My Disability Is Not a Burden—But to Convince Potential Dates, I First Have to Convince Myself

Since the first try, I’ve had a couple of dating profiles on sites like Plenty of Fish and OkCupid. I even attempted EHarmony. Each time the setup is the same: Call a friend to help, get drunk, agonize over where to put the term “wheelchair user” in the bio, and try to find the best picture of myself…then wait.

I always disclose my disability in my profile, because I don’t have time for games or that extra tinge of fear that comes when you are trying to figure out when to reveal your big “secret” to someone. On my most recent try a few years ago, I was messaging with a guy for a few days, probably talking about a TV show. I was a big basketball fan at the time, so the subject came up. “I haven’t played, though,” I said, “I don’t know how to find a wheelchair basketball team.” He made polite conversation with me for the night and then…ghosted.

The most awkward encounter I had started out promising. This guy wrote paragraphs—as a writer, someone who’s eloquent and shows they’ve read my profile is a must. Aside from his ability to form coherent sentences, I wasn’t super into him, but I knew I wanted a real relationship, and to me that means taking time to get to know someone. Then one night he dropped the bomb: “I should tell you I’m a devotee.”

A devotee is someone who fetishizes wheelchairs and disability. Devotees inspire fear in me. I’m not here to fetish-shame anyone, but my disability isn’t who I am—it’s just one part. I knew almost instantly that I wouldn’t be able to handle being in a relationship like that. Still, I was curious. “So, erm, do you want to, like, know what brand my wheelchair is or something?” I asked. He did. Apparently, he was into my answer and asked if I wanted to move our chat off the app. I didn’t. The next day he completely disappeared from the site—perhaps in search of an even sexier wheelchair brand.

I quit online dating after that, choosing to focus on the other things that make me feel fulfilled instead. But I don’t want to be alone forever. Dr. Phil’s comments made me realize that I was internalizing other people’s damaging opinions about disability and dating. Somewhere in a dark corner of my mind, a little voice had been sending me the same message Dr. Phil wrongly promoted on his show. I’ve been seeing my disability as a burden—myself as a burden—and it’s kept me from pursuing the kind of relationship I want. My entire adult life I’ve been coming up with excuses, telling myself that I’m not independent enough to date.

So I decided to write this essay about how I’m ready to try again. This time reminding myself that dating with a disability isn’t about finding someone who’s turned on by my wheelchair or worrying about crossing the proverbial interabled line. Relationships, especially the good ones, aren’t about being completely self-sufficient. Relying on a partner—whether it’s to help you sort out a stressful situation at work, cook a meal, or open a door for you when you can’t—doesn’t make you a burden. But every time I tried to write the ending, the part where I stepped away from my computer and actually made a profile, I kept writing excuses.

Excuses are not an ending. So I called my best friend, allowed myself some wine to quell the fear, and we made me a dating profile. Now it’s official: I’m there. I’m on the apps, swiping the faces—more left than right, but hey, it’s a start. Is it easy? No. But I’m proud of myself for doing it anyway. Every other time I’d created a dating profile, there was an ulterior motive behind it—I was lonely or felt pressured to hurry up and find someone to prove that my disability isn’t a burden that disqualifies me from dating. This time I’m entering the dating world for me, because I know I’m worth getting to know.