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DWD (Dating With Disabilities)

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  February 9, 2009 10:48 AM

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A reader in Rhode Island needs our help. Let's get to it.

Q: I'm a 40-year-old man and never married, although I was in a committed relationship for about ten years with the same woman. We didn't marry mainly because her father didn't approve of me. I'm well-educated and financially comfortable. Now I would like to meet someone and start a family, but I am gun-shy because I have a physical disability which affects my speech and gait, and I'm not sure how women will react to it. It doesn't seem right, especially online, to mention it as the first, most-prominent things about me, but I've also had the experience of the wind leaving a woman's sails as soon as I amble into view, or they hear me over the phone. It seems there's no suave way to "out" myself, and I probably end up making more of a big deal of my disability than I should. I admit it undermines my confidence in social situations. I'm sure there must be a smartest way to manage and transcend this aspect of my life, but I haven't yet figured it out.
-- OutOfStep, Providence, RI

A: Years ago, I met a former stripper who told me a well-known stripping secret: If you're insecure about a part of your body, treat that part of your body as if it’s the sexiest thing about you. Basically, mind over matter -- and the audience believes.

You're insecure about your speech and gait. That’s understandable. But like those strippers who learn to rock out with their bodies on stage (even if they think their thighs are fat), you need to have mind over matter. You’re funny. You’re obviously sensitive. I know a few dozen women who dream of meeting a 40-year-old man who wants a family. I truly believe that if you work on the confidence, they’ll come ... eventually.

As for when to mention your issues online – be up front. But be confident. Be like those strippers. Work it. “I like books, music, and have the most seductive of speech impediments and a swagger you'll never forget.”

And if they can’t get over these issues, good riddance. There will be others.

Readers? Advice for OutOfStep? Share here. Have your own problem? Submit here. To read through last week’s letters, click here.

-- Meredith

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19 comments so far...
  1. I do know what you mean. I have a chronic illness that pops up every so often, and while I don't like to make a big deal out of it to potential beaus, sometimes it becomes an issue when I have to cancel a date, or when I show up in the middle of a flare up of my illness. In my last relationship, while my boyfriend knew about my illness, I somehow managed to stay with him for almost a year and to never have him see anything more than mild symptoms. If it hadn't been for school breaks, though, he would have seen some pretty scary stuff.

    I certainly wouldn't tell a woman about your disability right up front in a first conversation online. But before you talk on the phone for the first time, and before you meet for the first time, let her know what's going on. I once went on a date with a guy who didn't have a speech impediment, but who DID have an incredibly high pitched voice, and I didn't know about it until he called me while I was on my way to our only date. It was certainly alarming, and I knew I wasn't interested right off the bat. However, if I had known about it, things might have been different. For example, I went out with a guy who had a lopsided expression because of a childhood virus; he told me about it beforehand, and it wasn't an issue.

    In short, if your date is expecting your quirk, they are less likely to feel turned off about it. If they aren't expecting it, it's likely they might feel turned off or even tricked. So, don't advertise yourself, since that's NOT the most important thing about who you are, but let a date know what to expect.

    Posted by sabend February 9, 09 11:31 AM
  1. OutofStep,

    Let's be real and avoid the off-the-rack advice: there are people whose self-esteem is so linked to who they date/marry that they will never accept "damaged goods" as a partner -- and there is still the gauntlet of family to deal with. Their loss.

    Put yourself in a position to succeed. Nothing says an initial meeting has to be one-on-one. Try some first meetings in a place where you are known and have friends nearby. You'll be more comfortable and feel supported. You'll present a picture of someone who may be disabled but still has a life, friends. Meredith's advice to build confidence is good -- to a point -- but there's no reason you have to go it alone either.

    Posted by Spuckey71 February 9, 09 11:37 AM
  1. Do you like the outdoors? Try joining a group called adaptive skiers in NH. My daughter belong to this (39 and single) and she has met many different kinds of people of all ages and abilities. Check out www.usasa.com and you can see for yourself what they have to offer. Don't give up the ship yet!

    Posted by Anonymous February 9, 09 11:53 AM
  1. Self confidence isn't always an easy thing for many of us even without a disability.

    Keep your chin up. Just remember to be true to yourself and continue treat others as you would wish to be treated and things will fall into place.

    Keep the faith.

    Posted by allie February 9, 09 11:56 AM
  1. Be right upfront about it, but downplay the affect it could have on a romantic relationship. From what I know of people meeting people online; many either portray themselves as more than they are, or are interested in more than they deserve. That’s just an odd way of saying all people have the potential to be superficial. After these folks have been through the “Online Dating” routine and seen enough misrepresentation, they are delighted to hear the truth. So many women have been through unrewarding and dishonoring relationships. Their ‘check lists’ have changed…and ‘kind, interesting, fun and honest good guy’ has supplanted ‘beefcake’. Love finds a way.

    Posted by manhandled February 9, 09 12:01 PM
  1. Do you like the outdoors? Try joining a group called adaptive skiers in NH. My daughter belong to this (39 and single) and she has met many different kinds of people of all ages and abilities. Check out www.usasa.com and you can see for yourself what they have to offer. Don't give up the ship yet!

