Reviews | Play the online dating game, in a wheelchair

A man I met Coffee Meets Bagel with was incredibly sorry when I first told him about my wheelchair, like it was the most tragic thing he had ever heard. I ended this by explaining that my disability is part of who I am and there is nothing to be sorry about. I ended up going on one date with him, then another. For the second date, my bagel suggested a paint party (a social event that involves brushes, canvas, acrylics and, usually, wine) since I had told him how much I enjoyed them. He found a Groupon and I researched a location, choosing a restaurant in New York that was supposed to be wheelchair accessible.

It turned out that the restaurant was accessible, but the painting class was in an upstairs room. So we spent our entire date sitting directly under the painters, having dinner and having a tense conversation with wine-fueled laughter and painting instructions in the background. I was mortified. Following this disaster, I promised my date that I would get his money back. As soon as the company refunded our tickets, I never heard from him again.

It was painful to realize that the hardest part is not over once someone finds out that I have a disability. Going on dates with me can be a crash course in disability, and I recognize that it’s not always easy to manage for non-disabled people. But I wasn’t helping the situation by hiding the existence of my disability, by bringing it down on people only when I thought it was right. In retrospect, this only served to contribute to the stigma that I usually fight so hard.

I felt like a hypocrite. In all other areas of my life, my disability is at the forefront. I write and talk endlessly about being a proud and shameless disabled woman. It’s part of who I am, shaping everything I do and everything I enjoy. But in the world of online dating, my disability was my secret shame.

So I decided it was time for a change. I started gradually, referencing my disability throughout my profile, then adding photos where my wheelchair was clearly visible. I tried to keep things light and humorous. For example, OKCupid asks users to list six things they can’t live without; one of mine is “the invention of the wheel”.

Still, I found myself having to make sure that potential matches had been picked up on the trail of clues I had left. I got tired of feeling like I needed to trick men into caring about it because society taught me that my disability made me undesirable. Eventually, I took the step I was so afraid to take, opening up about disability to strangers who I hoped would appreciate my honesty and maybe send me a message.

Prominently in my profile, I wrote: “I would like to be very candid about the fact that I use a wheelchair. My disability is part of who I am and I’m a loud and proud disability rights activist, but there’s so much more that defines me (you know, like the things I have in my profile). I realize that some people are hesitant to date a human being who lives the world sitting down. But I’d like to think you’ll keep reading and dive a little deeper. And you are welcome to ask questions, if you have any.

Once I added that paragraph, I felt liberated, relieved that anyone I spoke to had a clearer picture of me. There were a lot of games that didn’t work out, and if it’s really because of my handicap, I’ll never know. But I had a nearly year-long relationship with a man I met through OKCupid, so I know it’s possible lightning strikes again. My love life remains a comedy of errors, and I still struggle every day with the feeling that my disability means I won’t find love, but at least I’m true to myself. I put myself out there – my whole self – and it feels good to be proud of who I am.

About Jimmie P. Ricks

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