Friday, 7 October 2011

Tales of Online Dating

I was browsing through some links on Twitter  last night, and I saw one about a "diabetes 'dating service'". My first thought was, "Not this again."

A Diabetes Dating Service? Because People with Diabetes Should Just Date Each Other?

I checked out the link, and it was actually about a program to link diabetes researchers with people who actually have diabetes (which is apparently a bigger problem than most people think it is). But the link had brought me back to the days, not long after I'd moved into my own apartment, when I joined an online dating site specifically for people who have disabilities.

An Online Dating Site? Because People with Disabilities Should Just Date Each Other?

At the time, I was looking for at least a penpal who understood what it was like to be recovering from a stroke. I did find someone. We only emailed, but he was super-intense and moved way too fast and seemed to think that we were destined to be together forever after a few emails - where we primarily talked about how we'd both had strokes and how we were both dealing with them now.

I stopped communication and didn't go back to the online dating website. Something besides his intense behaviour had made me skittish. I didn't realize then that it was what would largely form the basis for my peeve about grouping people with disabilities together. I'd talked for years in training and with colleagues about how society tended to assume that disability in common was something on which people could build a friendship or even a relationship, but I hadn't realized until then how...short-sighted that was.

More in Common with the Able-Bodied People in a Group than with the People with Disabilities

Knowing what I do about online dating now, I feel now like I walked away from the online dating website having more in common with your average able-bodied online dater than the guy who'd had the stroke to whom I'd been talking - there are a lot of people out there who have gotten involved with someone on an online dating website and had them get way too serious way too quickly - like say "I love you" after three emails. It could be a story from any dating site.

And the one guy that I did meet, admittedly not on one of the more major dating sites, but on an advice site associated with it, who'd also had a stroke at an early age - we've been long-distance friends for three years and we rarely talk about stroke stuff. We've got other things in common to talk about.

Choice Choice Choice!

Now, I'm not saying that there isn't a place for an online dating web site just for people with disabilities. I've said it before and I'll say it again - there's nothing wrong with people preferring, and choosing to try to find, the company of other people who share their experiences. Sometimes it's difficult for people who haven't "been there" to understand the experience of having a disability, so I understand why people with disabilities might use a dating site where they have a better chance of finding someone else with disabilities. But note I said "choosing" earlier. Again and again, it all comes back to people having options. And thank goodness, this is an area where we do - no dating site is ever going to try to say, "Disabled people need not apply".

Just a Little Bit of Who I Am

For me, the thing is...a disability is only a part of who a person is. It's something that two people may have in common who are different in absolutely every other way - and totally wrong for each other. And that's why I never went back to the dating site for people with disabilities.

Because, good or bad, I'm more than just someone who had a stroke. I've had to fight hard to get people to see that, and going back to a dating site that encourages people to look at me first as a person with disabilities feels like a step back.

Have a great weekend!

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