• Relationships

Girl Talk: Why Are Men Reluctant To Date A Woman With A Disability?

I recently met David through my blog. He was charming, witty and funny. After a bit of friendly Twirting (flirting via Twitter, the equivalent of computer footsie), he said he thought I was pretty funny too and even admitted to being a bit intimidated when I told him how strong my physical disability, Freeman-Sheldon Syndrome, had made my arms. This bone and muscular disorder has resulted in more than 26 surgeries to correct joint contractures, scoliosis and to straighten my leg muscles. You’d be amazed how strong my arms could get just from using a walker for 20+ years. They’re like giant muscles of steel, only smaller and dotted with cute freckles.

Well, this was a first, so feeling a bit bold, I asked him to guest-post from the male perspective on a question that has nagged me since my days in high school when I’d look at other girls and how the guys easily flocked to them. The question: Why are guys so reluctant to date – at the very least, approach – a woman with a disability?

When I was 17, I made a list in my journal of traits I wanted my future husband to possess … nowhere on that list did it say “someone who will tend to every one of my needs at the expense of his own.”

His response: “Men are lazy.”

I thought his honesty was refreshing (heck, sexy even) at first. Here was a guy with enough decency to be open and honest with me instead of placating me and treating me like a breakable, fragile China doll. It seemed too good to be true, which is probably why the feeling didn’t last long.

You see, honesty is only attractive if it’s true. The more I thought about his “laziness” explanation (which was quite a lazy one at that; irony, anyone?), the more it started to seem like one of those Warhead candies I used to love as a child. They’re sweet on the outside, but suck on that candy long enough and you eventually find yourself at its sour center.

Insults sugar-coated as compliments aren’t honesty. They’re cop-outs. Big time. David wasn’t trying to let me down gently. He was just trying to let himself off the hook.

It’s 2009. Why are men still looking at women with disabilities like we are weak creatures, confined to our beds all day, helpless and dependent on others for every little need, unable to work? Here’s the thing: We’re like the Visa card. Women with disabilities are everywhere, and everywhere you want to be, so you just might as well stop even trying to outrun us. We’re real, live, thriving women. We’re not aliens. We have the same wants, passions, desires and (gasp!) needs as able-bodied women.

I’ve seen the stares from guys — and I’m not talking about seductive stares either, here. The look makes me feel like I’m some sort of freak of nature. Sometimes it’s impossible to believe that I could have a chance for love in the “real world.” I may be different, but I still fall asleep at night dreaming of someone lying next to me, someone who sees me and not just my disability. I’ve never understood why it sounded like such a tall order coming from me when millions of other women ask for the same thing. There’s this misconception that love and having a romantic relationship isn’t something women with disabilities need. That misconception, obviously, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I’ve heard many excuses over the years, as I’ve navigated the dating waters as a disabled woman. Here are just a few of the things men have said about the prospect of dating a woman like me and what I would like to say to them in return.

I’m Too “Lazy” To Approach Her

Translation: Wouldn’t it just be easier to find a hot able-bodied blonde with blue eyes?

Come on now. You expect me to believe the same guys who will spend hours planning and checking and re-checking their Fantasy Football lineup are lazy? If you really care about someone – and you actually take the time to get to know them beyond a birthmark – you’d drop that lazy act like a sack of hot potatoes. And didn’t your mother ever tell you that the greatest effort yields the greatest reward?

Now, I’m not asking for forever here — I know that would send some men running in the other direction. But what about a smile back if I smile at you instead of seeing that uncomfortable gaze cross your face, like I’m mentally trying to undress you in public (which, by the way, I’m not). Heck, I’m not even asking you out to dinner, unless I’m feeling exceptionally confident that day. I’m just asking you not to be so quick in dismissing me — the one girl you could so easily overlook — and take a chance. Sure, you could probably get a date with any blonde beauty, but does she have a kick-ass sense of humor? Can she name all 50 states in the U.S. in alphabetical order? Now tell me that’s not hot!

I’m Intimidated By Her

Translation: Hmm, have I met my match? Will she call me out?

If you’re intimidated by me – a woman with a friendly smile who has to stand on her toes just to pass for 4-feet tall, then, honey, you’ve got more problems than I’m equipped to deal with. Might I refer you to a professional?

OK, so I can be intimidating in my wheelchair, which is slightly larger than I am. And yes, I am disarmingly honest and straight-forward and a bit awkward (in a female Michael Cera-esque way), but I’ve found that sometimes, being intimidated by someone in a good way makes things even more exciting and makes you want to get to know the other person that much more. Plus, I’m probably one of the quietest, unassuming girls you’ll ever meet. Really, not so scary.

Will I Be Able To Take Care Of Her?

Translation: How much work is this woman going to be?

I’ve lived – and thrived – through some 26 surgeries and hundreds of hospitalizations. If anything, I’ll be the one taking care of you, and I wouldn’t see it as a burden or something to be afraid of, either. When you love someone, it’s not that hard. Really.

When I was 17, I made a list in my journal of traits I wanted my future husband to possess. On top of the list were caring, sensitive and a guy with a Chandler Bing sense of humor. Those desires of mine haven’t changed, and, surprisingly, nowhere on that list did it say “someone who will tend to every one of my needs at the expense of his own.” My disability wasn’t an issue for me then, and it isn’t an issue now.

Will She Be Able To, You Know … ?

Translation: Will I have to life a celibate life, or at least upgrade my cable porn package?

What’s that? It’s OK. You can say the word. Sex. It’s not like I haven’t heard it before. And, just so you can rest a little easier, no — I haven’t decided to become a nun and dedicate my life to all things celibacy (see how ridiculous that sounds?).

Will My Friends And Family See Past Her Physical Disability?

Translation: Will I be ashamed of her?

I’m not a psychologist, but it’s obvious how blatantly transparent that question is. And if we’re being honest, it’s not really your friends and family you’re worried about, is it? More often than not, you don’t even care what they think …. If you’re honestly concerned that you might be ashamed of me, move along now.

Will I Be Able To Take Her Out In Public Without People Staring?

Translation: See above.

First, thank you so much. Before you, I had never seen the light of day before. You’ve opened up a whole new world for me. But maybe you’re right. Maybe I just shouldn’t be going out and be around other people. Maybe it’d be best if I just stayed in my room all day, watching the colorful world go by outside my window. After all, I wouldn’t want to scare anyone, right?

The fact is, when you’re really into someone, you’re proud to be seen with them. Anywhere.

My father died six years ago. I’ve seen the look in my mother’s eyes when she looks at photos of him: a smile crosses her face as if it is her wedding day all over again. Shouldn’t everyone get to feel that romantic happiness? Don’t be deceived: I am an independent woman, but I still want someone to sit on the porch with someday. All the excuses in the world aren’t going to stop me from finding The One, but it does make me disheartened when I see otherwise great guys give me the brush-off because they see my disability as a relationship dealbreaker.

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