Dating and Relationship Advice

In my last post, I mentioned that the standards many people set for who they allow access to their time and attention in the dating world are ableist. Allow me to expand on that with the hopes that bringing it to awareness will be a step in changing them while knowing that, while knowledge is half the battle, it is only half the battle.

The standards many people set for who they allow access to their time and attention when dating are ableist. Able-bodyminded people are encouraged to set whatever standards they want for themselves and not let anything hold them back from raising them all the way to the sky. So, able-bodyminded people think they are freely deciding, based on their desires and dreams for their love life, what these standards should be.

But society has deeply programmed everyone, disabled and able-bodyminded alike, to seek certain characteristics in a partner. We may think these are just our own preferences, but we are saturated with messages about beauty and strength by the advertisement-laden mass media and underexposed to people with different bodies, minds and abilities than us.

It's likely common knowledge that our culture influences us to prefer certain types of mates, with specifics for women (e.g. slender, big eyes, long, flowing hair) and men (e.g. strong, tall, broad-shouldered). But it's still implicit that, in our societal programming is a desire to partner with an able-bodied person. Even many disabled people have that preference—which is either evidence of internalized oppression and/or just how strong the programming is. We don't even think about the ability status of our preferred partners; most of us just assume they will be able-bodyminded.

So when we set dating standards, we are doing so in a culture that pushes us hard to believe we "naturally" want certain physical characteristics in a potential partner. When we imagine ourselves with someone, hardly do we ever picture them in a wheelchair or with different sensory or intellectual abilities than ourselves — someone with "normal" or "standard-issue" intellects and sensory systems.

In addition to being saturated with able-bodied preference by movies, books, advertisers, our society still carries with it the legacy of segregating disabled people in institutions in the 1970s and still doing so in schools (and calling it special ed) today. This means that disabled people are not commonly participating in broader society, which makes us unfamiliar to able-bodyminded folks. And, because it's human nature to fear what we don't know, this translates to able-bodied people judging us as scary.

So with the double whammy of separation from society and able-bodyminded saturation, what's a disabled dater to do? First, remember that it's not all on us to change this story. Societal shifts take more than one person — they can happen quickly. Second, feel free to set whatever standards you feel are right for you in terms of dating. And then examine them to make sure they're truly coming from your authentic self rather than society's heavy programming and inherited experience of exclusion and isolation. And, if you have the spoons for it, encourage your able-bodyminded friends to do the same.