Dating | Guest Blogger Kristin Beale

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on June 28, 2019 # Health

Dating and meeting new people is tough already. However, for us with a disability, it can feel impossible. In my case, my disability is a wheelchair. I’m paralyzed.

I can argue this two ways: a Seen Disability (physical) is easier to navigate than an Unseen Disability (mental) because, for the most part, I’m saved from having to explain myself; people can assume my limitations, often fairly accurately. Unseen disability, on the other hand, can be hidden and, depending on its prominence, there’s a chance for assumed normalcy among peers. That’s a whole different can of worms that I don’t have experience with, so I’ll only talk about Seen Disabilities.

In the age of algorithm-generated romantic matches, we have a choice to make: keep our disability a secret or come out with it. In my case, pictures of myself from the waist-up are easier to find and, in my opinion, more appealing. If I were to, for example, populate my dating profile with only pictures of my smiling face and leave my lower body out of view, this is what I call the Undercover Method. My premeditation would be to postpone the “disability conversation” until after I match with a guy, he gets to know me, and I charm the figurative pants off him.

The second strategy is to include a shot of my wheelchair in my profile picture, we’ll call this the Straightforward Method, and embrace the disability questions, storytelling, and sometimes inappropriate comments head on. This path is for people with thicker skins, of which I did not have until I had been playing the game for a bit longer.

I’ve gone about this both ways. I don’t think the first way is dishonest and I don’t think either way is necessarily better than the other, but it’s a decision we have to make and there’s a strategy behind both approaches. Dating with a disability can be filed under exhausting, but I think that’s the case with able-bodied dating as well, so we’re not alone.

For an analogy, dating is like playing the claw game you see at movie theaters and arcades. In this game I’m imagining, there’s a pile of stuffed animals (all the people we can date) in the middle, and a stuffed bear holding a heart (a lasting relationship) off to the side. Obviously, we all want the heart bear in this scenario, but the odds are stacked heavily against us. The hope is to grab that bear, but it’s rare and tricky. There is a chance though, and that’s enough to make us spend all our money (time and emotions) on trying. Once we finally grab the bear, it’s worth all the quarters we spent to win it.

I’ll tell you my first attempt at getting the bear, with the Undercover Method. My experience is all using Bumble, a popular dating app among both younger and sometimes older generations. Bumble allows you to upload 1-6 pictures, pick an age range for your matches to fall between, select the desired gender, set proximity requirements based on your location, and write a short bio of under 300 characters. The app presents you with suiters in your criteria, then you’re asked to swipe right (“like”) or left (“don’t like”) on boys or girls filtered by the miniscule information provided.

Welcome to 2019, I guess. To me, using Bumble felt like a necessary evil. Because how else am I supposed to meet new people than from my sofa, with frizzy hair, and while cramming my face with pizza, right?

Just kidding. But also kind of not.

After some hesitation, I downloaded the app and set my age range to ten years surrounding mine, my proximity to ten miles surrounding me, uploaded pictures of myself I thought were flattering and started swiping.Soon after I started swiping, I started dating.

Skipping forward about one month, I went on more first dates than I could count on two hands, and as many second dates as I could count on two fingers. A high majority of the men I met were rude, and the ones who weren’t rude had dissimilar personalities than they had while talking on the app. When I say “rude,” I’m referring to invasive questions pertaining to my disability, inappropriate comments regarding the function of my lower body, and conversation that’s consumed with the story of my accident.

To be clear, I’m fine with talking about my disability. Actually, it’s a great compliment when someone cares enough to seek answers about my condition. That being said, if by the end of the date I feel like it was more of a marketing opportunity for my first book, Greater Things, that tells the story of my accident, instead of mutual pursuit for a romantic connection, that’s draining. There’s so much more to me than my disability and it’s all missed when we only talk about my trauma. Also, kind of a downer.

At the end of that first month, I stepped back and asked myself why the dates were going so poorly. Looking at my profile, I realized that the guys had no idea I use a wheelchair until they saw me for the first time on a date. I was picking good pictures of myself for my profile, and they just happened to not include my wheelchair. My chair is a little bit of a stick in the mud in regards to my being attractive, so it’s okay if it’s not featured on my profile, right? Unfortunately, wrong; I overestimate people, I guess.

Back on the app, I added a full body shot in my profile and dealt with a new, slightly lesser problem: instead of being rude and intolerant of my dissimilarity in person, we got that over with via the chat function of the app. This approach, we’ll call it the Straightforward Method, saved me a lot of time and, thanks to my power to unmatch with the boys and never have to see them again, I could control the flow of abuse. The only downside of exposing my disability so early on is a potential loss of suiter a little earlier on, but it’s a pretty solid weed-out. Maybe I missed out on some free dinners and conversation, but the trade-off seemed worth it.

I’ve tried both approaches and, again, I can’t say which one is better. At this point, I prefer the Straightforward Method. In the days of research for my second book, Date Me, I went Undercover at first unintentionally, then because I didn’t mind the bad first dates; I wanted to experience it all. It was a fun season and I got the opportunity to be entertained and very social, but it wore me down. I went the Straightforward route because I lost patience and, honestly, a little bit of hope. Even when I started being transparent with my matches before meeting them, I still dealt with the disability questions, storytelling, and inappropriate comments.

What makes dating so hard and dating advice so exclusive is the fact that there’s another person involved, and no two people are the same; everyone handles situations differently. As a veteran to both dating methods, I prefer to be straightforward about my disability, in hopes of saving myself some time and possible sadness down the road. My experience serves as anecdote instead of instruction because, again, everyone is different. I encourage everyone to jump into the deep end of dating and create your own stories. As long as you approach it with patience and stay true to who you are, you’ll likely have a good time doing it.

Dating is hard, disability or not, but it’s meant to be fun. As long as you have quarters to spend, keep dropping the claw until you win the stuffed animal. Who knows? Maybe you’ll catch the bear holding a heart.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of a book, Greater Things, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at www.kristinbeale.com. Her comics can be found on Instagram @greater.things.comics .