Attention: All the Single Ladies!

Vilissa Thompson shares her experience dating as a disabled woman, and offer tips for potential suitors unfamiliar with disability.

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW.

Vilissa is a social worker, disability rights consultant, writer, advocate, and founder of Ramp Your Voice!

Black woman sitting in her wheelchair, smiling at the camera, wearing a black and white dress outsideAs a single woman on the dating scene, I find that many who express interest in me have poor dating etiquette. As a disabled woman, this presents unique issues when I reveal my disability on my dating profile, or if it comes up in conversation on the first date. 

A few of the etiquette missteps may be due to awkwardness and anxiety about the whole dating process, but some of it crosses the line to being blatantly inappropriate, nosey, and rude. I am truly amazed by suitors who believe it’s perfectly fine to ask invasive questions in the very beginning, especially when they do not even know my name yet. I refuse to accept that these people are clueless, but I am afraid they are. 

For the #ResolveToRespect campaign, I wanted to share a few dating etiquette tips when approaching disabled women you have an interest in. Most of what I am going to discuss is based on common sense, but we all know that common sense is not as robustly possessed at it should be.

Stop Asking Inappropriate Questions

If it is not a question you would ask in front of your Grandmother, consider it highly offensive or uncomfortable to ask a stranger you are seeking to date. 

There is nothing wrong with being inquisitive, but many dating prospects do not know the difference between natural curiosity, and downright nosiness that is invasive. If you want to get to know someone, those personal questions can be touched on as rapport is built; let that process occur as it should. 

And for women on the receiving end of those questions, vocalize your discomfort and be ardent about it; if they continue to inquire after being told you feel uneasy, that is a tell-tale sign of someone who will not respect the boundaries you set, and who will not respect you. In that case, run, roll, limp, or skip away and do not look back. 

Do Not Make Sexual Jokes or Innuendos

This goes back to the first point - if you would not say it in front of Grandma, do not say it to the lady you think is attractive. Yes, some women like to know they are attractive, but it can become objectifying. When sexual insinuations are made, it seems like all you are seeking is sex, and not the person. Using risqué jokes to break the ice is a no-no, too. And for the love for all that is good and right, no solicited pictures should be sent!

When prospects make these jokes or statements, call them out on it. Do not be afraid to say how you want to be talked to or what you want to discuss. And if that is not abided by, then you know what to do.

Two computer mice forming a heart with their USB cablesDo Read the Profile before Sending That Message

It always amazes me when interested persons ask me about myself when I give a good account on my dating profile. Those kind of messages let me know that they did not read the profile, so I keep it rolling/moving. It takes about a minute to skim a profile page - do the work. 

Yes, I Am Disabled, but I Am Not Your Inspiration

I have eye-rolling moments when men message me solely about how “inspirational” I am because I share my disability and profession on my profile.  Stop sending those kinds of messages to us!  We get enough inspirational mess in our day-to-day lives, and that is not being sought after in the dating experience. Your “feel-good” message is read as worthy of deletion. 

Treat Me Like All the Other Non-Disabled Women You Approach 

Along with not approaching us with well-meaning but annoying sentiments, discontinue acting like you have to treat us differently from non-disabled women. Disabled women are the same as other women; we may just move, communicate, and think differently, but that is where it ends. We are not porcelain dolls that need to be tended to or protected; we want a partner, not a care assistant. Most importantly, we want to be viewed, treated, and respected as equal to you and not as being inferior because we are disabled. 

If you cannot see us as equal partners, then our time need not be wasted. 

Dating Is Supposed to Be Fun - Stop Making It Feel Like Recruitment

Some prospects make it feel as if you’re applying for a federal government job during the dating process. This occurs when the desperation is so thick that you could cut it with a butter knife. Dating is supposed to be fun - you are getting to know a new person and seeing if you mesh well. When you make someone feel as if they are completing an application process when we are at the introductory phase, it sucks all the joy out of it. Yes, matters of the heart are serious business, but if we cannot have a good time while we become acquainted, then why even bother?

Be Engaging - Put Down Your Dang Phone! 

When we are talking on the phone or in video chat, or if we are at an outing, be centered and focused in the moment. There is nothing worse than someone not engaging in the conversation, as you are left wondering if they are bored with you. 

a blacktop with a tic tac toe chalked on it at the hearts are in place of the OGhosting Is Not Cool

If you figure out that we are not compatible, just say so. Ghosting on someone is rude; I would rather know upfront if you just want to be friends rather than waiting for us to plan a second date or get a reply to my text.  Man/woman/they up, and just say that you are not that into it - it’s better to know the truth than to be left hanging.

Be You, Not Your Representative

Be yourself. If you are nerdy, quirky, awkward, and everything in between, show us! We are going to see it anyway - why hide the real you? We are not trying to date a fantasy here – we want to date you! And that includes all of your weird traits, which we may think are cute or intriguing. 

Take Me As I Am

This is probably the most important etiquette rule of all - this is me, and I am not changing to fit whatever expectations you have of me. We are not your ex or your favorite celebrity crush; we are unique, and have amazing qualities to appreciate, love, and cherish. To ignore that is to not see us fully - and honestly, no one should date a person who does not respect their personhood in its entirety. 

These 10 dating etiquette tips are ones I have encountered at some point as I date and mingle. None of them, however, have made me feel that I will never meet my special person. I know that I deserve and am worthy of being loved unconditionally in the regard I am seeking. I hope that each of you realize the same thing, and will not accept anything less.

Visit Easterseals' love and relationships page for more great content!

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