Does Conventional Dating Wisdom Work for Disabled Folks?
Given that one in four Americans (over 60 million of us) have a disability, dating advice specific to our needs and life experiences should be much more common than it is. Let’s consider how well five conventional pieces of dating advice work for disabled folks:
Rule 1: Dating is a numbers game.
I don’t think this works for anyone, disabled or not, because it sets daters up to think that people are disposable and can simply be discarded if they are not absolutely perfect. This “advice” is especially harmful to disabled people. Telling disabled people we have to put ourselves out there dozens of times, risking rejection due to our disability, gives the impression that we are not allowed to be discerning and that we simply have to “get our numbers up,” thereby increasing our risk of exposure to ableist and damaging reactions. We only have so many spoons.
Rule 2: Talk/call, don’t text.
The reasoning behind this is sound: tone is difficult to discern over text/email and it’s too easy to create a false sense of connection. However, as a blanket statement, “talk, don’t text” doesn’t allow for the diverse communication needs and styles of people with disabilities. We should communicate in a way that meets our needs, whether it’s talking, writing, or otherwise. This can effectively filter out people who are not a good fit.
Rule 3: Stay positive even if the date isn’t going well.
Actually, we can just end the date. Again, we only have so many spoons. There’s no reason to subject ourselves to ableism simply because a date is “supposed” to last a certain amount of time. Also, calling out ableism where we see it, even in a date, is acceptable. It’s not our job to fix ableism, but the culture around disability, romance, and ableism thinly veiled as claims to have a “type” or “physical preference” has got to change.
Rule 4: Make plans at least three days in advance.
In general, this piece of advice almost works. Setting future dates and times can show the intentionality and level of seriousness behind a potential partner's approach. However, people who are chronically ill or have unpredictable conditions often cannot anticipate their availability in the future, so trying to follow this advice can make them feel like failures or unworthy of a relationship. Needing our dates to remain flexible if last minute disability-related needs arise is also a good filter.
Rule 5: Slow down to speed up.
Finally, one that works for disabled folks! It is absolutely acceptable to take as much time as we need to get to know potential dates in whatever ways work best for us, regardless of societal rules or expectations about “etiquette” and timeline. Taking the time we need to get to know potential dates and especially potential partners in the ways that work for us will save us the time and heartache of attempting to force a relationship with someone who is not a good fit.