by Eva Sweeney
Dating is awkward for everyone. You wonder whether you are making a good first impression, if the other person likes you and if are you’re asking interesting questions. These fears are normal when dating someone new. Things can become more complicated when you are a person with a disability — but they don’t have to.
Here are some tips for navigating the dating process when you have a disability:
1. Disclose your disability before you meet.
Figuring out when to disclose your disability can be tricky. In this age of dating apps and websites, there’s the question of whether to mention your disability in your profile. Some people choose to wait until they’re chatting with a person to tell them, while others include it on their profiles. This is a personal choice, but noting your disability before you meet in real life is a good idea. Even if you have a disability that is not visible, it is still a good idea to disclose early on. It will weed people out — the folks who are truly cool with who you are will stick around.
2. Talk about how your disability affects you.
Giving someone a WebMD link is probably not the best way to disclose that you have a disability. Instead, talking briefly about how your disability does and does not affect you is a good place to start. If you are just meeting for the first time, discussing how sex works for you might be jumping the gun (depending on your intentions!). Disabilities are new to most people, so be open to any questions or fears they may have, no matter how obvious or simple.
3. Explain your caregiver, if you have one.
What do you do when it’s time to meet someone in real life and you have a disability that requires help with basic things like eating and drinking? Asking your date to help you may overwhelm them, but bringing a third person might be awkward, too. This third person could be a personal care attendant, a family member or a friend — in any case, having open communication is key.
Before you go on your date, explain why you are bringing this third person with you, who they are and that you and your date can still have some one-on-one time. This might mean that after the meal, your aide takes a walk to give you time alone with your date.
That said, a hidden benefit of bringing an aide is that if the date is going horribly, you can use them as an easy out! Over time, if things work out and your new person wants to learn how to help you, that’s totally cool –but not on the first date. Eventually getting to a point where you and your person can go on dates alone deepens the relationship.
4. Don’t rely on a romantic partner for daily care.
As you and your person get more and more comfortable with each other, they will eventually learn how to help you. Some of this comes naturally while other tasks are more specifically taught. However, a lot of people with disabilities fall into the trap of relying solely on their partner for daily care. This seems to make sense, as you two are super comfortable with each other. However, this can put stress on a relationship because your partner is taking on two very different roles — lover and caregiver. Your partner should be able to focus on the romantic side of the relationship and leave the consistent daily care to your aides.
Even if your partner wants to help, you should not let it become a regular thing. Care burnout is a common pitfall in romantic relationships involving people with disabilities. This is especially true if your partner is new to the world of disabilities. They might think helping you shows affection, but it can strain the relationship. This burnout or strain can come from either partner, for various reasons. Also, you might not want your partner to help or watch you do certain things, like using the bathroom. Declining help from your new partner does not mean you have body or disability shame, but you want to keep things sexy — especially at first.
Dating is an exciting, nerve-wracking, butterfly-making activity. Open communication makes it easier for all parties involved. Most importantly, have fun!
Eva Sweeney is a 33-year-old genderqueer disabled female who works primarily as a freelance writer and sex educator whose topics include disabilities and sex, gender and queer culture. She is also the creator of a documentary called Respect: The Joy of Aides. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her service dog, Coral, and her mischievous cat, Romeo.