My name is Jess Paciello, and I am 21 years old. I guess that makes me a millennial (yikes!), but I am not too fond of millennial culture. Anyone that knows me knows that I love my quiet time alone (you can probably find me binging on Netflix), casual wine nights IN, I am so terrified of setting foot in clubs or big bar scenes, I have strong negative views of “hook up” culture, and I would just prefer to fly way under the radar. I do want to talk about dating with disabilities though, because I believe that this topic is super important. Why? Discussing dating with disabilities is important, because often society views the disabled population as inferior and almost non-existent. According to society, disabled people are undesirable and therefore can never be “dating” or partner material. This absurd idea is completely false. As someone with cerebral palsy myself, I think I hopefully can try to tackle this subject with some first hand experience!
First off, coming from a female’s perspective: dating is hard in 2016, regardless of whether or not you are disabled. But, disabled people face more negative experiences in “first-time” dating, and that can totally ruin the outlook of hope that you had before. I cannot, and I am not trying to, speak for every disabled person in my age range, but upon talking with my friends I am making a general consensus that it is fair to say we’ve all been significantly discouraged or disappointed when we started to put ourselves out there.
It personally took me a long time to admit to myself that I had CP, and then accept my body for all that it is. One of the biggest pieces of advices I can give to those of you who want to begin dating is please make sure you are ready to! I was one of those people who rushed it in the beginning, and that did not end in my favor. Be confident in all of the kinks and quirks your body has, because if you do not accept them, it’s a very safe bet that your partner won’t either. I have been lucky and I am incredibly grateful for that; every guy who I have dated has been so gracious when I told them about cerebral palsy, and what that means for how my body functions, and they all have said that CP is really a non-issue for them. It funny thinking about how I was treated, because I am now reflecting on the fact that there may have been some level of self-sabotage on my end which ultimately led to some dating demise. Again, gaining confidence in yourself is incredibly important here! I have been working on building my self-confidence for a long time now, and I am finally in a good place, so I promise you it can happen!
So… what happens when you are ready to date because you are confident in yourself and your self worth? Those of us with disabilities have a little extra step to tackle with our partners. Disability disclosure. This is a tough topic to give advice on, because it really is so subjective for each individual. The first time I was disclosing to my boyfriend at the time was one of the most nerve-wracking things I have even done. Again, self-sabotage kicked in for me. I had created all of these fictitious scenarios in my mind that just screamed ideas like: “ you won’t be accepted anymore”, “he won’t accept your CP and you won’t feel safe”, “he could do so much better” and the list when on and on at the time! Another important aspect of disclosure is listening to your partner. If they have questions about your disability, answer them as truthfully as you can. Dating is not a one-way avenue. Support your partner as much as they are supporting you. I promise that disability does not become the be-all or end-all of a relationship if your connection is genuine. Allow your partner to get to know you as a whole, and not just by what you physically can or cannot do. Dating somebody will not last very long if you have no common interests
Luckily, like I previously stated, he was more accepting than I imagined and I was totally in the wrong. Disclosure leads to stronger bonds being formed, and I will say to anyone: if you do not feel comfortable disclosing your disability to your partner, they may not be the Prince (or Princess) Charming. There is nothing wrong with you if a disclosure process goes awry! I know this piece is intended for young adults with disabilities, but I would like to take a second to appeal to parents of disabled children here, too. It will be frustrating to see your child struggle in the dating world if it happens, but you need to allow personal growth at this crucial time of development in teenager years also. Please allow your child to discover themselves, even if that leads to dating disappointments. If anything, I really think it helps establish high standards which you all so deserve. Do not settle for dates. Anyone who is worthy of your companionship will accept you. Do not be afraid to put yourself out there.
You may have to “strike out” a few times in the dating scene before you succeed. It happens to the best of us! Remain optimistic no matter the obstacles, and the results you want will manifest quicker than if you wallow in sadness. You are worthy of intimate connections, despite what society says about those of us with disabilities.