I've been a wheelchair-user all of my life. And while the wheelchair is enough of a dating hurdle in itself, I only weight 55 lbs., so while I think I'm a hottie, I am not the typical image of beauty and rank very low on the sex appeal scale for most people. My romantic experiences are limited to drunken college parties and three awkward OKCupid dates.
I've decided not to disclose my disability on my profile because I'm terrified of running into a devotee (someone with a disability fetish). I get a fair amount of messages, but they mysteriously stop when I say I use a wheelchair.
I'm wondering if you think I should be upfront on my profile by mentioning my disability and if there is other advice you think I should consider?
Thanks for your time,
When I received this email, I wasn't quite sure what to say. During my time as a dating coach, I've fielded all sorts of questions about dating and relationships, most of which I've been able to relate to in some shape or form, given my many years as a former dater. But how could I give advice to someone who has spent her whole life in a wheelchair when I've never experienced what that's like? I remember when I was getting my Master's degree in Counseling, my classmates and I were required to attend an addicts support group, at which we would listen and observe. I chose to go to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The facilitator of the group announced who I was and why I was there. Later in the night, a man walked over to me and started to chat. He asked if I'd ever struggled with alcoholism myself. I responded no, I had not. He cocked his head to the right, paused for a second, and said "I don't think you could ever be a counselor for alcoholics, then." I asked why. He answered: "Because you'll never know what it's like to deal with this. You'll never be able to empathize with an alcoholic or know what he's going through." I've never forgotten that conversation or that man for his candid response.
I do believe that it's often helpful to be able to empathize with people you are counseling or coaching, to see the world from their perspective, to understand and identify with what they are going through. That can be a very powerful tool when working with someone -- there's a certain amount of trust that a client develops for a coach when she knows the coach has been in her shoes. So, the truth is, when it comes to Looking4LoveChick's email, I'm not sure how to answer. I could respond by saying what I'd normally say to anyone who asks if they should lie about their height, weight or the like on their profile, which would be "absolutely not," the rationale being twofold: You want someone to love you for all of you (not that being in a wheelchair defines who you are, but it is a big part of your life); and, starting off any relationship on a dishonest note is bound to sour what might have been something great had honesty and forthrightness prevailed. So yes, I could say that, and, at the end of the day, if pressed, that would be my advice, but having never been in this woman's shoes, it's difficult for me to respond with such a simple answer.
Given my uneasiness with giving a hard and fast answer in this situation, I'd love to open this up to the readers for their thoughts and advice about how Looking4LoveChick can move her love life forward. I'd particularly love to hear from other men and women with disabilities. Should Looking4LoveChick be honest on her profile? Or should she wait to disclose this information in her emails? Are there other entrepreneurial avenues for her to pursue in her dating life? I'm sure she'll appreciate any insights or suggestions you can provide.
One final note: If this woman who wrote me is the same woman who I met recently at a networking event, I can't help but mention how awesome she was. Attractive, well-dressed, smart, filled with spirit and warmth and light, and donning one of the biggest, most authentic smiles I've seen in a long time, this gal was truly one-of-a-kind. And while I do believe that thoughts create your reality in life (just look at this guy), the reality of being a wheelchair user does present difficult questions for one's dating life. She has it tougher than many daters out there, but I have no doubt there's a diamond in the rough waiting for her to bring light into his life.
If you have your own dating questions for Neely Steinberg, please submit them at: http://thelovetrep.com/talk-to-neely/