Dating me is a strange experience.
As much as I don’t like to talk about it publicly in fear of exploiting my relationship, I can’t deny that the dynamics of dating me are often unique directly because of my disability.
If you know me, you know that writing that sentence sets off red flags in my head and leads me to feel like I need to defend myself. I can sit here and tell you that no one’s special for dating me, that I bring immense value to the relationship too, and that my relationship is fairly mundane and not much different from able bodied couples. I can sit here and fear that someone will take things out of proportion and call my relationship “inspirational” or think my partner is some kind of superhero. These are all facts and feelings that are completely valid, but that doesn’t negate that there are unique aspects to dating someone with a disability.
My life is not average by any means, though we sometimes joke that it is. There’s no other relationship in which as a partner you tend to have to wipe your significant other’s butt, help them cough up mucus with a weird machine, cut up their food into little pieces, assist them in chugging their beer, or have to plug them in at night to a breathing machine.
My boyfriend is no superhero. But, sometimes he is.
(Mostly because he’s dating someone as insane as I am, but more on that later.)
My close friends often tell me, “You’ve really found a good one.” They’re right, and even though I hate that they’re right because I want them to be on my side during every argument and agree with me when I call him a jerk, there’s a lot of truth in these proclamations.
They don’t tell me I’ve found a good one because he helps me use the bathroom sometimes, or because he’s comfortable putting my bipap mask on at night. These are all just things that come with dating me, and to be quite frank, I’ve had assholes who were willing to help with these things too.
However, I did find a good one because there’s an attitude with him that I often have a hard time comprehending. Not only does he help me with tasks that other boyfriends might not have to in other relationships, he doesn’t think twice about it and is constantly asking me how he can improve. He doesn’t even blink when I ask him to help me with something, and all of these little things that might seem weird to outsiders are just a part of our life now. Although this attitude is ideal and should be the norm, it often isn’t.
I once dated
a man a boy who would grumble and complain every time he had to pick me up. One time we went to his house, and the only contingency I had with going over there was that he would need to help me use the bathroom since I wouldn’t have access to an assistant. He helped me, but complained the whole time. To which I protested, “How can you have sex with me but have a problem wiping my ass?” I still don’t understand that logic.
My partner now is doing his best to truly understand the differences I have to live with every day.
Not only am I disabled, I’m chronically ill from damaging my lungs a few years ago. He helps me with strange breathing treatments, holds my lungs tight when I forget that they’re still working, and will sit with me in the ER all night—feeding me applesauce and doing his best to calm my nerves, knowing that hospitals don’t feel safe to me.
After multiple nights of sleeping uncomfortably next to him when we first started dating because I was too afraid to wake him up and ask him to help me reposition, we had a conversation to which he replied, “I would rather wake up a few times than you not get good sleep.” Today, beneath all of the snoring, he will not wake up, no matter how hard I try, unless I say the magic phrase: “Hey babe?” — it works every time.
Dates for us often look like running errands. These errands include: trips (to fight the man!) at the company I hire my PCA’s through that always gives me problems, dates to get my wheelchair repaired in which I have to lay on top of him while they work since standard chairs aren’t doable for me, random doctor’s appointments, and other various inconvenient things that I could schedule a PCA to go with me to do, but in which he has no problem doing because he understands how hard finding those hours can be. We’ve learned to make anything romantic, even if it is just sitting together in a smelly waiting room.
Besides the logistics that come with living with a disability, he’s trying to understand the more complex aspects of it too.
We have in depth conversations about ableism. I’ll be completely honest with you, these conversations get messy, and we still haven’t figured it all out yet. We’re trying to merge the lives of a white bread cisgendered straight man and a punk rock crippled chick, while talking about concepts that aren’t black and white or easy to comprehend. There have been times that I’ve damn near shut down completely and refused to believe someone so different from me could possibly understand my worldview. Nevertheless, I’ve never met anyone who was so committed to having these important conversations no matter how messy they get, knowing that the complexities of my life are just as important as the lesser issues are. At the end of the day, I know I can cry to him about why I can’t see myself getting married because of government confinements, or why I don’t feel safe living in a suburb, or how stuck I feel living my life through other people no matter how awesome they are, or why yesterday was just really heavy and the clerk at the store who made an ableist comment was the needle that broke the camel’s back. Any space with him is safe, even if the conversations aren’t always cut and dry.
So, maybe my life isn’t average, and maybe that means no relationship I’m in ever will be either.
However, it has forced me to learn a lot in a short amount of time.
If I want a hug or a kiss, I often have to ask out loud. Communication is ten times more important, and as much as I hate asking for things, the fact that he doesn’t hesitate makes it so much easier. If I want to surprise my partner, it often involves the help of other people, which pushes me to trust others with the more private parts of my life that I often wouldn’t. Despite my partner being so willing to help me, I do have a lot of past trauma relating to my care and it’s been a struggle every day to trust someone with these intimate parts of my life, but that trust is always growing. For me, dating is vulnerability on steroids, but it challenges me to my core and brings us closer together.
Besides all of this, we’re two complex people in general! I’m an often-explosive fiery redheaded creative who is dating a pragmatic original hipster engineer. This has taught me to be patient always and somehow wrap my head around the fact that some math doesn’t have numbers. Our relationship is extremely unique, and we’re both amazing for putting up with each other regardless of any disability, but that’s another story for another time.
I think avoiding the fact that my disability brings up unique challenges has never done me any good. My disability has its fair share of obstacles in intimate relationships, but there’s a lot of good that’s come from it, and besides—chivalry will never die when you literally can’t open doors for yourself.