Dating can be awkward enough as it is—but when you throw a disability into the mix, things can get more than a little complicated.
When I became chronically ill at the age of 16, I didn’t fully grasp the ways that my disabilities would touch every aspect of my life, including dating.
My disability has made me a more outspoken person who is unafraid to advocate for myself and others. I know and believe that being disabled doesn’t somehow make a person less worthy of happiness, safety, and love.
But when I think about myself and dating, my convictions become shaky.
With my conditions being mostly invisible, I’m sometimes tempted to push them aside.
I ask myself, Do I need to post a picture on a dating site when I’m using a cane, or should I just let the topic come up naturally? Can’t I go just a little bit without thinking about my chronic illnesses? That’s okay, right?
I’m torn between knowing that a disability is nothing to be ashamed of and feeling as if I will be too much for potential partners to handle because of my disability.
No matter how hard I try, though, being disabled is not something I can hide away in some hidden place the same way a person might put a coat in the back of their closet as the seasons change.
My disabilities aren’t going anywhere.
If I can accept that during nearly every other aspect of my life, why is it so hard when it comes to dating?
The answer, it seems, has a lot to do with internalized ableism.
As I quickly found out, I wasn’t the only one who was dealing with these feelings and thoughts. Through speaking with friends and reading about others’ experiences with internalized ableism, I started to realize that so many of us extend kindness and respect towards others in our situations—but we don’t extend that same kindness or respect to ourselves.
I won’t claim that I can totally get rid of anyone’s internalized ableism, especially since it still clouds my own thoughts at times, but I can offer advice and share what’s helped me.
Mostly, working through my feelings of self-doubt and talking with other disabled people have allowed me to slowly, slowly begin to gain my footing before diving into the world of dating.
Talking with a therapist and other disabled friends, I’ve realized that much of my self-worth comes from my job. That’s not a bad thing entirely, but at the end of the day, it means that I feel guilty and somehow less worthy because I can’t work a traditional full-time job, at least not right now.
I also have realized that I tend to compare myself to my able-bodied peers—which never ends well for me.
When a mentor of mine said, “Having a disability is the ultimate bullshit filter,” something in my mind clicked.
Will some people not want to date me because I’m disabled? Yes.
Do I really want to date, or even be friends with, those people? Hell, no.
Feelings of guilt, uncertainty, and worry surrounding my disability still bubble up from time to time. I’m sure that I’ll be pushing back and fighting through these feelings in some way or another throughout my life.
When this happens, I hold onto what I know to be true: I am worth loving, both by myself and others.
And if or when people find that my disability is “too much” for them, I can be thankful for my built-in bullshit filter.