a lie to just say "Interested in: M" or "Interested in: F" but rather a minor omission. Let your bisexuality be a topic that comes up when it naturally should (i.e. not first date). Remember that you're probably going to end up dating a guy or a girl, not both (at least not at once, at least not right away), so, in that sense, your bisexuality is irrelevant.

That you're in a wheelchair will, unfortunately, eliminate you from the dating pool of some people. But, that said, so do all kinds of things like race, age, etc.

I've known several couples where one member had a significant perceptual or mobility disability and the other did not. To my knowledge, they all met through the ordinary channels one meets potential partners: work/school/social clubs/internet. In some cases though, the work connection was one of assistive services.

To answer your actual questions:

1. I wouldn't specifically look for disabled dating sites UNLESS you're specifically looking to date a person with a disability because you feel that the shared disabled culture is a fundamental necessity (which it doesn't sound like you do). Instead, I would just use standard dating sites like OKCupid.

I probably wouldn't show the wheelchair in my profile picture for two reasons: first, there are people who might absolutely give you a chance who might never click through just out of Mr. Perfect tunnel vision (and, the sad truth will always be that few people imagine their unattainable Mr. Perfect as being in a wheelchair). Second, there are absolutely disability fetishists out there, and you don't necessarily want to invite that either (unless you do).

2. IMO, the appropriate time to mention your disability is just before the first time you actually meet in person. People don't like thinking that they've had something sprung on them, so it's best to let them know in advance. But hopefully, by that point, they'll be interested enough to put their prejudices or misgivings aside. If they don't, then you've saved yourself from wasting your time as well as theirs.

3. You actually might find that your success improves incredibly if you start going a little over the top in terms of the way you dress and present yourself. It's unfair, but people do tend to look at people in wheelchairs as "harmless" and thus, especially in the case of men, asexual. I have known both men and women in wheelchairs who dressed to the nines every single day and it really worked for them. They dressed for ordinary days at the library as though they were going to a dance club. On an able-bodied person, this would seem inappropriate. But on a disabled person it sends the, unfortunately necessary, message: "Hey, I am a sexual being. I mean, look at this mating display I'm putting on. Totally mateable and dateable over here."
posted by 256 at 11:36 AM on May 30, 2013 [10 favorites]

I would just make a profile on a standard dating site, build it according to your personality and who YOU are outside of your disability, and have at least one photo that shows that you are in a wheelchair.

While I appear to be a completely able-bodied person, I have a medical issue that keeps me from being able to run or jump (or swim or lift heavy things or tilt my head back very far...etc), and I am not shy about telling EVERYONE. (Mostly to head off those super chipper people who are all "anyone can run a marathon, it's not that hard, just get motivated!!!" yeah, go fuck yourself.)

Anyway, when I was doing the online dating thing (on okcupid, which I liked a lot), I don't remember if I made a mention of it in my profile, but on every question about exercise or going to the gym and the like, I made a note that I cannot run or jump because of a medical thing, so that people who find that sort of thing important would be able to see it right away.

RJ Mitte from Breaking Bad has CP both on the show and in real life (and as a bonus is a really good looking kid), so that might be a decent way to introduce it to someone unfamiliar. Obviously that's something you'd know better than I would, though.

And finally, what are some steps, in terms of personal development, that you think it'd be good to take in order to increase my chances of success in the dating world?

Believe that you are awesome and worth dating and that anyone would be lucky to be able to call you their boyfriend.
posted by phunniemee at 11:39 AM on May 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Re: this: b) have an issue with my speech where I will tend to block up/ get spastic. It's usually, though I can't say exclusively, an issue when I need to face the anxiety of meeting someone new.

I went on a date (an OKCupid one) with someone who had a similar issue, and I really wish he had told me before we met. Because it would NOT have prevented me from meeting him AT ALL -- he was cute and his profile was funny and smart -- but because it happened when we met and he hadn't been upfront with me about it, it was surprising and a little upsetting (because I literally didn't know, at first, what was happening). We didn't go out again, not because of his disability but because he was a jerk in several other unrelated ways, but I can say for sure that while I would not have minded AT ALL his disability, I was taken aback that he hadn't said something off-handedly, even in our emails. Like, "oh, by the way, just so you know, I have XYZ and sometimes ABC happens." So if I were you, I'd be honest and upfront earlier than later, but also matter-of-fact and relaxed about it. Especially as you get older, people can be pretty open about stuff as long as they know the score.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 12:31 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can you ask your friends to help you meet new people? Not for dating, just for the sake of meeting people, broadening your social circle, and practicing meeting people. So if your friend Joe has a set of friends he knows from high school, but you don't know them yet because you met Joe in college, perhaps you would ask him to include you when they meet for drinks at a local bar. Things like that.

