Everyone wants love and companionship. This is an extremely sensitive topic, one that I struggle with constantly. Some people may take issue with my views on this subject. I am not aiming to convince others how to think. Mine is just one experience, one perspective.
I have always believed that, were I ever to be in a relationship, my partner will not have a disability. I’ve never had more than a small handful of disabled friends; ninety percent of my friends are able-bodied. I’ve never really been attracted to disabled men – this is not to say that I never could be, I just haven’t met anyone who has caused my thinking to shift. Given that most of my friends are able-bodied, why should my thinking about romance be so radically different that it doesn’t fit with the way my social life is structured? I’ve been called a hypocrite for admitting that I do not see myself becoming involved with another disabled individual – it hurts. I am not against people with disabilities becoming romantically linked with each other; I have never thought there was anything wrong with two people with disabilities falling in love.
I’m not saying it would never happen, but I look at it like this: my limitations are enough of a strain on my every day life; if I get into a relationship with a partner who has limitations of his own that are equal to, or more, complicated than mine, what measure of normalcy, privacy or intimacy will we be able to have? I want to be with someone who can allow me to keep the independence I have, not further limit it.
I’m five feet tall and one hundred pounds. I have an envious figure. The muscles in my arms are toned and defined; my back is strong and taut. I have washboard abs and yet I’ve never set foot in a gym; I’ve never worked out a day in my life. How is this possible, you may wonder? My muscles literally never relax. Ever. I also expend more energy and burn at least twice as many calories than most doing activities of daily living: getting up, getting dressed, showering (just to name a few).
Most people can hide the things they’re most insecure about, or at least be in control of when and how people find out. I do not have that luxury. Imagine everything about yourself that you are uncomfortable with, or insecure about, being on display one hundred percent of the time.
In 2009, I was in my third year at Carleton University. Carleton’s weekly newspaper, The Charlatan, has a miniscule section in every edition called “Overheard @ CU” where random, context-free, humourous quotes that people overhear on campus are anonymously published. One month, there was outrage rumbling through the disabled population on campus because of one of the quotes that had been printed. Someone told me about it and I thought it was incredibly crass and insensitive, but I wasn’t exactly ready to storm the editor’s office. A few days later I saw the paper on newsstands, so I took one. Seeing the words staring back at me in print, in a place where the explicit intention was for them to be laughed at and made light of was enough to send a chill down my spine and make me seethe with anger: “I’m sure there are people who’ve raped the disabled.”
As a disabled young woman, I was heartbroken and outraged to see this. It caused me to reflect on the roles of every significant male in my life, wondering why each relationship had followed more or less the same path. My thinking is the same now as it was then… I have many wonderful men in my life, all of whom I love dearly, whose friendship I could not live without. I am not the type of person to risk a friendship to tell a man I have feelings for him. My mother used to say, “You have so many great men in your life, who clearly love you so just pick one.” I tried that a few times. Generally it REALLY doesn’t work like that. I know there are exceptions, but I’ve never come across any in my own life The men in my life are too important for me to risk their friendships for a fleeting chance at romance.
I've suffered the brunt of many brush-offs because of my disability; rumors start that go something like, "The only reason so-and-so never asked Layla out is because she’s in a wheelchair,” or, I'll be found significantly harmless by someone’s girlfriend, so much so that every other female in his life – except me – might threaten her. Both scenarios are particularly hurtful.
I have huge self-esteem issues surrounding my disability and I often wonder whether or not it’s even possible that I might meet someone who’ll see past it and fall in love with me. I’m told by lots of my friends that I need to be more flirtatious. I may not like the idea of casually asking for the number of a guy whom I know nothing about, but I’m no wallflower. Some of my closest friends are men. But I often wonder why it always stops there. Why I’m always the best friend, and never more?
I’ve come to a conclusion: It doesn’t matter how outgoing I am, how many offers of coffee I extend, or how many phone numbers I ask for (and receive). If there is a mental block on the part of the other person, something in their mind that stops them from thinking of me in a romantic light, then there may be very little I can do. Flirting and attraction are two-way streets. If they have a mental block because of my disability, my ability to affect how far past it they are able to see could be limited.
Online dating makes me extremely uncomfortable. The majority of the few dates I’ve been on have been with individuals who were slightly unhinged (I’m not joking). And only one of those was met online.
I started worrying long before seeing a quote about people with disabilities getting raped that I was broken and unlovable. No one pursues me, really. The onus seems to be on me, to lay it out there. Every time I’ve voiced feelings, I’ve been let down (sometimes politely, sometimes not so). I’m no stranger to receiving the “I just don’t think of you that way” speech. The last time I asked a man out, he laughed at me. There’s only so much of that I can take. So I’ve just stopped asking.
I know I’m not ugly, but I almost never feel attractive. I look in the mirror and I wonder if a man will ever tell me that I am beautiful, the way that other women are told they’re beautiful. When I look in the mirror and see my stiff, contorted body, I see a figure that so many women wish they had. Yet I doubt anyone would want it if they had to deal with everything else that my particular figure comes with. I have a hard time believing that I’m desirable. It’s hard to be a young woman who rarely feels beautiful – knowing it and feeling it are two different things.
There are probably many flaws in my logic, but I’m only human.
This particular kind of loneliness defies description – like a dull ache you’re so accustomed to that you don’t bother betraying any signs of discomfort. This issue is not something that any amount of self-reflection or inner strength can cure. That’s precisely the problem.
By Layla Guse Salah
DTN, Social Media Manager