It is naive for any disabled person to think that they will never face rejection or prejudice based purely on their disabilities. We have grown up seeing the world in a certain way and anything that strays from the norm is different. Different things are hard to understand. People often fear what they cannot understand - so rather than try, they avoid the said thing/person entirely.
In many ways, we are different. I am different.
It is now six years since I first sat on a wheelchair. Every day presents a new opportunity to find out new things about myself and how I can adapt. It has been a continuous battle to try and get as close as I can to independence and self-improvement. The conundrum is to improve yourself on one hand while fighting off the prejudice of the world using the other hand.
The moment I get interested in a woman and they express their interest in me, my initial feelings of excitement and expectation are immediately backdropped by hesitation and apprehension. She might like me, but chances are, her friends and family won’t. I say this judging from my past relationships and the lukewarm support I have received from people in my ex girlfriends' circles. It is usually a gradual process that ends up in outright rejection.
'Why him?' is one of the most commonly asked questions in these cases. Popular opinion dictates that the only reason someone sane can enter a relationship with a disabled person is only when the disabled person has money. This sheds a light on society and how we perceive relationships. If the said person has no money, it beggars belief; 'why would you put this unnecessary burden on yourself?'
There was a time an ex-girlfriend of mine had a graduation party at their home. At first, she really wanted me to attend and share in the joy of her accomplishments. I was ready to go. I knew it had the potential to become a really awkward afternoon, but I had had many awkward afternoons before. I also knew two of her friends had blatantly expressed their disapproval about her dating me. They wanted more for her. A man that could command respect and admiration in every space he entered. A man with a stable job who was generous and adventurous. I, on the other hand was still living in my mother's house with barely enough for internet bundles.
We had something special. We really did, but the constant negative response I received from her circle was no match for whatever feelings she had for me. She began hinting that we shouldn’t meet at her place because of the weather being so cold. It was easy to read between the lines and realize that our time together was nearing its end.
Friends that advise our partners against being with us probably do it because they think they are looking out for them. An image of the perfect partner exists, and I doubt a disability is on the list of features. When you see a friend starting to like a disabled person, you worry for them. You think about all the things they will miss out on; the couples’ hikes and getaways, cosy hugs when standing up, piggyback rides on a goofy afternoon, intimacy as we know it. Or rather, that’s what my dating life has shown me.
But being with someone is so much more than the things you can do together. It is about how the other person makes you feel even when you are doing nothing.
Some degree of doubt is planted every time an outsider comments negatively on an interabled relationship (a relationship in which one person is disabled, and one is not). It is wrong to assume or predict a downfall simply because of the stereotypes you hold against disabled people. If someone you know is in a healthy and fulfilling relationship with a disabled person and for this reason alone, you are inclined to object, begin by interrogating your flaws and then ask yourself this, "is enforcing my prejudice more important than their happiness?"
Do you think Brian’s ex was right?