I have anxiety when meeting new people and the pressure of meeting someone who is a POTENTIAL BOYFRIEND face to face one on one for the first time based on online dating interactions was usually enough to ruin it. All my successful relationships have blossomed out of meeting new people in a casual, non-romantic way either through hobbies or mutual friends. I know online dating is all the rage right now but the slightly older-fashioned way works best for some of us, perhaps you included.

The added bonus here is that you can charm someone with your personality and know from the get go that they know you are in a wheelchair but are also normal and interesting and capable.
posted by telegraph at 12:42 PM on May 30, 2013

In the event I meet someone able-bodied online, what's the best and most tactful way to bring up the issue?

Before you meet: "Just so you're not surprised, I'm in a wheelchair because [reason]. It doesn't stop me from doing [x] or [y] though! You might also notice that sometimes I have trouble talking. When this happens, the best thing for you to do is [thing]."

Basically, you want to make them comfortable when you meet so they're not surprised and they don't have to ask you awkward questions. You also want to sound positive and confident so that they don't feel they have to treat you differently.
posted by desjardins at 12:44 PM on May 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

I dated a guy in a wheelchair when he and I were both teenagers. We met because my dad is a paraplegic (since long before my parents met and long before I was born) and coached a wheelchair basketball team for many years. The guy I dated was one of the players on my dad's team.

The relationship didn't go very far because the guy was afraid that my dad would kill him or permanently bench him--not unreasonable fears about the overprotective father of a teenaged girl!--but man oh man I really dug that guy and making out with him was a delight and I did not give even two miniature shits about his spina bifida. I wanted to sex that dude up.

If you're not an athlete and don't have much of an interest in playing wheelchair sports, maybe you could volunteer for a local team? Fundraise or do promotional work or something like that? People who have disabled relatives/partners/friends and accompany them to practice to hang out and be supportive tend to know other people who are like me and my mom, who are basically indifferent to body morphologies that are non-standard. My mom met my dad at one of his basketball practices and fell in love with him because he's an amazing man who happens to be in a wheelchair. She still talks about how handsome she thinks he is.

I think the same way that finding a job is all about who you know, getting a date frequently involves being introduced through friends. If you hang with other disabled people at least some of the time, you'll end up meeting people organically--both disabled and able-bodied people--who are not fazed by disability.
posted by jesourie at 12:51 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Disabled person here (second time I got to use that today!). I've used dating sites like OKC to find several long- and short-term relationships (with people with and without disabilities). Here are a few tips based on my experiences:

1. I'd strongly recommend being up front in your profile about your situation - not just that you have a disability, but what the functional implications are (you can do X and Y, need extra time for Z and A, and are better than most people at B and C). It's absolutely true that putting this information in your profile will cause many people to click away, but waiting to disclose is not going to win those people over. If you're concerned about having your wheelchair in your main photo, choose a nice looking photo for your main profile pic, but include more revealing photos in your profile.

2. The best general dating advice I'd give anyone is: choose good photos! Nicely lit photos, taken with a good camera, help you make a good first impression.

3. As a man dating women, you are going to have to send a lot more messages than you will receive. As a man with a disability, you'll have to send even more. Do it. Send messages, ask people out, and don't take it personally if they don't respond or say they just want to be friends.

4. When I have dated in the past, I made an effort to meet people in person as soon as possible. It's likely that most of the people you will meet have never dated, or been close friends with, someone who has a disability quite like yours. So give them a chance to see what it is like to spend time with you, and whether there is any chemistry.

5. I could not agree more with phunniemee's comment about believing that you are worth dating. Several people I've dated have said that they really liked how I acted like a happy, confident, mature person. No one wants to hang out or date someone who is negative or depressing. One person I previously dated said that she had a friend with a disability who wanted to date her in the past, but that his demeanor was so depressing that she didn't like to spend time around him. His disability was no big deal, but his attitude was a dealbreaker.

