One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to people with disabilities is that we do not understand the true meaning of love or want a significant other, when truthfully, we have the same desires as everyone else.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been the hopeless romantic type. From the age of 14, I always pictured myself getting married in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, in a small cabin with all my friends and family, as I walked down the aisle to my husband in my purple LiteGait walker.
When it comes to being single with a disability, it can be challenging because you have all the same wants and desires as anyone else when it comes to finding a partner. Some people in society see a disability such as cerebral palsy as a negative thing and not something unique. When I was single four years ago, I was talking to a young man who had an issue with me having cerebral palsy. He said, “Tylia, you are a beautiful girl, but you are in a wheelchair. It would be different if you were not in a wheelchair, but since you are, I would much rather be friends than anything else.” For a while, that bothered me because he was everything I had been looking for and we had the same interests. But my disability was a deal-breaker for him, so I was not going to waste my time with him.
If we are going to date, you have to accept my cerebral palsy. If we are talking to one another and potentially going to be in a relationship, you have to accept me for who I am and love me for my inside, regardless of my outside. Cerebral palsy is what makes me beautiful, and it is never going to go away, so you might as well accept it. If not, it was nice knowing you and I thank you for the experience. If you’re single with a disability, I think before you consider going on a search for love, you should already be in love with yourself. Embrace your body for the beautiful person you are and say, “I am me and I love myself.”
I believe the most important thing when it comes to finding love with a disability is to be open and honest about it — do not hide it. For example, four years ago, before meeting my current boyfriend, I created dating profiles on OkCupid and MeetMe. I would put up a profile picture of myself sitting in a wheelchair where it was noticeable because I am proud of my condition and the life I have had. The life experiences I get to share with people are amazing.
The reason why I say be honest about your disability when you are going on dating sites is that you want to show your potential partner you are proud of who you are and the person you have become because of your condition.
Take your time to enjoy single life as a woman with a disability and don’t rush into a relationship right away. I know it can be challenging to be single, especially when you see your friends in relationships and happy with their partners, but you have to remember to be patient and not settle for any man or woman who comes into your life. I have been in several situations where I started talking to a young man just because I hated the fact I was single when I should not have. I should have let time and destiny take their course. When it comes to finding your perfect match, time is key to everything that happens in life.
When you are single, take the time to discover who you are as a person and what you need in a partner versus what you want. For example, I am the type of girl who needs a partner who is ambitious, compassionate and understanding, a world traveler who brings me inspiration and motivation and who has a great family support system. What attracted me the most to my boyfriend when we first started talking online four years ago was the fact that he was full of motivation and he was ambitious. Despite our similar struggles, he was such a bright person, inside and out. He is such a positive person, something I feel is very important when it comes to talking to a potential partner with a disability.
If that person is not confident and doesn’t share your values, maybe it is best that you stop talking to them or stop pursuing a relationship with them because eventually, they may drag you down with them. You may start to have the same mindset as them and you will never grow together. The way I look at, if you are talking to somebody and getting to know them, if you do not see them as being a potential partner who can help you grow in life, you should put them in the friend zone.
When it comes to being single with a disability and looking for a partner, I believe you have to set boundaries on what you want, and make it clear to your potential partner that you will not accept certain behaviors and habits and you need to have boundaries. Setting strong boundaries helps you stay the strong independent woman you are. Setting boundaries for yourself can allow you to see what you want in a partner versus what you do not want.
The first thing I will usually do when I start talking to a young man is make a list of pros and cons. You can sort out the good qualities of the person you are potentially going to be in a relationship with next to the bad and if there are too many bad things, you can put them in the friend zone or stop talking to them. However, if there are not too many bad things, that is a green light.
The most important thing to remember when you are dating with a disability is to learn to embrace your body and love yourself — because if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect others to fall in love with you?