Factoring Disabilities into Dating

By Bridget Houlihan

Bridget Houlihan and Her Boyfriend

Pink conversation hearts and red cellophane-wrapped Russell Stover candy boxes have appeared in the drugstore checkout line, so that means Valentine’s Day is once again upon us. No matter if you love it or hate it, you find yourself thinking about dating, or the relationships in your life, at this time of year.

Dating is fun—but it’s hard…for everyone. But it can feel especially intimidating if you have a disability, or if you’re interested in going out with someone who has one.

Before I mustered up the courage to ask out my boyfriend George, what ifs would pop unbidden into my mind all of the time. Things like “What if he doesn’t find me attractive because I use a wheelchair?” or “What if I need his help? Will that make me less appealing to him?”

Come to find out, George had questions of his own. He wondered how he could best make me feel at ease when we went out, details about my cerebral palsy, and even if he should help push my wheelchair if he saw me struggling with a curb cut or incline.

I learned you can’t let the what ifs and questions stop you from pursuing someone you’re really interested in.  You’ve got to just go for it because if you don’t, you could miss out on something extraordinary.

Now, I’m no dating expert. (Who is, really?) But I’ve picked up a few things here and there that have made me a lot happier when it comes to dating and relationships. Here are my top ten dating tips—five for people with disabilities and five for those who want to date someone with a disability.  I hope you find them helpful and that, at the end of the dating frenzy, you love the one you’re with as much as I do.

Top 5 Dating Tips for People with Disabilities

1.    Be Open.  Sometimes it’s easy to go into a relationship with a whole list of criteria and expectations.  Try not to.  Instead, be open to what’s in front of you.  Don’t get lost in what you think might or might not happen, and simply pay attention to what is happening.  If someone asks you out, say yes!.  And if they ask you about your disability, be clear, succinct and honest about it.  Then, listen more than you talk.  When you’re open to people and experiences, you may be surprised what finds you.

2.    Swallow your pride.  If you need help with something ask for it.  If you’re concerned that the restaurant you’re going to isn’t accessible, say so.  Good communication is key in any relationship, but it can be even more important when you have a disability.  And it’s up to you to communicate what your needs are the best you can.

3.    Plan ahead.  It never hurts to do a little planning of your own to make sure a date runs smoothly or to avoid that awkward moment when you and your date are sitting at the bottom of a flight of stairs with no way in the front door.  So call ahead yourself, ask questions, have a back-up transportation plan.  Your date never has to know you did a little pre-planning of your own and it can go a long way toward a carefree and memorable evening.

4.    Don’t think it’s all about your disability.  Don’t dwell on your disability.  It’s a part of who you are, but it isn’t who you are.  So it shouldn’t be your focus or your date’s either.  And if things don’t work out, don’t automatically assume that your disability was a factor.  Dating is hard, remember?  It often takes a lot of trial and error.

5.    Be yourself and have fun! The best way to be at ease—and to put your date at ease—is to be yourself and to have fun.  Enjoy your time together!  If you’re with the right person, they will love getting to know you and being with you as you are.

Top 5 Tips for Dating Someone with a Disability

1.    Don’t focus on the disability, but don’t ignore it either. Your date’s disability shouldn’t be your main focus, but you shouldn’t ignore it either.  Instead, accommodate for it—and then move on to the fun part—the dating!

2.    Ask.  If you’re not sure how to best accommodate for someone’s disability, or if they need help, ask. Don’t worry about planning something accessible all by yourself — ask the person you’re going out with their thoughts. They’ll be glad you did.  And when they tell you what they do or don’t need, take it to heart and honor what they say.

3.    Plan ahead. Here again, a little planning can go a long way. Call ahead to see if the date you’re planning is doable—ask about accessible seats, entrances, restrooms and the space between tables.  It’s best not to assume that things will be accessible. And tell your date you looked into it. They may have some additional thoughts and will certainly be impressed by your thoughtfulness.

4.    Be honest. If you’re a little uncomfortable about your date’s disability it’s okay to be honest about that. In fact, it can get things started off right. Just always remember to be kind. After all, you’re out to make a good impression.

5.    Be yourself and have fun! Perhaps the most important part of all is to relax and have fun. Make the date a good one by being yourself.

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