Can I Be With An Able-Bodied Partner?

Q: I’m single and have a disability. Friends and family are telling me that I should try to date people who are also disabled. I’m not comfortable with the idea that only another person with a disability would be able to love me, or even be interested in just going out with me. Am I wrong to want to be with an able-bodied partner?

A: It’s a stretch for many able-bodied people to imagine being in a relationship with someone with a disability. They are influenced by the widespread social belief that people with disabilities are necessarily asexual. Your friends are projecting this inaccurate belief onto you, and because they truly care about you they think they are helping you face reality. In fact, they are the ones who are not getting a clear picture. Their reasoning is well-disproven by the many successful relationships between able-bodied and disabled partners. The disability has far less impact on these relationships than people usually imagine.

When the components of real connection between people are present–common interests, ability to communicate, enjoying being together, chemistry–they are surprised to find how quickly their assumptions about disability fall away. Plenty of able-bodied people carry no such prejudice, and are open-minded enough to “know that they don’t know” how it works. Your friends and family who are telling you this probably have never experienced–or witnessed–this. When people find a true and deep love, whatever “burdens” might be part of your disability experience–health issues, accessibility, bureaucracy, etc.–need not drive them away. Such aspects of our disability experience become integrated into our daily lives, we give them what attention they require, and we don’t define ourselves by them.

An able-bodied partner joins their disabled partner in the integration of these issues into their lives together.This is not to say that you should pursue only able-bodied partners, and reject the idea of a disabled partner. The shared experience of having a disability can make for a unique bond. Couples with disabilities find that they enjoy not having to explain how they experience being in the world with a disability to an able-bodied partner.You risk falling into a classic irony–you don’t want to be rejected for your disability, but wouldn’t you be doing the same thing in wanting to only be with an able-bodied partner?

If you believe the world should be open to you, then you need to be open to the world. It should go without saying that there are plenty of good and loving people in the world with disabilities who are looking for a satisfying relationship. Like you. But we have to consider the odds. If you operate on the assumptions of your friends and family, and your options are truly limited to partners with a disability, then that sure narrows your choices considerably. There is almost no choice but to remain open to able-bodied partners. It’s tough enough for anybody to meet a partner these days, without setting arbitrary boundaries for who is a viable candidate.

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