“Finding a lover/partner is all about maximising circumstance:
• make them laugh
• be very polite, and
• figure out what they want and give it to them.
A wheelchair does not come into the equation.
Few say they want someone to climb Everest with them.
Usually, they want respect, appreciation, someone to listen,
but overall the best aphrodisiac is laughter.
Make her/him feel like the centre of the universe.”
Outsiders Patron Diego Soto-Miranda
Everyone says they are looking for someone genuine to love. If you are unable to be yourself, you’re not being genuine. Disabled people, afraid of being judged as “damaged goods”, tend to cover up, pretend, and lie about themselves, so only add to their potential un-attractiveness by coming over as “not genuine”.
But then, many disabled people say that, if they say they are disabled in their profile, they get no replies. What we at Outsiders have always suggested is finding ways to mention your impairments in a nice, friendly (maybe funny) style, which doesn’t sound off-putting. Finding your style can be fun.
The real way forward is to work on self acceptance to gain confidence, While your impairments represent pain, embarrassment and disappointment, they will make you feel bad about yourself. Your body is an integrated as part of your personal identity which you need to carry with pride and enjoyment. If you look at “Our Partners” in the menu bar, you will find people who can support you on this journey of body acceptance, body confidence and sexual self-confidence.
Hidden disabilities can be more challenging to finding love. Having ME and having to cancel that first date, is tricky. Incontinence brings worry about what the date might think if you keep venturing to the loo, or gurgle strangely from the ostomy bag on your tummy. It’s a fine juggling act, explaining simply whilst hoping to impress. We hold discussions on such delicate and personal things at Outsiders lunches and on the Outsiders Clubhouse online.
People notice when you are comfortable in your own body, have an inner peace and spark of fun about you, and it’s very lovely being around such people. They usually find love. A wise disabled person would aim to have gain such qualities.
There is a website, www.onlinedatingexperts.co.uk which discusses all the difficulties people face with online dating, and why people behave badly to each other. Susan Quillium, co-author, and Outsiders Patron, describes online dating as “entering a sweet shop in pyjamas”. She tells us that the big sites are becoming more canny, but also becoming more ethical. She stresses the importance of getting onto the telephone quickly with the people you like the sound of (by getting their real sound) and meeting up too, and not letting online romance to take over. Your profile, Susan says, is not a selling document but a welcome document, so talk about what kind of person you seek rather than talking about yourself. She advises everyone get help from friends, and have a buddy to support you through difficult times. The Outsiders Club provides such a network.
You only succeed in finding love when you are ready. You need to be emotionally available (not still pining for an ex, or feeling engulfed by your parents and family). You need to be feeling resilient to rejection (or looking for love might seem too depressing) and not vulnerable (or you will attract those who will exploit you).
All this might mean you do the following, for example:
• leave the family home and become independent
• surround yourself with a group of friends (maybe house-mates) with whom you have fun
• take on some work which you find really satisfying, perhaps volunteering a charity which you feel alliances with.
Learn not to take rejection like blow. Hoping to find love is a selection process, sorting out all the unsuitable people from the one who you will share love with. Rejection is part of that.
Finally, love often does not come when you are searching after it, but when you are looking in the opposite direction. Get busy.
From Jonathan Griffiths:
Living alone is a highly individual matter, and a lot depends on the richness of your personality. It is possible to have a PA while you still live in the family home, or (theoretically) while in residential care, to enable you to develop an individuality. Then when you set up alone, you are not stranded, wondering what to do, maybe dependent on a PA with a richer life than you have. You must each have an independent life, your PA enabling yours, even supporting when things go wrong, but never feeling they should incorporate you into theirs, except when, rarely, it happens naturally.
It would be great if someone could really sort out the matter of sex help and PAs. While it isn’t a major issue, when it does come up it focuses strong feelings and fears and much confusion. Ideally you should have a friend to help you if needed, but that may not fit the circumstances; and a PA is involved with other intimate matters. The first tentative question for a friend or PA is: would they be comfortable helping? If they are, then with caution, privacy and tenderness, it need not be taboo. Caution would include discussion with a third party, to guard against abuse, and also an awareness that feelings may change with experience. Without a willing friend or PA, then assistance to access a sex-worker might be right.
Always, if you and a PA become mutually infatuated, then they must change their role to friend and partner and you find a new PA. But if you become infatuated one way with your PA, then discuss it. It will probably be obvious to them, and also (although it will be very uncomfortable for you) it may be brief. Maybe the two of you can work through it, knowing each other better afterwards, or maybe you part company. Sex experience for someone with a learning difficulty would need additional caution, but treated with equal respect.
Some Outsiders members join our club while they are still living with their parents or in an institution. Many decide enough is enough, and decide to live in their own accommodation, perhaps hiring PAs for the first time, to support them in running their lives. This move can be extremely exciting, but also terrifying; and Outsiders is here to support our members on this journey.
Help with the practical issues can be found from your local independent living agency, which can be found on the National Centre for Independent Living website: www.ncil.org.uk.
