WHAT REALLY MATTERS: “I’M NOT HERE TO TEACH YOU ABOUT THE BIRDS AND MY NEEDS”
*I wrote this piece with my friend Sally Whitney Find her on Twitter here*
Emma and Sally give their experiences in “Online dating as a disabled woman…..”
As two young, disabled women who have both tackled the battleground of internet dating with varying results, we, Emma and Sally, want to dig a little deeper into the experiences of other women with disabilities and see how they fared. We interviewed 6 women with various disabilities and asked them about their experiences. Would they champion the world of the internet for romantic trysts and life-long love or is it another place where disabled women are met with hostility and presumption?
Why online dating, should we take the plunge?
Growing up I assumed I would meet my future partner at university, most of my family did so naturally I thought I’d fall in love during Fresher’s Week. You can imagine my surprise when I graduated with no ‘ring on it’! Many people would have turned to online dating if they were looking for someone but this idea never felt like an option to me.
From my, then, outsider’s perspective, online dating was quite superficial which is a pretty off-putting when you have a visible disability that you feel self-conscious. My disability is very obvious and I’ve never thought someone would be able to look past it without getting to know me – so why would I consider online dating? This belief was reaffirmed when we spoke to Alice a gay wheelchair user. On one particular date, she explains that her date..
“She saw my chair, she shook her head and told me I could have come without it!! I left her the second after she said that. But all of them [online matches], bar one, said that the wheelchair was a deal breaker for them. Like I could pick and choose to be in a wheelchair [or not] just to please them. I was shocked. I also got a lot of rude and disturbing messages telling me I should not be on dating sites.”
As I got to know more fabulous disabled women, I found out some of them met their partners through online dating so I started to think I could be wrong. Claire, a young, disabled woman argues that it was a…“Great way to tip my toe into the dating pool”.
For someone who struggles to go out because of carer hours and lack of accessibility it seems like online dating could be the answer to how to meet someone.
The ‘perfect’ profile
After doing interviews on other disabled women’s experiences of online dating I began to understand that for some women these apps were great and a way to meet people from home or wherever you might be.
I downloaded a few apps and filled out my profile honestly (though I might have left out I can do a one woman show of Lord of the Rings!). I figured it may take a while to get matched and so I kept my profile up and messaged the people I thought seemed nice.
If I was going to do this I didn’t want to wait around for someone to message me – I’m way too impatient for that! I took breaks from the apps and deleted them every so often when the feeling of how superficial this process is crept up on me. I knew this was how things are often done nowadays but if I was hoping no one would be judging me purely on my looks then why was I doing just that? I looked at everyone’s profiles of course but people don’t exactly write their memoirs on there so it can be difficult to find out what they are really like.
Overcoming the ‘jerks’ and disabled people being asexual
I also knew it was only a matter of time before I encountered my first jerk. The issue (and myth) of disabled women not being able to have sex came up in nearly every interview I did. Belle, who has her full left leg amputated and uses crutches, states,
“I’d get the weird messages from people asking things like ‘can you have sex?’ or ‘one leg? Oh I bet that’s easy access etc.’
We all know that some people only use online dating to find a quick hook up but it astonished me that these women were being asked such a personal question so quickly – until it happened to me.
A guy who swiped right on me said in his opening message he “considered himself a very sexual person…” and I immediately knew what he was trying to say. Because I had done the interviews and felt the sadness and anger of those women I must admit I came down pretty hard on this guy. I said how dare he ask me this and how could he swipe right and think it is ok to ask something so personal. I then blocked him so I don’t know what his answer would have been but honestly I didn’t care. I was so sad and angry that this is a way disabled people are seen by society. Last time I checked, being asexual didn’t equal disability.
“If you put in your profile that you are disabled you seem to get very, very few responses, generally from older men. If you leave it out and then tell them when you get chatting, the only question is “can you have sex?” And then they inevitably say that…”they can’t be with a wheelchair user etc.”
says Felicity, a woman who has tried internet dating both when she was younger and again more recently. She further adds why she thinks this obsession with the ability to have sex and then the negative prospects of being with a wheelchair user are prevalent on online dating sites;
“I think a lot of people of those sites actually only want a quick hook-up, which again if they assume you can’t have sex, is a barrier straight away. People who do want to settle can’t imagine doing so with a wheelchair user as there aren’t many people in the media who are disabled, successful, have a family etc.”.
Was it all worth it?
It isn’t because of one jerky guy that I decided online dating wasn’t for me. I couldn’t get my head around the superficial nature of it and all the unwritten rules of writing a message. A friend of mine told me my opening message should resemble a cover letter for a job! .. ha .. It was good advice to use the information in their profile to start a conversation but doing this took a lot of time and didn’t yield much better results than the “hey how are you?” Felicity also struggled with the absence of successful matches, she asserts,
“People seem to be scared of disability, they assume you are very dependant and needy or can’t have sex and do “normal” things.”
After giving it a lot of thought I can see the positives of online dating – particularly when you are disabled and find it hard to go out and meet people. For me I struggle with the idea of judging and being judged primarily on looks. Appearance is of course a large factor for finding someone attractive…but so is kindness and a sense of humour and a hundred other things that you can’t find out on a profile. xx