Good luck! Dating is difficult for everyone, but you will succeed if you work at it.
posted by shaun at 1:19 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

If you're interested in dating men or women, I would put up two ads, maybe one for men seeking women on a site like OkCupid, and another for men seeking men on a gay-specific site. I would be upfront about your disability (e.g. take full body pictures), but otherwise ignore it - the people who are worthy of you will be those who take it as a matter of fact and just one part of your life.
posted by jb at 3:07 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hello. Like Shaun above, I, too, am actually disabled (prosthetic leg, missing fingers). Here are some thoughts...

(1) The more and the earlier disclosure, the better. Hell, if it were me, I'd have the wheelchair (I guess it depends on how far up it comes) visible in your main picture itself, as long as, of course, it's a good picture. They will be chilling with you. They will be sleeping with you. They will see your chair the first time they see you. While online I did the nearest equivalent of this (I mean, you can't show your leg in a headshot unless you're in some sort of compromising position) and I got dates. Personally, I feel that right before meeting is way too late to "disclose." If someone did that to me, I would say, inwardly, "dude, are you somehow UNABLE to just write this down, WTF, spare me your when-to-disclose drama," and I am disabled myself.

(2) Here's something I didn't do "back then," I mean in college. I was too proud and also I had the wrong group of friends (nerdy, even nerdier than me, and/or super-religious). It's embarrassing but it would have helped. Do you have a friend, either sex, who is a NATURAL at dating, who has, presumably, already slept with many people by (your) age 23? Get yourself this person as a mentor. Put yourself in their hands. Think Clueless. A woman, in my case, who was comfortable with all this could have saved me years of worry with a little do THIS and don't do that, no, no, don't wear that, come to this party with me, etc. Considering that you are visibly disabled, I think someone out of your intimate friend circle would understand if you hit them up for this mentoring role. I don't mean a stranger, obviously.

(3) Eliminate any systemic barriers. In my case I was extremely involved in the Orthodox Jewish community from ages 18-25. After introspection, I truly believe that this was NOT a way of avoiding dating...it was a true matter of conviction. I wanted to find True Love and get married right after college. Argh, looking back, there were guys hitting on me for sure the first year of college, but what I wanted was an Orthodox guy, so it didn't register. Then after freshman year I basically did not socialize with secular folks. Bummer. Must I spell it out?

OK. So that was my systemic problem. A friend's present-day systemic problem is that she is very, very, very involved with slash (pornographic fan fiction). Not a lot of straight guys in her fandom. So take an honest look at the system and change what you can.

(4) You might need to rely on oldschool real-life encounters. Being able to pick people out of the OKCupid catalog, so to speak, is kind of a privilege that belongs to people who have nothing weird about them. Because a wheelchair is a hell of a filter online. If they've already MET you, meetup, book club, whatever, then SOME of these people you see will be willing to have a cup of coffee.

(5) Don't be too picky. People may come down on me for this. I'm not saying associate with people who really gross you out. God forbid. But let's be real. The pool of people who are willing to date a person with a visible physical disability is just plain smaller. So accommodate THEM by giving your non-ideal date a chance. You don't want to be my friend who is 41 (not disabled, a real piece of ass by any ableist standard) and who is still waiting for the big romantic break. Go on some dates, get some practice.
posted by skbw at 5:21 PM on May 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm adding this P.S. so as not to misuse the edit window.

(6) Do try, in the words of Janis Joplin, just a little bit harder...not to be an asshole. Now, this is not such an easy thing to put into practice. Let me give some examples.

In the normal course of dating I have never encountered a disabled person. When I was on the Orthodox market I was set up with a number of disabled guys because, naturally, who would want to date a disabled woman?!!! Don't get me started.

Each one of these guys was kind of a jerk about simple dating logistics stuff (where to meet, what nights they're free, calling back, referencing friends in common, then some Orthodox cultural stuff that doesn't translate here). Stuff that probably means they're just assholes. But I'm on the phone, I'm thinking, "Good Lord, you have X crazy thing wrong with you and you're telling me that you object to eating falafel on the first date? Come on, brother man, if a WOMAN MISSING A LEG said she refuses to eat at restaurant X, she'd NEVER GO OUT WITH ANYONE EVER."

