Online dating with a disability
Dating when you don’t have a disability is hard as it is, and having a disability puts a whole other layer onto it – when do you tell the person you’re chatting with, and how much should it matter?
I was involved in a road accident that caused severe injury to my spine. Most people thought I wouldn’t make it to my 20th birthday. If I am being honest, I didn’t think I would either. Despite my complicated injury, I didn’t spend too much time at the hospital. Just two months after the accident, I was back home in my parents’ house getting bathed and clothed by them because I was that dependent.
At the time I got hurt, I had a girlfriend whom I had dated for a short while. The reality of my injury put a strain on the relationship, and we parted ways. To everyone else, she was the superficial girl who had left her disabled boyfriend at his lowest. But the truth was that my toxic nature had led to our downfall. Coming to grips with the reality that I wasn’t going to walk again made me a bitter, intolerable, and insecure man. She had to leave. I never blamed her.
As time went by, my physical and psychological wounds healed, and I started to feel an urge to get back to the dating world. I yearned to experience love and companionship. My journey so far had only involved trips to the hospital and visits from religious people who wanted to place their hands on my head and pray for my feet to come back to life. I was lonely and I needed a woman’s energy and touch.
Before the accident, I had never struggled too much with women, but I realized that the man I was then, was worlds apart from the man I had become. Since I never really left my room, the only way I was going to meet women was through the internet. This however, presented a difficult question; was I ready to show myself to the world? The answer was no.
‘Showing myself’ in this case, refers to acknowledging my disability. I made a conscious decision to portray myself as nothing other than able bodied (‘normal’). This meant that I either posted pictures that had been taken prior to the accident or passport sized ones that did not reveal my wheelchair or my weird looking hands. I also avoided engaging in conversations that could have portrayed me as such.
At first, it was exciting and intoxicating to see women taking notice of the old me. It took me back to simpler days when all I had to do was smile hard and the deal was sealed. For the first time in a long time, I was confident again. I was pursuing people I liked and if I got turned down, I took no offense.
Even though I was having fun chatting with different women all night, I couldn’t shake feeling like I was a fraud. I was lying to them, and even worse, I was lying to myself. I was presenting in a way that was misleading and the more I did it, the worse I felt.
After a lot of soul searching and self-reflection, I decided to own my identity and show the world that I was a man just like any other, the only difference was, while other men walked, I wheeled. Going public about my disability on social media was a significant time in my life, essentially because I was telling people, ‘I have accepted myself, your turn!’
To my surprise, I started getting a lot of admirers and people who fancied me. I couldn’t understand how and why this was happening. In my mind, revealing that I had a severe disability ought to have put me at the very bottom of the dating pool. I would later realise that most of the women inboxing me had their own peculiar motives.
Conversations could get hot and steamy fast. We would talk, text and video call till odd hours of the day. Naturally, I would start buying into the idea that these women genuinely liked me and weren’t too bothered about being with a disabled man. Without notice, the ‘relationship’ would come to an unprecedented halt. They would proceed to live their lives and I was left behind, with emotional baggage, trying to process what had happened.
I took me a minute, well, it took me way longer, but I eventually made sense of what was happening. Some women wanted the thrill of engaging with a man unlike any other man they had engaged with. They were curious to know about me; how I think, how I live and even make love. For them, it was a thirst for adventure, and once the thirst was quenched, they left as fast as they came. I was being used.
This still happens till today. A girl will see my story and be moved by it. She will send an inbox and express that she likes me. She will push the idea of having some kind of relationship with me until I give in. At the beginning, we will be inseparable. She will assume the role of ‘saviour’ in the relationship. She will push me to try new things and attempt to save me from the sad life she believes I live. With time, she will realize that my disability is for life, and that is a long time to have to ‘save’ me. So she will move on. Soon, another will reach out and profess her undying love. The cycle will continue…
Have you ever lied about yourself or what you look like to someone you’re chatting with online?