On dating while differently abled

I’m differently abled, which sometimes makes dating complicated. For the past handful of dates I’ve been on, I decided I would be upfront and tell all of my dates that I walk with a cane or service dog and have limited use of my left hand. One of these days I might decide to surprise them but for now I’ve been telling people. Here’s what happened.

My first date met me at a bistro for lunch. I had called ahead to ask about accessibility and if the restaurant had both booths and tables with chairs. I don’t sit well in booths and I didn’t want to meet someone for the first time and have to reposition myself if I started to slide down in my seat. I was informed that the establishment was accessible and that tables with chairs were available.

I arrived before him, only to find that large parties sat at tables with chairs. Disappointed, I sat down in a booth and waited. I was glad he wasn’t there yet because it meant I could take my coat off alone, which can be a long, awkward process. He came after a short wait and we started talking while we waited for our orders. I had salmon, primarily because it was easy to cut up without having to use both a knife and fork. Sandwiches are an option, but not the safest or most graceful choice. How big is the sandwich? Is it easily contained? I can only hold the sandwich with my right hand so if it’s large and messy, I become the very messy eater. I say “very” because I tend to make a mess anyway.

The date itself was neither good nor bad. My favorite part was when he got up at the end of the meal to use the restroom and I could put my coat on without him seeing. When we said goodbye, he stood there and did nothing so I shook his hand. I couldn’t walk away because I had to wait in the vestibule. I don’t drive so my parents drive me to my dates. It’s certainly not the ideal situation but I am grateful to have a ride.

When my parents pulled up to the restaurant, I went outside and climbed into the car. They have a large vehicle so it usually takes extra time for me to get inside. The process was uneventful except for the fact that my date was standing off to the side, talking to a woman and watching me. I was surprised when he said he wanted to see me again because I didn’t think the first date had gone well enough and didn’t appear to be anything between us.

We went to see a movie. The movie was good and the date was boring, until we went out into the lobby and both my brothers were waiting for me. Embarrassing totally tops boring.

There was one more dinner after that, with a bad kiss that I take full credit for. I went in for a hug while he went in for a kiss and in my confusion I just kind of pressed my mouth against his without even puckering my lips. Smooth.

I set up a date with a different guy at a restaurant. My date said there was a really long wait at the restaurant we were supposed to go to. We decided it would be better to go across the street to a less crowded place.

Are you in your mid-to-late twenties? I am. Have your parents ever met your date before you actually had the first date? Mine did. Have your parents ever given your date a lift before the first date? Mine did. Instead of walking across the street, my date and I climbed into the car with my parents and they drove us over to our new dinner spot.

He had some difficulty not staring at me in the wrong way, although it wasn’t too bad. Dinner was nice. I did my best to keep the conversation going. He seemed sweet.

When we were ready to leave, I put my coat on in front of him. I wasn’t fast and the coat got caught on the back of my chair but I did not worry about it the same way I had worried about it with Guy 1. If Guy 2 is going to date me he’s going to have to get used to the way I put on my coat. We left the restaurant and got back into my parents car to take him to his car in the other parking lot. He hugged me goodnight and thanked my parents for the ride.

The two of us texted all week. The plan was to go to the movies over the weekend. My sister was going to drive me this time. I felt like he was becoming less nervous. Each day he would text me “good morning” when he woke up and “goodnight” before he went to bed, with sporadic conversation in between. He was still a man of very few words. A couple nights before we were supposed to meet again, I thought it would be sweet if I said goodnight to him first and decided to give him a call.

He barely spoke. It was incredibly uncomfortable. I asked him if he still wanted to go out. He declined.

My third date wanted to talk on the phone before we met. If the talking went well, we would go from there. He had a stutter. He said dates were more difficult when women met him without first talking to him over the phone beforehand.

We talked all week for hours. He was charming. The phone calls, mostly serious with a touch of playfulness and flirtation, flowed well. We were having a good time and I was really looking forward to the date.

I was riding the bus home from work on the night of our date when he called. He told me he was nervous because he’s never been on a date, “with someone like you before.” I asked him if he meant someone with a disability. He said yes. I told him we didn’t have to go out if he didn’t want to but he said he still wanted to see me.

I was disappointed. I realize that when someone meets me the person might need to take a minute or two to adjust and get used to the way I look or how I walk. He was being honest, which isn’t a bad thing. However, the way in which he phrased his feelings was a total turnoff and could be construed as rude. Moreover, it is not my job to make anyone feel comfortable around me. It is enough of a challenge to constantly have to adapt to environments and situations that cater first to those without disabilities. When dating, I have to think about accessible entrances, accessible seating, accessible food, and understanding that I am probably going to be different from other people my date has previously dated. That’s enough to take into consideration, along with the typical concerns. Your comfort is on you. Your comfort is up to you.

Maybe it was a good thing there was an issue before the date because it meant the bad part was over. The date itself was great. All those phone calls definitely paid off. We talked as if we were on our second or third date. It was a number of little things that made the night lovely. He ordered mussels for the appetizer. I was doing an okay job de-shelling them but he very politely said he would do it for me. During dinner, he had originally been sitting across from me. When the coffee arrived, he decided to move so he was sitting next to me. He helped me put my coat on, no questions asked. There was a moment where I could sense his frustration while I was trying to slip my arms into the sleeves but he waved it away. His hand was on the small of my back when we walked out of the dining room into the lobby.

It was time to say goodbye, which happened to be right when my dad got out of the car in case I needed help getting in. My date had pulled his car up but he’d come back one more time to say goodnight. I motioned to my dad to get out of sight as my date walked over to me. We kissed while I pretended my parents weren’t waiting in the car right in front of us.

As I continue searching for someone to share life with, I have to keep in mind that we all have our own differences, quirks, issues, and concerns with how others perceive us. Disability or not, dating is full of complications. Mine happen to be very visible. I can’t do much about it and even if I could, hiding it doesn’t make it disappear.

I might be able to pretend I’m not differently-abled at night if I’m sitting at the table before my date shows up and I don’t leave my seat until after he’s gone . My left hand will have to stay hidden under the table and I better pray that my feet don’t decide they want to start moving around and possibly kick him. In the morning, I will still wake up with a disability. So instead of avoiding it, I’m putting it out there. This is me. I’m great. You should date me.

J.M. currently works with people with disabilities. She hopes to spend her life making art and helping people. Quoting and referencing movies on a regular basis is typical.

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