Relationships, we all have them or strive to have them. They can be with family, friends, or with a more intimate partner. The thing about relationships or dating is… it’s hard. It’s hard for anyone to be vulnerable with another individual and rely on them emotionally. It’s even harder for someone with an SCI/D because of the added stigma. But why? We are capable of loving other humans in the same way as anyone else, we can be intimate, fun, and connect on a deep level. How can dating be made easier for us? In today’s world, the tool of social media could either greatly help us, or potentially make things more difficult. When I was pursuing a relationship I remember thinking, do I tell them I’m in a chair right off the bat, or do I build a little trust first? If I’m creating a dating profile, will putting pictures of myself in my chair attract devotees or people with intentions that aren’t genuine? Are their friends or family going to think it’s weird? How do I tell them I can still have sex without sounding too blunt?
How do we navigate this? How do we make our dating/sex life seem “normal” in the eyes of society and future partners?
When I decided I was ready to pursue a relationship, I first came to the conclusion that being single isn’t bad. There was no need for a relationship, it was a want. So, in that case, we can be selective. We can decide if that person just seems convenient or if we think that they could bring joy into our lives. We don’t need to settle, we shouldn’t settle.
I decided that I was going to be honest. Hey, I’m a 20 year old girl who uses a wheelchair. I like to have fun, go out to eat, go to the movies, do everything that an able-bodied couple would do; but I might help with some things, don’t worry, I’ll ask, and occasionally I might have a bladder leak (okay, I didn’t say that last part, but part of me wishes I had)!
I realized that if I was going to complain about the stigma, I should try and change it. The only thing that is “weird” about dating someone with a disability is the unknown. A future partner might have never even seen someone who uses a wheelchair or mobility device, let alone think about that person as being a future partner. It might be uncomfortable at first, but just because it’s not familiar, doesn’t mean it’s bad. There is also the possibility that you might catch feelings for someone who is also disabled, once again, totally normal.
I have found that communication is crucial in an inter-abled relationship. Of course, it’s crucial in all relationships, but especially for us. There are many things about our daily lives that aren’t a concern for others. We have to communicate what we need, what we like, and how we might do life a little differently. There might be a caretaker roll as a small or large part of your relationship, so it’s helpful to be upfront about that. There will be days when the relationship isn’t 50/50. Some days you might need 80 and are only able to give 20. There are times where your partner might need 70 and can only give 40. As long as you communicate what you need, the relationship has the potential to be positive.
The point is, go for it! Anyone who wants a relationship deserves to find one. Don’t settle for anyone because we have so much to offer to this world, and anyone that is hesitant or unkind isn’t worth it. At the end of the day, a person’s personality and character matter so much more than any other material thing. Find someone who enjoys seeing you happy and who you can eat way too many cheese fries with!
My name is Madisyn Hess and I am 20 years old. I am currently a junior at Christopher Newport University. I am completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and I hope to pursue a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. I am a T-10 paraplegic, and I have an adorable service dog named Oxford. In my limited free time, I love to watch movies or TV shows, occasionally “bingeing” them (whoops), and I enjoy trying new restaurants as well as new types of food. You can find me dancing, singing, or trying any adaptive sport I can!