Outsiders can help with more personal issues, such as:
ensuring your PAs don’t cramp your style
ensuring you have enough good friends so that you don’t feel lonely, and
ensuring an eventful singles lifestyle
When you hire a PA, it’s sensible to have a contract so that they understand precisely what is expected of them. They need to understand your privacy requirements, as well as what specific kinds of personal help you require. You may need them to help with toileting, but they must never help with your sexual needs unless you simply need help positioning a sex toy, putting a condom on, or positioning your body. Getting involved sexually is crossing the boundaries into abuse.
As well as signing a contract, it’s best to be honest about the kind of life you aspire to at home, so that you don’t hire somebody who will feel totally uncomfortable, or try to inhibit you. If you are gay, for example, there’s no point in hiring a homophobe.
Many disabled people find that one of their PAs tends to become the most suitable for social events compared to the others; and you can work out timetables to suit — although they may not be happy always being the one to work on Saturday nights.
PAs tend to be young and gorgeous, and can be quite a distraction for people you are hoping to date. Tell the PA to go away and leave you alone. It’s best if you have a nice spare room for them to relax in when these situations arise.
Spending a lot of time with your PAs can lead to them getting on your nerves. You might get a crush on one of them. Ocassionally, like in any other place of work, love blossoms. If any of these things happen, it’s best to end the contract because continuing to work with them might very easily become very messy. Keep all PAs on a professional basis.
Friends and Loneliness
Making real friendships is always risky, precarious and can be quite unpredictable. It’s useful to be aware of the fact that there are many different kinds of friendship, which people tend to fall into quite naturally. For example, some don’t mind being useful, while others are fun to go out with. Some are totally unreliable but have other qualities you enjoy and others may be great because they know loads of people and provide a wide social network. It’s fine to like people for one side of them as well as trying to avoid another side. The important thing is that you provide as much input into your friendship as they do. So treat your friends respectfully and be generous with them. If you are unreliable, perhaps because you have fatigue and cannot always do what you planned, make sure you explain that in advance, and try to let them know if you can no longer make it to an appointment. If you don’t have much money, be sure to make something — or do something — instead of buying them a birthday present.
There will be times when you feel lonely. If it gets really bad, like getting panic attacks, tell a friend that this happens sometimes, and ask whether they would mind if you phoned them. Fill your diary with things you want to do, and don’t become isolated. Join Outsiders and you never feel lonely again!
Enjoying a single lifestyle
The best way to enjoy the single lifestyle is to surround yourself with lots of single people. As soon as one friend finds a partner, find another who is single. Be open about your dating needs, instead of secret. Have a laugh about your disastrous dates, with people who understand. Married friends with babies tend to want to talk about nappies, or just want you as a baby sitter, which is OK one day a month but not more. Families are OK but they want to talk about family gossip, rather than what your latest is like in bed. Don’t let them cramp your style.
It’s good if you have lots of single disabled friends. That way, you can share tips and support each other when needs be. Outsiders is good for that.
Going out to meet people is sometimes difficult for people with disabilities, especially if you are visually impaired and cannot make eye contact. Extroverts fair better than introverts, and people with pretty faces do best of all. Pubs are usually not good places, for some reason.
Special interest clubs are much easier, and it is best to choose one which will have a selection of the kind of single people you want to meet. For example, a photography group might have plenty of men and few women, whereas a dancing group, or a group interested in historic buildings, will have plenty of women.
Fetish clubs have always traditionally been welcoming to disabled people. Gay people probably have a far more difficult time than straight, as the gay culture tends to be much more “lookist”. Bisexual groups, on the other hand are more welcoming. These generalizations tell us that people who already feel stigmatized (fetishists and bisexuals) are more welcoming to disabled people than those who do not.
This may sound strange, but standing (or sitting) proud, looking your best, knowing you know what you stand for, and satisfied that you support your friends when they are down, really makes a rounded person.
Looking your best means no food stains on your front, a hair cut that flatters you, clean spectacles which suit you and sit horizontally on your nose, well groomed fingernails, no odour of stale saliva, old piss or sweat (new does not smell). If you have too much saliva when you speak, have a colourful handkerchief in your pocket with which to wipe your mouth. Ask friends you respect which outfits they think suit you best. Girls in Outsiders say they prefer disabled men who looked a little flamboyant, and have clothing which feels nice.
Knowing you are proud of what you stand for does not mean being especially political, but ethical and standing by what you think. Being disabled, for example, you may feel strongly about the importance of donating organs, so donate yours. You may feel women should be respected, so respect them by listening to what they say and tell them when you disagree (not being patronising). Don’t stare at their tits, especially if they are huge (however difficult this might be!). Touch their wrists or shoulders, perhaps, reassuringly, but ensure touch is never sexual until you have their permission. You may believe in equality, so ensure this includes all sexual identities and persuasions — don’t be one of those stigmatised groups who takes it out on other stigmatised groups!
Just as you wish to be supported when things go wrong, ensure you are there for your friends. Many disabled people are so accustomed to having things done for them that they forget this vital aspect of being loved. Excuses like, “I hate hospitals” or “I can’t cope when he goes into one of those” are not on. Your new date will be very relieved to know you are enormously empathetic and willing to go out of your way to support friends in need.