OKCupid? Disability And Online Dating
02/22/2013 - 10:22
Leah Jane Grantham
Leah Jane Grantham
Leah Jane Grantham

Like many other people who have an online dating profile, I’ve tended to open the inbox of my OKCupid account with some trepidation when I notice a new message. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “It’s only a matter of time…”

Until what? Until I have to talk about my autism, and usually have to deal with being given a series of non-replies, polite excuses, creepy fetishization, or outright rejections. It’s the common experience of those of us who choose to be open and honest about our disabilities, and after a while, the rejections are expected, but still not pleasant to deal with. Each time it happens, I start over again with somebody else. My good friend and occasional partner in online dating woes, who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, once, with a healthy dose of irony, called it our “Lather, rinse, repeat” routine.

I wish I didn’t have to be so paranoid. I wish the word “autism” didn’t come anchored with a variety of damaging misconceptions, falsehoods, and ableist notions of what I was like as a person and a potential dating partner. (“Ableism” is discrimination or social prejudice against people with disabilities.)

At first, I left my disability off my profile, and decided to speak of myself in extreme generalities, hoping to attract more people. After about two weeks, I realized that this wasn’t a suitable dating strategy. So I modified my profile, got specific and proudly self-identified as being on the autism spectrum. Within a twenty-four hour period, the number of messages I received daily (or even hourly) trickled to an absolute stop.

The more time I spent on OKCupid, the more I realized just how invisible and ignored the subject of disability was on there. The only real discussion of disability that came up for me was on one particular “match” question, which asked, “Would the world be a better place if people with low I.Qs were not allowed to reproduce?”  I answered “No” and filled my explanation box with an angry screed about the evils of eugenics. The question turned out to be a useful barometer for determining who was worth my time. Anybody who answered “Yes” was automatically disqualified from entering my matches. But that was the extent of the conversation surrounding disability.

Even people who very obviously had some sort of a disability seemed to go out of their way to disguise the fact. I saw many people pass by my profile who were wheelchair users employing creative camera angles, forced perspective and other methods to disguise their use of a wheelchair. Mental health was only mentioned in the context of admonishments along the lines of, “I don’t want any drama from crazies (sic) message me only if you’re normal and stable.”  To be disabled was to be invisible, to be mentally ill was to be undesirable.

I settled into a pattern. I’d get a message, or message somebody, we’d get to know each other, and then I would try to casually drop my autism in the conversation in there somewhere, and never hear back from them. If I didn’t mention it, eventually, those messages would result in a first date, where I could no longer hide my odd mannerisms, stimming (repetitive body movements), speedy and somewhat incoherent speech, and other hallmarks of autism. I’ve yet to get a second date.

It’s been four months now since I started up my OKCupid profile. I have a date next Saturday with someone I met on that site. We’re going to go to a lovely park with a bottle of wine to talk about feminism. I plan to mention the importance of including ableism in any discussion about discrimination.

I’m also exchanging messages with someone who is, like me, proud of their disability and talks about it frankly on their profile, a rare sight indeed! Honesty about living with a disability will not necessarily make me the most sought-after date in my city. But it will grant me the chance to learn, through trial and error, about what it takes to find a partner who will, I hope, respect me as a person with a disability, and share that ideal mix of love, respect, and desire with me.

I hope that by writing about this, I can offer other folks with disabilities who are out there dating right now a chance to make the whole process a more rewarding and less tricky journey. Audre Lorde, the black lesbian writer and activist who was also legally blind, once said, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and embrace those differences.” While I don’t expect to change the entire landscape of online dating to become a haven for those with disabilities, I hope I can at least learn to recognize, accept, and embrace those differences, and have other people join me in doing so. Maybe then we’ll get lucky and have The One come into our inbox.

Until then,

Shalom!

Leah Grantham is a full-time student and part-time advocate at the University of Victoria, or a full-time advocate and a part-time student, depending on how you look at it. She's passionate about issues related to autism, self-expression, feminism, disability rights, art, philosophy, and history. When she's not studying or advocating, Leah enjoys painting, writing poetry, reading, and blogging. Her personal blog can be found at quixoticautistic.wordpress.com.

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i may not be autistic, but i do suffer from anxiety and depression and both of these can also be issues when it comes to online dating. i leave them both off any profiles and disclose them in person after i've gone out with someone a few times. if they are understanding and wish to continue seeing me despite these conditions, then that shows they are willing to get to know all aspects of me. kudos to you, Leah, and i wish you luck with your endeavors!

I came out disabled on my OKC and now I'm being messaged that the news is "disconcerting" and asked to reveal the disability. OKC is full of cynical people looking for reasons to bail, including the mean-spirited form of discrimination I am encountering right now.

I had a few sentences in my profile about my Autism. I realized several weeks after I originally added those sentences (along with several other profile modifications), after a very confusing message exchange with someone, that my sentences about my Autism were gone. Where did they go? I definitely did not remove them. Curiously, none of the other profile changes I made at the same time had gone missing.
Has anyone else had this happen? I'm really concerned.

I can really relate to you on here. I often get fixated on someone I am more interested in knowing to the point it gets unhealthy. When I think it is most healthy is when you feel some "sacred sparks" by getting to know someone that helps you understand yourself and your goals more. I tend to be honest about it and it can be a problem and scare others away. In the end, I like to think all of these embarassing situations happen for a reason and I become grateful for what I was previously ashamed for. I still cannot say I found the right person yet, and some fear in me says I never will. A problem is that my feelings go too fast, and I feel like I have to be honest about them. However, I recently learned and figured out that when relationships go too fast or really lack a friendship and date for the purpose of dating, they are prone to fail. Recently the person I liked just after hearing about what she wants to do with her life which pretty much gave me new direction in what I want to do (when it was previously more vague), when I said I thought she was the right person for me she says she does not feel the same and am sure there is someone better. Honestly two people moving that fast I think is unhealthy, and healthier intimacy through long-lasting friendship leads to healthier relationships. Maybe she is not the one and something else may come along, but now I realize I no longer have to waste all my time "looking" when there is a moment in time you meet someone and they seem perfect. The hardest challenge is what to do from there and at least I have the courage to say something that many do not, which is also understandable since the risk of being heartbroken and frustrated is high.

Thank you for your advocacy. Dating of any kind with a disability is challenging. How much to disclose and when is an impossible dilemma. Those who are scared by my MS and my service dog don't get a second date from me. I have started advising them of my disability during early conversation and make sure to have a phone conversation before we meet. No Mr. Perfect so far but I have gotten some prospects. Best of luck to my disabled sisters.

I enjoyed reading that Leah Jane. You are a good advocate. Keep up the writing! And I like that hat you have on too! Your aunt in Leavenworth Washington.

Thank you Leah for your advocacy and your willingness to share your story. As you state, prejudice is alive and well in 2013 and I am appalled that they would have the Chutzpah to ask the question about I.Q and eugenics!
When those of us who worked on the passage of the ADA completed that legislative journey in 1990, some of us quickly stated that we cannot legislate attitudes! Ignorance continues to be a pervasisve enemy that perpetuates stigma, bigotry and great pain to individuals with disabilitiies and their families in many places. That is why we must be committed to full inclusion and belonging, beginning in early childhood so that one's age peers grow up accepting, acknowleging and respecting the diversity among all of us. Most important, this message of welcoming and belonging must be within the fabric of our Jewish community.
Thank you again for your leadership and advocacy.
Allan I. Bergman; Northbrook, IL>

you rock! I totally agree with everything you said. Glad to know I am not the only one out there......... Good luck finding that someone!

Just want to say that I am touched by your courage and willingness to get out there and I hope you find him!

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