Andrew and I recently celebrated our 2 year anniversary. It got me thinking about dating disability style. If someone said to me, I’m thinking about going out with a guy in a wheelchair, what advice would I give them? This is my somewhat tongue in cheek list with a few serious thoughts thrown in.
Don’t be afraid of heights
You know those things in the ceiling which emit light? Well, it may usually be men who fix them but if you’re dating a guy in a wheelchair, let me tell you now that you will be climbing on that ladder with light bulb in hand. You will also be putting and retrieving things from the tops of cupboards; hanging pictures; removing curtain rods; repairing blinds. Get used to being the ‘tallest’ person in your relationship and develop a love of ladders and chairs – you will need it.
While not height-related, another ‘man job’ you may have to do is putting air in the car tyres. I know, my mother would be horrified. She always says, ‘I don’t do garbage and I don’t do tyres – they’re you’re father’s jobs’. What I’ve learnt is that tyres are really not that tedious; the hardest part is finding a service station with a working air guage.
Check your figures
Before you get very excited and launch yourself at your man with a hug, check the weight bearing load of his wheelchair. Sadly some of them aren’t designed for you to sit in his lap, so perfecting the lean over hug is a must.
If you don’t know why he’s in a wheelchair, ask him. A person with spinal injury will have different needs to someone with muscular dystrophy (Andrew has something very similar to muscular dystrophy). If you’re afraid to ask, or he’s hesitant to discuss, personally, I’d run for the hills. Someone who is able to freely talk about their disability and its impact on their life has probably reached a greater level of acceptance than one for whom it is a touchy subject.
Rediscover the romance of simple things
Sometimes when it is not possible to do whatever you want, whatever you do becomes just that bit more special. I still remember the day that Andrew picked me up from work and casually said – do you want takeaway? We drove to a Thai place, picked up some food and then he said, why don’t we go eat it by the water? We found a place to park which had a nice view of the bay. It wasn’t until he pulled out plates and cutlery that it twigged he’d planned a ‘car picnic’ at dusk all along.
I know I just said that you get to enjoy the simple things as some others are off limits but this point is about questioning the impossible. There are many outdoor physical activities which are certainly possible, especially if your partner has upper body strength. (I missed out on the nice torso muscles ). Sometimes you may find it’s you being challenged and not him.
A while ago I bought Andrew a surprise gift of a Harley Davidson ride (as pillion). Upon giving him the gift he said he wasn’t sure whether his lateral muscles were strong enough to hold on. I rang the company back. They suggested swapping it for a trike ride. Great. Now I had to go with him! I’m not sure who was more nervous that day – him or me!
Grow a wicked sense of humour
If you don’t already have a slightly odd sense of humour, dating disability style will sure help to develop one. I worked for 10 years with people who are blind or have low vision and now with children who are deaf or hearing impaired. One things I’ve found is that most people with a disability have a remarkable sense of humour. I do recall one guy I worked with who, if placed in a humour competition with a termite nest, the nest would win hands down… but he was an exception.
Here’s two examples of Andrew’s dark sense of humour.
While shopping one day, Andrew was staring at all the motorbikes. He loved riding motorbikes pre-muscular dystrophy (hence my aforementioned gift). He turned to me and said:
I love to roll past these guys and say to them: ‘I used to ride one of those’. The look on their face is priceless.
If you think that’s a little dark, well, the second example is worse. He once told me that he was bored at home and chatting on a disability forum. He posted a message on the forum saying that The Gap (a cliff face in Sydney known as a suicide hot spot) was discriminating against those in wheelchairs as there was no ramp.
Thankfully someone else in the forum had an equally wicked sense of humour and wrote back:
I have found a suitable ‘dispatch’ point for you in the Blue Mountains. Should you wish to kill yourself, you’ll have to drive 2 hours west.
My last tip would seem fairly obvious in any relationship however I’m including it anyway. Lack of walking doesn’t equate to lack of fun. In the two years I’ve had with Andrew, 90% of the time, I’ve had a ball! Who could ask for more than that?