Sorry in advance if my story makes you uncomfortable. A lot of people I’ve told just write me off as crazy because of the nature of the issue.
I’ve been disabled since age 13, when I almost died of an illness. My condition results in a bad immune system and very low energy.
I have always wanted a partner for life. I’m 34 and male, and I live in my deceased grandma’s house with my dad, who is a disabled veteran. I was never really into socializing or doing anything in groups. I have a few solitary interests, and I don’t like to talk about them. I’m very distrusting of strangers due to growing up in rough areas, and my health doesn’t allow me to meet many people.
So I did the only thing that I figured I could do: I got onto dating sites. My early experiences with women taught me that they are very serious about things like job and education and money and health. Online dating, after trying for 10 years, is clearly not for someone like me. I’ve mostly only gotten accidental matches, obvious scammers and seriously abusive types.
“‘Online dating, after trying for 10 years, is clearly not for someone like me. I’ve mostly only gotten accidental matches, obvious scammers and seriously abusive types.’”
So I looked into alternatives, and I’m pretty sure the only workable option is to somehow get someone to introduce me to women. Professional matchmakers are only for the rich. For a while, I offered a $10,000 reward for the person who introduces me to my future partner, but that didn’t attract any interest.
I’ve been in therapy regularly for much of my life. I’ve had breakdowns related to discoveries about my prospects. I’ve accepted that this is an obsession. But lately, it’s become about something more.
My dad is elderly, and has been progressively senile for quite some time. He takes care of the property and the house. He does the laundry. He buys the food. As his health deteriorates, it makes me wonder who would take care of him. I’ve already reached out to the various care services you’ve linked in articles, but my dad sends them all away. I myself am not good at accepting help either. I hate talking on phone and video calls with strangers.
All I can think about since age 13 is sex, and how alone I am. I guess I’m writing to you because I read a letter from a disabled person who let in a homeless woman. I don’t care about money, and I don’t use credit cards. I’d gladly give it all to my partner if I had one.
Lonely at 34
Dear Lonely at 34,
You don’t need to apologize for anything.
Dating without a disability — especially one that impedes your mobility and leaves you with depleted energy — is tough enough. So your disability adds an extra layer of complication for you and, mostly, other people who may not have any experience with or knowledge about your particular condition or the fact that it does not define you as a person. Some disabilities are invisible, while others are not, and people make unfair judgments on that basis.
Approximately 46% of people aged 60 years and above globally have some kind of disability — and if more people were aware of that, they would see the person before the disability, and perhaps have more understanding about what it’s like to live in a world largely designed for non-disabled people. Yes, the dating world can be a cruel and unforgiving place, but so is the real world. The former is a reflection of the latter, often stripped of the usual social niceties and conventions.
The online dating world commodifies beauty, youth and status. Tinder
OKCupid and other sites operate on a carousel of possibilities — not so different from the advertising industry. Power and prestige are on offer alongside the Humanitarians of Tinder, as showcased on Instagram
who pose with children in developing countries to display their compassionate side. Is that a worthy quality, or insensitive leveraging of that year abroad volunteering with an NGO?
“‘Tinder and OKCupid and other sites operate on a carousel of possibilities — not so different from the advertising industry.’”
Marriage comes with its own, new difficulties. But there are no easy answers for you, or anyone else who is single and looking for love. Do what your energy allows to get involved in your community, whether it’s taking part in a local religious community, animal rescue or a local organization for people with disabilities. There are social groups focusing on mindfulness by nonprofit organizations like the Independence Care System. You could even set up your own online Meetup.
There are dating sites for people with disabilities and some focus on conditions such as autism, just like there are sites for over 50s or gamers. Some people may be more comfortable meeting people who they believe will have more understanding of their experience. Lead with who you are, what you believe and what you have to offer. You don’t need a partner to complete you. A disability or job or hair color is part of who we are, maybe even a core part, but it’s not who we are.
The pandemic hurt disabled workers disproportionately. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said late last year that people with disabilities have been among the worst affected financially. He called for governments to “tackle injustice and discrimination, expand access to technology and strengthen institutions to create a more inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.” Of course, inspirational words don’t always translate to real change.
“‘Lead with who you are, what you believe and what you have to offer. You don’t need a partner to complete you.’”
Haley Moss, a Florida-based lawyer, offers this advice in GQ: “No matter how or when it happens, disclosing a disability is a highly personal and unique decision for everyone. At the end of the day, it’ll probably always be a little intimidating, although having something prepared in advance can help offset anxiety around the actual conversation. Ultimately, there’s no better feeling than expressing your most vulnerable quality to someone and receiving support and understanding in return.”
It’s important to remember that you are not alone. The marriage rate for people with disabilities is lower than the rest of the population, and people with disabilities also get married later in life. This has real-world implications for a person’s financial stability — two incomes cut costs, for instance, and help protect against falling behind on the rent or mortgage — and mental health. People who have curtailed social opportunities due to impaired mobility are more prone to isolation.
The takeaway? Stay strong. There’s no shame in being single. I’m reminded of “I Wish” by Skee-Lo: “I wish I was a little bit taller/I wish I was a baller/I wish I had a girl who looked good/I would call her/I wish I had a rabbit in a hat with a bat/And a six-four Impala/I wish I was like six-foot-nine so I can get with Leoshi/’Cause she don’t know me/but, yo, she’s really fine/You know I see her all the time, everywhere I go/And even in my dreams/I can scheme of ways to make her mine.”
Hang onto your $10,000, your sense of self, and your dreams.
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More from Quentin Fottrell:
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• ‘He is the most computer-illiterate person I know’: I was my husband’s research analyst, caregiver, cook and housekeeper. Now he wants a divorce after 38 years.
• ‘Our friends always yearned for a relationship like ours’: My husband of 16 years left me for another man. I don’t want them to live in our properties. What can I do?