Online dating has made it easier for people in general to meet each other. However, living in this day and age of online connections, a double-edge sword presents itself. Every day -- the ability to be more socially connected or to be more lonely.
Someone can be anyone online -- they can be true representations of who they are in person, or they can become a digitalized recreation into some "ideal" image of themselves. As such, they can find and connect with a vast audience that is extremely diverse. Nowadays, people could meet each other in ways not possible a decade ago and in some instances, the internet can be the only way for certain people to meet.
Online connection however doesn't always meet our social needs or ward off loneliness. Loneliness can feel like one of the worst experiences in life, and hearing well-meaning sayings such as, "You must learn to love yourself before anyone else can," can only dull the often uncontrollable ache, especially if you hear it time and time again. Learning to love oneself is a lifelong journey after all.
Of course, there can always be a combination of social engagement and loneliness at the same time, especially for people with disabilities, who are often socially marginalized from their peers who don't have disabilities, or even from each other. There may be more social inclusion and acceptance through online connection today, but isolation, suspicion of and stigmatization against people with disabilities is still a problem throughout society.
I met my partner, Amber, through an online dating/social networking site. Soon after we connected, I proceeded to totally ignore her for a week when I went on a meditation retreat. You know, just how all the dating guide books tell you a great relationship should start!
Given that it is the start of a relationship, the "honeymoon phase" as it's often called, can be very passionate and exciting -- with a natural amount of uncertainty. There are a lot of hopes, fears and expectations during this "discovery stage" that may or may not come true.
At the beginning of a new relationship there is hope that the other person will accept, understand, like, and maybe even love us; the hope that they will turn out to be who we want them to be in terms of sharing our values, sense of humor, ways to spend time, etc. There are fears that neither of us will live up to these hopes. There is the expectation that we'll give each other a fair shot at finding out if we're a good match. This is a time of exploring our differences and the things we share in common. How does disability impact this?
Questions about my voice will undoubtedly come up and some people will stare. Although it hasn't happened yet, friends might ask Amber why she's with me because in their opinion, she could do so much better. After all, why would anyone want to settle for "less" than they deserve?
While this may be a common experience for anyone becoming a new couple who endures criticism of their partner from friends and family, it can be magnified for people with disabilities, who are often judged on things besides their character, values and other traits that might make them good partners. Disability is an easy target as the deciding factor of the potential success or failure of a relationship, most often failure.
Cary and Melissa
Cary and Melissa are a testament to the idea of steadfast dedication in a relationship. They have been together for two years, and from them I have learned that each phase of a relationship has its ups and downs.
I had lunch with Cary and Melissa the other day and, after sharing their story, Cary said to me, "I think people with disabilities often have idealistic expectations of what it means to be in a relationship and what I have learned is that being in a relationship is a lot of hard work." Melissa smiled and nodded in agreement.
This made both Melissa and Cary understandably angry and reminded them that ignorance and fear of difference unfortunately persist.
The Disability Factor
The dating dilemma that many people with disabilities find themselves in, more often than not, is that they are not given a chance to date. People without disabilities are simply not open to it. As one of my cousins pointed out to me the other night, "When people think about dating and the dating culture, they don't really think about people with disabilities, and if they do, it is often how to exclude them from dating. The thought of them [people with disabilities] dating, makes us [people without disabilities] uncomfortable." While this is not always the case, it is common enough to mention.
In some ways I understand the notion behind the fear of dating someone with a disability. There's the common misconception that the partner without a disability will end up being a caregiver more than an equal partner, and the view that disability is a weakness rather than a strength. A former partner of mine said that she thought that women were probably intimidated by my disability and what it implied about my needs as a partner, and that they did not know how to get past their fearful reaction.
The common assumption that two people should date because they both have disabilities, or that they are dating because they both have disabilities, is very annoying. It's like assuming that two people who are tall, for example, should date or are dating because they are tall. A person with a disability should have the freedom to date whomever they chose -- and experience the same risks of heartbreak and love and everything in between -- just like everyone else.
To be desired and to feel loved is one of the cornerstones of what it means to be human, and it should be available to everyone, regardless of difference, be it an accent, walking style, learning style or something else. Humans have had this very unhealthy obsession with sameness for far too long, and any difference has been met with fear and has been demonized as a result.
It takes strong people to look beyond disability, and to have the emotional fortitude to look within to see that we all have talents, limitations and the ability to offer love.
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Source : Huffington Post , 27th August 2014