Dating With Disabilities, Ctd

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 13 2012 @ 9:10am

by Chris Bodenner

Great stories are starting to flood in from readers on this topic. One writes:

I have Aspergers Syndrome – self-diagnosed at 21, officially diagnosed at 25 (I'm now 27) – and while I'm "mild" enough to "pass" in everyday life, it has always become an issue when dating, and usually sooner rather than later. I've become very good at reading social cues and body language, but I inevitably miss or misinterpret things, and I always thought that was my fault and that I had to apologize and explain myself, since I was The Disabled One. 

That led to great, sometimes crippling anxiety over the issue of disclosure: when do you tell someone you have a disability?

For how long do you keep it to yourself? Are you keeping it to yourself out of shame, thinking that if the other person knew he wouldn't like you anymore? (Being gay hasn't helped in this regard. It automatically means the dating pool is several orders of magnitude smaller, and the pressure on young gay men in my big city to not just appear perfect, but be perfect, is enormous.) 

I didn't date at all in high school, dated a little and unsuccessfully in college, and not at all in graduate school. Every single one of the guys I disclosed to stopped calling and stopped returning my calls, regardless of how well it had been going. I tried different delivery tactics – serious, funny, nonchalant, self-depricating – and the result was always the same. I met my need for human intimacy and companionship mostly by having a lot of random sex. 

Well, the most terrifying and wonderful thing just happened: I've met someone. It's still very early and I don't want to jinx it, but this has all the signs of a long-term loving partnership. I couldn't be happier. And you know what? I haven't disclosed – because it hasn't come up. We get all of each other's weird jokes. We make each other laugh hysterically, uncontrollably. He is never sarcastic. His body language is stunningly, incredibly clear. He does what he says he's going to do. When I'm with him, I forget about Aspergers. 

And that's true of the other two men I've had experiences like that with (both of whom I ended up separated from due to geography after a few weeks, or even a few hours). That's the disclosure lesson I've learned: if I even need to think about disclosing, he's not the guy for me. I guess I'm just saying Aspies need to find the people who love them for all of who they are, which I don't think is any different from what everyone else needs. We're all the same.

P.S. Sorry for the length of this. We Aspies are not known for our brevity.

Another reader:

I'm finding this conversation about disabilities very interesting, but was struck by a moment of self-realization in the comments of the reader who lost his arm to a rattlesnake bite at a young age. The way he describes the awkwardness of the dating years and the tendency to get to know a girl/woman before he had the courage to ask them out was all too familiar. Technically, I'm not disabled, unless you count being just a little over 5' tall a disability (I've known many who would consider that a disability and suspect it was part of the reason I was once turned away by a navy recruiter after an initial enthusiasm). I don't want to steer this toward a conversation about short men, since that has been covered here before. I just wanted to share that I find it amazing how my own patterns of behavior are mirrored by someone who is truly disabled.

Speaking of our thread on short men, Andrew made a great distinction worth recycling for the disability thread:

But all attraction is irrational. That's part of the point. The idea that we should somehow stigmatize this, that people should refer to non-discrimination rules in their romantic and sex lives, seems absurdly over-wrought. Maybe it's stupid in terms of electing presidents; but not in the world of love, which is entirely about discrimination. And must be.

Though if someone is attracted to a person with a disability but refuses to act on it because of a perceived social stigma, that's when the discrimination becomes shitty. By the way, a dissenting reader thinks I was shitty for posting the clip of Amy Poehler's character with Tourettes:

As a 55-year-old gay man with a moderate case of Tourettes (including the daily, multiple, involuntary use of the N-word, here in ATLANTA), couldn't you have used a better clip of a disability? I know you want to entertain, when I see this, it just makes me sad for you. Oh, and throw in my (since 1984) pos hiv status, my diabetes, my depression, it's just a laugh riot, since no one ever makes jokes, ever, about mental illness or puts down people with HIV. I read the Dish every day, and this was just like some kind of Faux News segment about the evils of Muslims.