Obviously you don't want to be a pushover. But, really, I say it as someone who's been there, be extra careful not to be a dick. This approach worked for me.
posted by skbw at 5:32 PM on May 30, 2013

This last is the "personal development--what can I do?" answer.

Therapy! No, really. With a GOOD therapist you LIKE and who believes that of course you will make it someday. I am not rejecting the "believe that you're worth dating" answer...but for many people it's just not that easy. If it were, there wouldn't be posts like this.

Socialize less with people who send the wrong message about disability and sex. Take, for instance, my mother.

Hang out, to the extent possible, with people who date, even if not a lot. Perpetually single friendgroup no good in this case.

If you have a chance to hook up with someone at a party, forget about actual sex, then go ahead and test the waters.
posted by skbw at 5:42 PM on May 30, 2013

Own it.

I've gotten into the best relationships of my life by being flat-out honest, to an embarrassing degree, with the person I was meeting -- enough so that my screaming at a hockey game had another guy saying, "Uh, is she okay?"

That night, I didn't even realize that I was supposed to be on a date. When the guy leaned over and said, "Sooooo... what kinds of things do you like?" I was all, "Oh HELL no; I have been moving into my bachelorette apartment all day and I am tired and sweaty and did I mention I was in the middle of a divorce?" So I leaned back and barked out, "I LIKE OPERA AND KNITTING AND GODDAMMIT MINNESOTA YOU FUCKING FUCKS GET AWAY FROM THE GOAL, ASSHOLES!!!!!!!!" And we dated for a year :)

I wouldn't say this is the time to necessarily tell your date everything, if you have (for example) some sort of bathroomy needs that might come up during more intimate times. But aside from that, what's the worst that they could see or think? Knowing makes things less scary. You might say something about your speech ahead of time, but if you get to know someone via email at first, they will already know that you are a man of quality words, no matter how those words come out.

Personally, I'd stay away from any of those "seduction style" or "seminar" kinds of things. That's the last thing you need: trying to remember Step 5 or Technique 15 to react to a particular situation.

The kind of person you want to be with will take more time to find, but being open and honest will make it stick. If you can laugh at yourself, show your self awareness and show that you are determined to move forward in your life regardless of what's in front of you -- I'm not even saying that in reference to disability, but just in general -- you'll be way ahead of the game.

Just concentrate on yourself and shoring up your own life. The more prepared you are to face life, the more prepared you will be to be a good partner.
posted by Madamina at 7:21 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ew ew ew don't do any of the PUA stuff mentioned in a previous answer, that will squick most women right out. Like seriously all the women I know will write you off completely if we find out you've done that. You can be confident without being creepy.

I would like to amend my previous answer and agree with skbw that your disability should be clearly disclosed in your online profile. Disclosing it later seems like it's something you should be ashamed of, some big awful secret, and that's something I have to work on in my own life (hi, my name is desjardins, and I have Klippel-Feil Syndrome). When I was dating online, at first I was too scared of what prospective dates would think to tell them before we met and hoped my personality would win the day. But if a person isn't into you physically, it doesn't matter how much they enjoy your personality, so I wasted my time and theirs. I started telling dates right before we met, and that went slightly better, and then I started telling dates in our first conversation, and that's when I met my husband.
posted by desjardins at 7:27 PM on May 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

OK, here's one (final?) matter of personal development.

Try to take the very, very long view. This is not something that anyone told me then. I had to find it out by living longer.

A lot of people (including disabled people) will tell you that a quality person cares about what's on the inside. Or that your body is just one of many features you have. Etc.

Now, this is doubtless true, but I also found/find it kind of insulting. Like, I am so off-kilter that it'll take a very big-hearted person to just avert his eyes from the physical plant? A real prince of a guy? This is bullshit. Even at 23, a total mess in the shrink's office, I knew, despite my ranting about how ugly I was, that I was baseline attractive enough to be PHYSICALLY ATTRACTIVE the way I am. The person has got to want to give it to you. And there are people out there who do/will want to give it to you. Forget, you know, about your personality and stuff.

