Disability and Dating: I'm Sexy, Seated, and Single Forever

I’ve reached a point in my experience of queerness and disability where I am beginning to really come into my own as a sexy, seated, and single person.

Each and every date or semi- romantic⁠ interaction that I've had of late has inevitably ended in me managing my date’s ableism⁠ ; making sure that they’re comfortable around me, rather than actually enjoying my time with them. That is so exhausting. I often get home from these dates knowing in my gut that it wasn’t going to work. Almost like clockwork, four to five days later they’ll text me, detailing why my disability scares them and why they can’t see me again. “I have been struggling with thoughts about your disability, so I don’t think it’s a good idea we go on another date," they say. Or “I wanted you to be more independent than you are.”

I simply don’t want to go through that anymore. As a proud disabled man, as a person, I deserve and I need better.

I honestly believe I might be single forever as a result of my disability identity⁠ . And the more I think about it, the more comfortable I am with that reality.

In fact, as a disabled person, owning that and letting go of all the ableist expectations around relationships allows me to breathe and let out⁠ a huge fucking sigh of relief. I can spend time on myself and find what genuinely makes me happy.

I am all about romance. I was raised on a diet of some of the best romantic comedies the 1980s and ‘90s could offer. Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, French Kiss: each of these movies struck a chord with me. As a young queer⁠ kid who was really into Meg Ryan’s weird, quirky brand of love, these movies gave me hope that one day, I too would meet the man of my dreams (or, they just gave me an unhealthy attraction to Tom Hanks and Kevin Cline, but who’s to say?).

I loved these films because they presented the possibility of romance to me at a very young age. They gave me something to believe in, and a fantasy of true love to grab onto as a disabled teen. But, as a queer disabled kid who was a wheelchair user, I’d not be able to dash up all the stairs to the top⁠ of the Empire State Building to declare my love.

Sometimes, I’ll sit down and watch them all again in big, blanketed, self-care marathons; re-living the big romantic scenes that offered my young self such comfort that one day my Prince Charming would sweep me off my feet.

But now I watch them with a very different lens — that of a queer disabled man who truly understands the effects of ableism and prejudice when I have tried to date. I wonder how differently You’ve Got Mail might have gone if Meg Ryan told Tom Hanks that she was, in fact, a wheelchair user? Ten bucks says he’d have cancelled his AOL subscription and logged off right then and there.

It has taken a really long time for me to reach the decision to be seated, sexy, and single as a disabled person.

I continue to wrestle with both internal and external pressures that tell me if I choose this path I have simply “given up.” (I haven't.) My friends have tried to change my mind by pushing me to re-try internet dating for the millionth time, reminding me that I have to “get in the game” and “put myself out there if I really want true love.” (I don't.) What’s even scarier is the voice in my head reminding me that if I stay single forever as a disabled man, I’ll be cementing the statistics that state the majority of disabled people have never had romantic relationships. Am I okay actively joining that number?

I also worry sometimes how this decision will affect my work as a person who talks and writes about sex⁠ and disability. Will people take me seriously as a disabled sex educator if I’m choosing not to engage in romantic love myself? How can I offer them my advice when I don’t have any lived experience as a disabled partner⁠ to back it up?

If I let all of those worries go and really think about the prospect of being single and seated the rest of my life, I realize that it doesn’t bother me one bit. When I really look at it, these worries are not even mine in the first place. They're based on what other people might think of my decision to remain single. I, however, feel empowered and in control at the thought, and each and every time I openly voice this decision amongst peers, friends, and colleagues my resolve to follow through on it grows that much stronger.

I want to show people that being disabled and single by choice doesn’t mean I need to be depressed about it. If I’m honest, I kind of get off on being the disabled guy who, when asked at a party, “Andrew, are you seeing anyone?” or “Don’t you want to find someone to love?” responds with: “Nope, I’ll be sexy and single forever, but what are you doing later?”

Now, I imagine a rom-com where the disabled version of Meg Ryan meets Tom Hanks after chatting online, and he falls for her instantaneously, wanting to take care of her and tend to all her needs. Just as they’re about to lean in to kiss each other passionately, as the music swells, she looks at him longingly and says, “You know what? I’m good,” and wheels away as the credits roll.

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  • s.e. smith

When we talk about disabled people having awesome sex lives, sometimes something dehumanizing creeps into the mix: Some (usually nondisabled) people profess an "attraction to disability." What they mean is they find disabled bodies — not disabled people — sexually stimulating. That means seeing your body as a sexual object. If that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, you're not alone.