Dating with a disability can be intimidating. Where do you start? How do you meet people? How honest should you be if you date online? In the first of our dating series, Ali Ingersoll (@quirkyquad_ali; www.quirkyquad.com) shares her dating experience, tips on setting up your online profile and advice for when you date in person.
The Dating Mindset
Dating - a word loaded with so many emotions and often, a word that evokes the feeling of being utterly overwhelmed. If you add in dating with a disability, heightened anxiety tends to be the “norm” in our community.
After I broke my neck in 2010, becoming a C6 quadriplegic, I spent the better part of six years believing dating was a fairytale conceived for the able-bodied population.
I went through internal struggles living in hospitals for years on end with seemingly insurmountable medical complications and learning to accept my body the way it was. I didn’t see myself as a sexually beautiful human being. Essentially, I felt as if I was asexual, and I couldn’t fathom the concept of another person finding me sexy because I couldn’t muster up the strength to even look at myself in the mirror for nearly two years.
When my medical life started to become stable, something very interesting happened to me almost overnight - I decided to take on the Herculean mission of trying to date. I didn’t know where to start. Prior to my accident I had no trouble dating. I simply went to a bar and there were men everywhere. When I went back to bars in my wheelchair, trying to meet men, I was devastated to realize men were not looking at me as they used to. I didn’t look any different other than the fact that I was in a wheelchair. This changed everything for me.
I quickly came to the realization that I was going to have to change how I date. I spent several weeks researching different online dating websites and decided to take the dive into an unfamiliar world. I asked many of my friends in wheelchairs what their experiences were like and most responses were quite negative, unfortunately.
I had a different philosophy - the worst someone can say is no.
“I went into online dating with a very specific mindset. I was not out to find the love of my life. I wanted to explore my sexuality as a woman in a wheelchair and write about it online.”
I was in a unique situation - spinal cord injury survivor, wheelchair user and I had a stage IV pressure sore on my backside. I spent most of my days in bed, but then would wrap up my wound and go on dates to pass the time as I waited for yet another surgery. It was a unique situation as I dove into online dating.
Online Dating Profile Strategy
Scrolling through online profiles, you naturally have an initial attraction to a person; it’s when you decide to read more about them that you develop a first impression. So, your profile is important! I worked hard on my online dating profile, proudly displaying my wheelchair. You must be honest – and adding some humor never hurts. Here are a few tidbits of what I shared on my profile so men could get a sense of my personality:
Be Your Own Scientist
I went into online dating with a very specific mindset. I was not out to find the love of my life. I wanted to explore my sexuality as a woman in a wheelchair, write about it online (read more at www.quirkyquad.com) to share my experiences. I became the scientist in my own life. It just so happens that my online dating journey led to my present marriage, but that was certainly not my intent in the beginning. I just wanted to have fun and feel sexy again.
I hear from so many of my friends in wheelchairs that they are so scared to put themselves out there. I get it. Whenever anyone starts dating, you generally want to stay in the sexy phase of things for as long as you can. However, when you add the layer of a disability to dating, things get complicated quickly. You have to be confident in yourself, in the skin you are in.
I have a catheter bag on my leg. My body has a “quad” belly no matter how good of shape I stay in. I wear pressure relieving stockings. My body just isn’t tight as it used to be because I am paralyzed from the chest down. For the longest time I couldn’t understand why any man would want to dive into this world with me because it’s challenging enough living in my own body.
So, with my scientist hat on I decided to first embark on a dating experiment. I’m a full believer in living in a world of dark humor to get me through those challenging moments. You have to find the humor in things even when dates go horribly wrong, as many of mine did. However, I did it for the experience. I wrote about it. I made myself laugh, and I know I made many others laugh as well. This takes a little bit of bravery. No one likes rejection.
Chatting to these men online was fairly straightforward. I had a very strict policy that I would only chat with men for a week online and then we had to go on a physical date. I didn’t want to waste my time only to find that these guys would be uncomfortable when they saw me in person or that they didn’t know what they were getting into. They were either going to be okay with the wheelchair or they were not. Naturally, I eased them into many topics - I didn’t immediately start talking about my catheter on our first date. Do you talk about how you pee when you first meet a person? I think not! It’s good to be honest and discreet. Be confident in sharing why you are in a wheelchair. Remember, you want someone who will accept all of you as you are, so just be you!
When approaching online dating, here’s some advice to those with disabilities:
Editor’s Note: Ali shares more about her online dating experience in a recent episode of her podcast Shower Talk with Ali - Online Wheelchair Dating Tips.