The Online Dating Experience for the Disabled
Dating is hard. Dating is really hard. If you have a disability, dating is really, really hard!
First, you have to get over your own insecurities about image and ability. Then, you have to find someone you are attracted to who is also attracted to you. Lastly, you have to make sure you are both on the same page as far as what direction the attraction is heading — one night stand or potential lifetime partner?
The hardest part about dating is the initial step of meeting someone, and social media has taken over how people do this today.
In not-so-distant history, teens would get excited about going to the mall and adults about heading to the bar to pick up a date. But now, no matter your age or where you are in the world, you can literally meet someone with the click of a finger through online dating. In fact, according to a 2013 study, a third of couples married between 2005 and 2012 met online. Those couples were also less likely to break up than survey respondents who met offline.
One thing to consider is that online dating is drastically different depending on gender identity and dating preference. Cisgender heterosexual men and women tend to see things from a very different angle. As writer Margaret Atwood once said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.” Add a disability into the mix, and we get something like this:
“Disabled people are afraid able-bodied people will not accept them. Able-bodied people are afraid they will break the disabled person even more.”
An Online Dating Experiment
While it is generally true that women get more attention on dating sites than men, that doesn’t always mean it’s positive attention from safe, potential partners. I was curious if the same applied to disabled women. Do they get as much attention as their able-bodied counterparts? To get some answers, I set up an experiment where I created accounts on three of the most popular free dating websites:
- POF.com – I used a profile picture of me clearly showing my wheelchair and also included photos featuring only my face.
- okcupid.com – I did not use any photos showing my wheelchair.
- bumble.com – I only uploaded pictures that featured me with my wheelchair.
What Were My Findings?
Here’s one message thread from my POF profile:
On OkCupid where no photos of my wheelchair were included, I got a decent number of men messaging me. I carried on with normal filtering and was asked many times on dates, but when I told them I used a wheelchair, things got interesting. At first, many of them said it did not matter, but then the questions began regarding how I got hurt and if I could perform sexually. A few men responded saying they felt I had deceived them.
When my profile included photos with my wheelchair, I actually got more messages and often with questions asking how I got hurt, how much mobility I have, and if I can perform sexually. However, it seemed like the men were sincere, and I did not have to worry about them not being attracted to me because of my wheelchair.
What Do Others Say About Online Dating?
In Ben Duffy’s soon-to-be-released documentary, Take a look at this heart, a film that focuses on sex, dating, and love as it pertains to individuals with disabilities, Patrick Ivison shares a little about his experience with online dating:
“I put myself in a chair online because that’s who I am. Profiles, a lot of them say under 6-foot swipe left. I’m #?#@ like 4’3”! That isn’t even close!”
Would I Continue Online Dating?
I began online dating many years ago. I personally have found traditional dating difficult because I have always been friend-zoned very easily. This happened even before my injury because I have such a straightforward, strong personality. Now that I use a wheelchair, many men look at me as that strong, wise, survivor of a tragedy they can talk to but don’t want to break. Um, I think I am already broken!
I was introduced to POF by a friend who said I should give it a try, so I did. I still use it today to try to find my prince charming! Honestly, there are a lot of weirdos, guys that just want sex, and men I simply would never date. After every initial introduction and letting the person know I use a wheelchair, there are always tons of the same questions to answer about my ability to perform sexually and how much I can feel. These are questions I would not have to answer if I were not paralyzed. However, I have been able to find love twice through the site! I met Alex, my first able-bodied boyfriend, on POF, and I found my second, Jonathon, there as well.
The best thing about online dating is just that — you’re online, protected from any embarrassing mishaps or physical harm.
As long as you are wise and fastidious about who you’re open with, it can be an awesome way to meet new people.
5 Tips to Safe Online Dating for the Disability Community
- Use a trustworthy site
- Keep your contact information private
- Play detective on your potential date
- Let a friend or family member know the details about your face-to-face meetings (time, date, location, with whom, etc.)
- Don’t be afraid to report someone
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