Here's the long view part. It's a truism that people at 21 want someone super-hot and perfect. Then by 35 they concern themselves with "what's inside." See above. I reject that line of thinking. What I found instead in my 30s is that many people, by this age, have seen a lot, sexually and romantically. They have gone to bed with X many people. Far from now concentrating on the inside, which is, did I say, bullshit, they are, on the contrary, willing to sample a wider variety of dishes in their continuing quest to get laid.

In practice? Would you consider dating people in their 30s or older? Along with pursuing contemporaries?
posted by skbw at 4:39 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a single 27 year old woman, and none of my friends are disabled. I think I'd have no problem with dating the *right* somebody who uses a wheelchair, so here's my perspective. (If I manage to be unintentionally offensive/way off base here, please let me know!)

Bisexual - meh, whatever. I care that you're into me, and want a monogamous relationship.

Speech issue - as others have said, you might mention this ahead of time, but the necessity of that depends on how well you're able to deal with it in the present. Do you wind up in a spiraling pit of anxiety (in which case it might make sense to get this out there ahead of time), or are you able to recover, shrug it off with a quick explanation, and manage to make your point anyways?

Wheelchair - Definitely disclose in your pictures. If you feel the need to lure me in and then spring the news on me once you have some form of social commitment or investment from me, that just screams of someone who's manipulative and insecure. Both of which are deal breakers for me. Additionally, do you really want the anxiety of wondering when to disclose? I find it freeing to just put myself out there, doing my best to represent exactly who I am.

I'd definitely be curious about how cerebral palsy affects your life, given that I know next to nothing about it. I'd read your profile looking for hints that you are adventurous, independent, have a good sense of humor, and are creative and optimistic in dealing with life's challenges. Of course, these are qualities I'd look for in anybody. So, how to show that in your profile?
* As an extreme example, I remember reading a story by Bryan Anderson where he describes sneaking out of Walter Reed with a friend to go hit up the bars. Since neither of them have legs, one steered, and the other sat on the floor to handle the gas/brake. This worked brilliantly, until it came time to head back to base … at which point, the MPs stop the car and ask the driver to get out so it can be searched. Whoops!
* This guy is a badass, and totally hot. If you play any sports, mention that, or better yet, show pictures!
* I ran into two guys who use wheelchairs at a not-quite-accessible-enough tourist spot. They were clearly having a blast, doing their best to get around, though it wasn't particularly dignified. I just grinned right back, and got out of their way without offering any help. Based on how much fun they seemed to be having, I would have enthusiastically accepted a date from either of them. So - do you have any travel pics or stories? Adventures or scrapes you've gotten into with friends?
posted by Metasyntactic at 9:03 AM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I've been thinking about this more. Here's one more thing I would have done. I don't think it contradicts my (and others') counsel of bald-faced honesty.

Don't lie. Don't make up imaginary exes. But when you meet totally new friends and acquaintances, you might want to LET THEM THINK that you've already been in a relationship. This can be as easy as "yeah, I know what you mean" when you don't LITERALLY. Lots of otherwise non-dating people DID meet someone at camp back in school, or briefly dated freshman year, or what have you, broke the ice in some way. Why shouldn't you fall, in general, into that pool of people?

I don't mean lie. But there is NO REASON to tell the guys drinking beer that you've never dated anyone. Bald-faced honesty to your dates, when the "romantic history" talk comes up, does NOT rule out keeping your mouth shut at certain times.

At this early-20s time period, I naturally thought, well, no one would ever want to date me, so I might as well volunteer that I've never had a boyfriend, total transparency, all that. No. It was NOT, in fact, self-evident that I was undateable. That was my own trip.
posted by skbw at 6:21 AM on June 3, 2013

Wheelchair dating is always a delicate issue. This is why sites exist for dating in this niche. I am involved in a wheelchair dating site and reading this thread was a major reason for joining the forum. It seems that I can contribute useful information on aspects of disabled dating .

I am fascinated by the views people are expressing on 'person not the disability' point of view. it is the philosophy we argue on our site but then I realise that there are huge grey areas where the physical reality needs to be dealt with - also there are, of course, care issue which will not resolve and are often progressive. But on the other hand I don't suppose any able bodied dater would visit a disabled/wheelchair site unless they felt that it was a path they wanted to go down romantically speaking.

I hope to contribute more to threads on disability dating issues.
posted by livewire at 12:04 PM on September 18, 2013

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