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What is it like to use dating apps when you have a disability

By on September 15, 2021 0

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Charlotte Bayes on what it's like to hang out with a disability

Charlotte Bayes. Photo: courtesy of the author

I’m back on The Apps looking at profiles that say “let’s go for a hike or a long walk” or affectionately say “NO PSYCHOS NO DRAMA”. The thing is, I can’t hike and, to the untrained eye, I’m full of drama.

I was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder at the age of five and was told I was going to be released. By the time I reached my early twenties, the teenage growing pains became unbearable and I had fatigue and several other debilitating symptoms. Now in my 30s, I’m diagnosed with fibromyalgia, hemiplegic migraines, diabetes, and other serious illnesses that are just as uninteresting as these. All of this accumulates in a life where I have no energy and I repel opiates like Smarties.

Now for the double whammy. I was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), widely known as the most painful and difficult to treat mental health problem. To sum it up briefly, I live my life feeling emotions on 100/10, which changes so quickly. So if someone ghosts you, you might feel a little drained for a few days, I just wanna die for a week.

I do not disclose my disabilities on my profile. I am fat and I am one meter ninety; I don’t need to rack up more chances against me. What I have is a great face, great conversation, and an amazing ability to tell if someone is a jerk or not within the first five minutes of a conversation.

If we switch to WhatsApp and it looks like we’re going to connect, I tell them right away. In my notes on my phone, I have a prepared speech. The speech “I am disabled”. It’s funny, informative, pissing off to lighten the mood and mention that I have a blue parking badge and some good prescriptions as a nice inducement.

No one ever blocked me or told me to fuck myself. Some able-bodied people have said that they know they are tired. Quick tip for you: Unless you have chronic fatigue, don’t do this. I explain that all dates are limited to how I feel that day. Long walks are irrelevant and there is a chance I could chip away.

Once it’s out in the open and they look really cool, then I like to hit them with the “I’m extremely mentally ill too”. This one has had mixed reviews. I try to explain that I have had a lot of therapies and that I manage them well. If this actually goes somewhere, I’ll even explain how being left to read will trigger me and if possible not to. I have a deep need to be loved and any feeling of being abandoned triggers a response so overwhelming it feels like physical pain and there is a yawning void in me that needs to be filled. But I have to ignore it 100 times a day. Well done, BPD.

But not everyone likes to throw big disability grenades into light chats like me, so I’ve spoken to other people who use apps to date about their experiences sharing their disabilities with new partners. Some names have been changed on request to protect their privacy.

JOSEPH STASHKO, 31, LONDON

VICE: What disabilities do you have?
Joseph:
I have a diagnosis of ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) and peripheral neuropathy [nerve damage that causes pain, weakness, numbness or tingling]. Basically I caught a virus in 2016 and never really recovered.

When and how do you disclose them during the dating application process?
So I started not disclosing anything at all. It really freaked me out to have to admit that to people at some point. I only made appointments near my home so as not to be overwhelmed by the trip and the return. Once I started talking about it, the reaction wasn’t particularly great. A lot of times I think if you are young people can’t really get the idea that you are invalid and healthy.

What were the reactions?
There is a range of reactions ranging from understanding to just not interested in dating me. The vast majority of dating profiles consist of interests like going to festivals, traveling. It was my interests before I became disabled, but it’s not something I can do now. People don’t know how someone who looks healthy and tastes good can also be very sick and unable to do a lot.

How did the dates go?
Generally quite good! The thing is, if I’m feeling really horrible, I just had to cancel people. I have definitely pushed myself beyond my limits in the past and suffered for days, weeks afterwards because I was afraid of rocking the boat. But I’m a lot better at that now, basically saying I had a great time but I’m more than tired, please can you let this very flexible six foot four inch man get a Uber house.

ALEX

VICE: What disabilities do you suffer from and what have been your experiences with online dating?
Alexander: I have spina bifida and have a below-knee amputation. My profile shows that I am a part-time wheelchair user and have pictures with and without the wheelchair. If we start discussing, I will probably say more without entering TMI’s territory. I am using Bumble and Match. Most appear to be robots, a few have been real people assuming I would be flattered if someone much younger is interested. I tend to make a joke about the chair or my leg and gauge the reaction from there. I wonder if an “explicator” is ready.