    Posted by Anonymous February 9, 09 12:04 PM
  1. I have a hearing-impairment which has not helped my social life at all. It is very much on my mind when I try to interact with other people. You do have to be upfront about it - tell them about it within the first two emails. But you should make it clear it does not affect your life at all - that you are still very much independent (you want to put to rest their fear you are looking for a caretaker).

    I don't mean to be negative but its been my experience that people with disabilities can always expect to have difficulties with their social life, no matter how they look or what their financial situation is. You just have to deal with it.

    Posted by Joe February 9, 09 12:42 PM
  1. There are specialized dating sites for those with disabilities. Have you tried those, OutofStep? You didn't mention a willingness to dating women with disabilities.

    Posted by LR February 9, 09 01:08 PM
  1. I am married to a blind gentleman whom I met through a telephone dating service, just before the Internet took over. I will tell you what worked for me. My husband's message listed a whole string of achievements -- law degree, condo in prestigious suburb, etc. -- and I was thinking, "You conceited jerk..." when his message said, "I'm blind," and I realized he was making it very clear that he wasn't looking for a sympathy date or someone to take care of him or to feel sorry for him. He was saying, "I'm successful at life, and blindness isn't the most important thing about me." His pride, and his impatience with people who didn't understand that, were both obvious.

    I'm not sure how you would go about presenting a similar view of yourself on line, but I would suggest a similar approach. You might even mention that you've been in long-term relationships before.

    Finally, I wasn't picture-perfect myself -- I'm on the quite large side, and I had a child from a previous marriage. My husband's willingness to perceive more than what appears on the surface had to be as great as my own. So, keep your own list of "requirements" short.

    Posted by LEM February 9, 09 01:53 PM
  1. My husband has Limb Girdle Muscular Dystrophy, which makes walking, lifting and other physical activities nearly impossible. I knew he had this condition when I met him and it didn't matter one bit. He was up front about his condition from the start and it never occurred to me not to pursue the relationship. You will find the right person. Don't give up on yourself or on others.

    Posted by Susan Frances February 9, 09 02:05 PM
  1. As with anything in society, there are those who will accept and love you for who you are inside and out and those who won't. You just need to accept yourself for who you are and focus on all your positives of which it sounds like you have many. Don't worry about what others think;

    Ask yourself, what am I looking for in a life partner? Write it down and look at it every day. Don't compromise and settle for less. Be specific. Try and visualize yourself with your life partner. How does she make you feel? What do you do together? That will give you a basis for approaching and dating women who truly are interested in you.

    Posted by David February 9, 09 02:07 PM
  1. I can totally relate to this. I have neurofibromatosis, and unfortunately for me, a tumor grew around my right eye, making it look almost closed. I also have had several surgeries to my neck, so I have some pretty interesting scars.
    While I never make a big deal about it, and I'm always open to talking about it,others can't always see beyond it. I'll strike up a conversation, oozing my confidence, and it's always the same thing, "I'm sorry, I just can't stop looking at that THING on your eye. Have surgery or something!"
    People who lack confidence are always looking at the "downside" of others. Sooner or later though, someone will see beyond it. And if no one does, that's fine too. I'm happy just the way I am.

    Posted by Louise February 9, 09 03:08 PM
  1. I would be upfront about it, but not make a big deal out of it. Just drop it in passing in your online profile.

    If you really want to get your foot in the door before a woman can have the 'wind drained from her sails' by your gait or voice, after being upfront in your profile, perhaps you can take steps to mitigate the big reveal. Meet some place -- like a restaurant or bar -- where you can already be seated and waiting for your date when she arrives. Then you can stand up to meet her, but don't have to worry about her thoughts as you "amble into view." Furthermore, if you're having problems with the phone thing, don't initiate any phone contact before you can meet in person, but if she wants to speak beforehand, as others have mentioned you should offer a heads up. If she first hears your voice in person, it will be less of a focal point than it would be without any visual reference.

    In a perfect world, I don't think you should feel obligated to "mask" your symptoms. Still, you might feel more confident in other ways if you don't have to be consumed with worry over how your date felt when she saw you walk. Plus, if you're having a legitimate problem with women getting scared off, they may finally begin to give you the chance you deserve.

    Posted by Beth February 9, 09 06:54 PM
  1. Yikes. Meredith's stripper advice is fun to read, but not particularly useful. The complicated feelings that someone with a lifelong disability has about that disability are not likely to vanish due to some Pollyanna-ish Power of Positive Thinking advice.

    OutOfStep, I married a man not unlike you. When we met, he was 36 and had never been in much of a relationship. He was born with a joint condition that makes it very difficult from him to walk; he primarily uses a wheelchair and can walk a very short distance with crutches. His lower body is not fully developed. He lives with a great deal of pain. He is extremely intelligent, highly creative, and has the sweetest soul of anyone I have ever met.

    I’ll tell you our story, in hopes that it will be useful in some way. We met through a very close mutual friend. We’d heard about each other for years before meeting. My sense of him through our friend did not predispose me to think I’d be romantically interested in him, however. When we finally did meet, we immediately sparked.

