They assume: Wrong.
I was recently out on a dinner date with my lovely girlfriend, Anna, when a stranger approached to have a friendly conversation. He said he was a huge fan of my column, and then turned to my girlfriend and asked, “Are you his sister?”
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with his question but if I saw two young people out having a nice meal together, I would probably assume that they were dating. This, however, does not seem to be the assumption people make when you throw a wheelchair into the picture.
On various other occasions my girlfriend has been asked if she was my nurse. Once, a person blankly asked if she was “the one who takes care of him.” We’ve gotten used to this bizarre, recurring question, and often find ways to poke fun at their ignorance.
“He’s my dad,” Anna will answer with deadpan perfection.
“I just pay her to be my friend,” I will say.
The mindset that causes a stranger to automatically assume that any female in my presence is a nurse, or family, is one that ignores the reality that people with disabilities can and do have “normal” romantic relationships. I place normal in quotations because I’m not sure if there is such a thing when it comes to love.
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For a good chunk of my young life, I didn’t think I was worthy of that type of affection. I worried that my physical limitations would prevent girls from wanting to date me.
I will not be able to pick her up in my car, I can’t give hugs or hold hands very well, and we will be limited in the activities we can do for dates. It all seemed rather hopeless in the heart-wrenching, hormone-fuelled days of middle school.
I worried even more that a girl would date me out of pity, silently putting up with the annoyances of my disease because she felt bad for me.
Then college came and my brain opened up to the real truth. I met some spectacular people who helped me shake the notion that love was only for the physically-abled.
Sure, I can’t hold hands in the traditional sense, but we make it work. To be fair, our fingers look like a catastrophic train wreck once they are intertwined in the precise position that I can manage. I can’t pick her up in my car, but so what? She enjoys driving and so we make it work.
And no, I can’t go mountain climbing with her, but I can make her laugh. So we find other activities, and we make it work. Don’t worry; I’ll leave the most intimate details for my books.
Once I realised that there are girls out there who are more than happy to “make it work,” the fear of being unloved for all eternity drifted away like a funny joke of the past.