CAITLIN M. KEARNS, 24 years old, BELFAST

VICE: What disabilities do you have?
Caitline: I suffer from agoraphobia and panic disorder and because of that, I haven’t been more than half a mile from home in 15 months.

When and how do you disclose this during the dating app process?
I reveal them fairly quickly, lest someone offer to meet. I try to minimize it a bit so as not to scare them off from the start, although of course it does have an impact. Nine times out of ten, it doesn’t get any further after I’ve told them.

What were the reactions?
Usually OK, although of course some people are nicer than others. I haven’t seen anyone being mean, but I’ve had some pretty condescending people about it. I have been living with this for almost 10 years in various forms and it is never less exhausting or difficult having to reveal it to every new person I speak to.

How did the dates go?
I live at home, so while I feel comfortable having dates in my garden, it’s not ideal with my parents hanging out. Usually I do Zoom dates, which are not ideal, but I make it work. I actually had a relationship while in lockdown. We started the video calls and ended up at my house. Our relationship lasted about 5-6 months before he ended it earlier this year. I assumed a lot of it was due to my inability to get out.

When and how do you put your disabilities into the conversation?
I usually wait for the other person to talk about meeting and then talk about it. I don’t usually use the word agoraphobic, I just say “I have a hard time getting out on the minute”, lol, and then if I talk to them on Zoom or they don’t look like an asshole I walk in in more detail.

EM, 23 years old, NORTH-EAST

What disabilities do you have?
I have BPD and depression.

How do you disclose this on potential dates?
I wouldn’t talk about it myself, there is such a stigma, especially around women and non-binary people with BPD, that they will always be toxic, abusive, manipulative that I was so afraid to share who i am would be an instant turn off for who i was talking about. I would usually wait until I meet someone in real life to open that box of worms. My body is covered in visible self-harm scars which meant if I didn’t explain from the start I would catch them trying to peek and soak up everything when I watched. elsewhere.

What were the reactions?
I was told, “I think having scars and being crazy is kinda hot, you know”, which is a very concerning response. I discovered that being romanticized is actually something that has happened to me many times. At first, it’s almost like some people find it exciting? Mostly the impulsive behavior and carelessness I would have for myself and then over time I would become less of an exciting and unpredictable person, fun to hang out with and more of a burden and that’s usually how it goes. would end.

Another reaction I have experienced is at the opposite end of the scale, where people instantly feel sorry for you and seem to have an overwhelming urge to want to “fix” you.

SAT

What disabilities do you have?
I have narcolepsy, PoTS, interstitial cystitis, IBS, and a host of mental illnesses. Specifically, I deal with PMS, OCD, ADHD, PTSD, eating disorder, and fairly intense social anxiety.

When and how do you disclose this at the start of the dating application process?
It depends a lot on the person and the level of interaction I’m looking to have with someone. For example, I probably wouldn’t disclose details of my disabilities to a casual sex partner. I could say something like, “I have problems with mobility and energy levels, because of certain chronic diseases”, but I wouldn’t go much further than that.

However, I disclose my disabilities to people I see longer term. I don’t really have a set timeline for this because relationship dynamics can vary from person to person. But I usually disclose my disabilities in stages, starting with the more obvious physical things like my narcolepsy. I sometimes have discussions about my mental health issues in general, but the most vulnerable things, like my emergency and trauma, are usually the last to be shared.

What are your usual reactions to it?
When I have disclosed my disabilities in the past, reactions have ranged from benevolent but worried, to visibly out of date, to simply genuinely encouraging. I’ve learned to use people’s feedback to gauge whether or not I want to tell them more later. I have yet to meet anyone who has reacted in an overtly crappy or capable way, but I’m still afraid that will happen. This fear, along with internalized ableism, often prevents me from being more open with people.

How are the appointments going?
Dates have been a mixed bag so far! I’ve had some great dates, but I’ve also had some more difficult ones where I was going through a flare-up or just plain exhausted. I will often find myself apologizing for sounding distant or distracted; if I don’t, many people mistake my “absence” for a lack of interest.

@CharlotteBHC


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