Life in a wheelchair brings many hurdles. Dating is just one of them
So far 22 matches, zero replies
When my MS worsened and I moved into a wheelchair in 2015 I made two resolutions to fulfil by the time I turned 30 (arbitrary I know but it seemed a while away at the time).
The first was to find and move into my own place, which, if met, would leave me living at my parents for a max of two and a half years. As I discovered, that wasn’t an easy process anymore, once all the adaptations and social care were added in, so good job I started early. In comparison then, the second, to go on a date; should be the easy one, I’d never had trouble getting interest before, sure being disabled would make it harder, but it could be a truly terrible date, with a guy I never see again to tick the box.
To tell the truth, it’s more about my confidence than any future relationship. When my disability finally forced the break-up of my six year relationship with my ex and I moved from our shared flat in east London to my childhood home it took 18 months to build myself back up from the changes (using a wheelchair, moving city, moving job, being single), to recover from them.
I installed Bumble. I don’t want any awkward conversations or wasted energy so my profile includes the line “have MS, can’t walk, use a wheelchair”. I generally avoid photos of myself in my chair (I don’t feel it’s the greatest fashion accessory) but found one from a friend’s wedding, I guess it’s not as obvious as it could be but you couldn’t accuse me of deceit.
Encouragingly, some matches come in. I’ve made myself a rule to message every match, just a ‘Hi how are you’, I’m not wasting time tailor making intros. So far, 22 matches, 0 responses. I’ve seen my male friends on dating apps: they scan through the photos and make a decision. It’s only when they get the match and message that they actually check the detail, and then, I’m assuming, freak out.
The 22 includes the three guys who didn’t even let the 24 hours expire, but unmatched instantly; were they worried I’d somehow track them down and camp outside their home in my wheelchair with a disability rights banner declaring undying love? That even their existence on my phone would raise my hopes too high? I guess guys are worried that I’m desperately seeking a future husband to nurse me for the rest of my life when in fact the opposite is true.
In truth, this is the first time in my life I’ve experienced rejection based on being unattractive. I’m not claiming that I always had my pick of men, but when I was single pre disability, there were always options, a handful of guys who I knew were interested, and attention when I went out. Obviously I didn’t appreciate it at the time, such is the naivety of youth, and I’d kick myself now if I physically could.
I can’t pretend I’m surprised, it’s impossible to answer whether I’d have swiped right to someone in a wheelchair in a parallel life. It looks difficult and un-fun, I get it. Bumble has now become an impersonal task on my to do list. I sometimes worry I’ve become so thick skinned I’ve turned into a robot, I barely feel anything in response to the matches or expired conversations, and I’m not looking for anything serious enough to invest/throw money away on a paying site.
While I am grateful to live in a country where being politically correct is a thing, and that people are generally kind and accepting, here’s where we get to the invisible limit. It’s a first world problem I know, I only need glance at the news to count myself lucky, but we’re not perfect either. One of my friends even suggested a ‘disabled dating agency’. She didn’t go as far as proposing I apply for The Undateables, but it’s a similar logic (I have nothing against The Undateables, but ‘disabled’ is a very broad category).
It’s unhelpful that what I find attractive hasn’t changed, even if I’ve gone down a few leaps on the scorecard, my brain hasn’t rewired in line with it. I tell myself to swipe right more, but that hardly seems fair on the guy either “well, I didn’t really find you hot, but because I’m disabled thought I better lower my expectations and give it a go…”
So I’m stuck in a predicament with my turning 30 objectives. I struggle to dread lifelong loneliness, the childhood ideal of marriage, kids, and walks along the beach dissipated years ago (and I’ve struck deals with a lot of friends that I’ll grow old with them if needs be). But even my few weeks on Bumble have been a steep learning curve, maybe the reality check I needed. As much as I, of all people, know, life isn’t fair, here’s to perceptions changing.