    I have to admit that his physical issues were…I’m trying to think of the right word…worrisome, at first. Partly because my parents reacted badly. They believe me to be a kind-hearted woman who’s forever taking care of other people, people who take advantage of my (apparently pathological) need to nurture. This had some truth to it a few decades ago, but not so much now or recently. When they met him, their worst fears were realized, and I truly think they imagined me changing his diapers and supporting him financially (neither of which are in any way necessary). Their dismay was challenging for me. I remember talking to a close friend, saying, is there something I’m missing here? Is there some reason not to date a guy who uses a wheelchair? Disability was uncharted territory for me, and for my parents. Happily, we all settled down pretty quickly. To my total amazement, my husband completely won my parents over within a few months. And I figured out that his mobility issues were not such a big deal, really; just something to learn about and deal with (“Hi, is your restaurant wheelchair accessible?” “Uh, yeah, we only have three or four steps.”) and not something that had much bearing on our relationship beyond the pragmatic.

    We will celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. I have been married before, and so it is with some basis for comparison that I say this marriage ROCKS. He’s all the things I wanted in a partner, and he’s a fabulous father to our two-year-old twins.

    I don’t know if any of that is helpful at all. I guess I thought it might be heartening to hear.

    The other part of what I have to say is hard to frame. My husband and I have often compared the emotional issues around his partial disability to my own particular physical challenge, which is obesity, something I’ve struggled with for years. Now, overweight women have their own difficulties getting dates, though I’ve mostly always had partners. Did having a body I didn’t love make me more open to being with a man whose body also presented challenges? Perhaps. And maybe it worked the other way, too; perhaps he was more open to loving a woman whose body wasn’t perfect because his own wasn’t perfect either. I am not suggesting you go looking for fat women in need of love, particularly. I do think all of us have a little trouble looking outside the bullseye of normal, and that tendency is exacerbated online, where we have nothing to go on but a collection of facts divorced from the person they supposedly represent, and maybe a headshot. It’s really easy to dismiss people online for reasons that would be ridiculous in person – when we feel chemistry with people (friends or lovers), we cut them a lot more slack than we would on paper. So I guess what I’m saying is be open to looking in the margins outside that bullseye, considering a partner who might not look perfect on paper. And think about other ways to meet people that aren’t internet-based. (Easier said than done, I know.) In my case, I already knew about his physical issues before we met, so there wasn’t the problem of How To Break It To Me that we might’ve had had we met online. Nothing beats a personal recommendation , so ask your friends to help – you never know where that will lead.

    I wish you all the joy and happiness that my husband and I have found. Good luck to you.

    Posted by MelissaJane February 9, 09 09:06 PM
  1. I can relate to this, because I have Cerebral Palsy that affects my speech, left side and facial movements , and I'm 43. I have dated different women: black, Asian, white, disabled amd abled. It's not easy dating women with disabilities for me, because they gave issues that are not compatible with mine.One time, I went out with someone and found out she has borderline MR.

    So now, I seek out women without disabiliies who are open-minded of any race (Btw, I'm Chinese). Found a few who will take a chance and they're the gorgeous type.

    Yes, It's hard getting your confidence up to ask a woman out, but it can be done whether you have a disability or not. I tjhink the key is knowing what you want out of it; even if it's just frendships, that's fine too.

    Posted by SWAAT February 10, 09 09:38 AM
  1. Regardless of disability, we are who we are. I love the matchmaking concept and read that 63% of married couples met through a network of friends. Why not leverage your friends and also get them to help screen for eligibility since they know you and love you. I'd rather meet people through my trusted and private network of friends and use SPARKBLISS.com which does just that!

    Posted by Joel M. Blatt February 10, 09 11:08 AM
  1. I almost didn't respond to this because I felt I had nothing to offer in terms of personal experience with this. I thought, well I've never dated anyone with a disability, so I'm probably one of those shallow people who wouldn't date someone with a disability. But then I thought about and realized that I had dated five guys who had disabilities, including a severely visually impaired man! I was always certainly aware of their various disabilities even before we dated and there were some accommodations that had to be made, but somehow, it didn't matter that much; there were so many other things about each of them that mattered so much more.

    I think that is the key, to treat it as just another fact - a fact that can matter more or less depending on how you treat it and how open the other is to it. Include it in a description of yourself for online purposes and inform the person of it on the phone, but in an offhand manner. Spuckey71 is right - there are some people who will never be able to deal with this. Mentioning your disability in a casual way allows you the chance filter those people out.

    Posted by Nancy G February 10, 09 11:22 AM
  1. Out of Step-you should go for it and not worry!! So many women will appreciate you for who you are and not be discouraged by superficial characteristics like you describe. I have a very good looking coworker with exactly the same problem. He happens to have a very good looking wife (not disabled). They have an adorable child together and are very, very happy. So keep your chin up and take some of the other good advice here-there is so much more to you and this is such a superficial piece of the puzzle! May you be happily in love soon!

    Posted by Marion February 10, 09 10:19 PM
  1. I read & i agree with your suggestion's.I have a very good looking coworker with exactly the same problem.Thanks.....

    Posted by James Harmison February 20, 09 05:23 AM
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Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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