Everyone Said “Why Would You Date Someone With Disability?” But She Followed Her Heart.
Story by Elyse Rucker
Dating is hard. Finding genuine love is even harder. Before the pandemic hit in 2020, I was going on dates with men I’d met on various dating apps. I had recently moved back to my hometown to finish graduate school and the proverbial “sea” had a lot less fish in it.
The year before in 2019, I had broken up with my boyfriend of two and a half years and had been single since. Sure, I’d gone on quite a few dates and had even gotten stood up a few times (online dating is rough), but none of my dates ever panned out. Here’s the thing about developing higher self-worth: you’re more unwilling to put up with people’s crap. And once you’ve realized you deserve to be treated better than you have been getting treated, dating gets even harder. Back in 2018, I had seen a video about a man named Jason who was searching for love. He was handsome, adventurous, and he looked like a fun guy. He was 10 years older than me, but to me, age doesn’t matter much in a relationship once you’re past a certain age. His sisters had made him a video that was asking the internet to share the video to find him a partner. You see, dating was even harder for Jason because he was disabled.
Jason was born a healthy baby, but complications left him hearing-impaired and with cerebral palsy (CP). The video intrigued me for some reason, I can’t exactly tell you why, because I really don’t know. At the time, I was still dating my previous boyfriend and had even shown him the video, to which he made a horrible joke about and went on with his day. Fast forward to March 2020, I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, stuck at home because of the pandemic when I saw a video about an interabled couple (which was a new term to me.) I instantly remembered Jason and his quest for love. I found the email and sent an introductory email, eager to see if he had found love yet. Right after sending the email, I was excited about a reply, but my excitement faded each day that passed without a reply. I spent six days waiting for a reply and actually kinda forgot about it until April 1st when I received a reply from Jason himself. We instantly started emailing and this went on, back and forth for weeks. Our conversations were varied, from our favorite foods, to travel, to books and music. He was so easy to talk to and it was like we’d known each other for a long time. I asked Jason a lot of questions about his disability and what his life had been like because of it. He was open about his disability and how it had impacted his life. When he asked what I was in school for, I was reluctant to tell him. I was in school for speech-language pathology (speech therapy) and I was afraid to tell him. I knew he’d think I was just talking to him from a “work” interest, which was far from the truth. He reacted how I thought he would, but was kind about it. We kept emailing for weeks, and finally exchanged numbers. Once we started texting, we shared more about our lives and grew closer. I didn’t tell any of my friends because I was nervous they wouldn’t understand my attraction to a disabled man. Not for the fact that he was disabled, but just that they wouldn’t get “it.” But my friends are awesome, so I shouldn’t have worried. I told my close friends about my new pen pal and they were very supportive. They, of course, had questions about him and his disability but were happy for me regardless.
Jason and I kept texting, video chatting, and getting to know each other. I finally told my mom that I was talking to a guy I met online, about his disability, and that he’d be flying to Arkansas to meet me in a month or two. She was surprised. My mother was worried that Jason wouldn’t “fit in my lifestyle.” I’m a pretty outdoorsy gal; I love to hike, backpack, kayak, and stay active outdoors. She was worried that the fact that he was physically disabled would be limiting for me, in terms of lifestyle and hobbies. I tried to explain to her that it was okay, couples didn’t have to spend every waking moment together. I could do the things I love without Jason, or modify them for us to do together. She was still worried and wasn’t sure why I’d want to date someone with a disability. I pointed out that many conditions are considered disabilities, like my sister, who has type 1 diabetes. Why should a disability make him less worthy of me? Lots of people become disabled, whether it be car accidents, age, whatever. Disability isn’t something that should limit you from finding love. I was a little saddened that my mom was hesitant about Jason before even meeting him, but maybe she’d like him once she met him. In May of 2020, Jason and I set a date for his first visit, late July. The first thing Jason said once he got in Arkansas was “You guys have a lot of water here,” and “Wow, it’s so green here!” Jason had never been to Arkansas before and boy was he in for a treat.
We spent four amazing days together and it was all such a natural feeling. I showed him my hometown of Hot Springs National Park, took him swimming in a creek (it’s an Arkansan thing), and introduced him to my mom and some friends. There was much to adjust to for me. I knew he was physically disabled, but I didn’t quite get to what degree until I met him. He’s not a wheelchair user, but he does have limited mobility. Part of Jason’s CP is spasticity, which means abnormal muscle tightness due to prolonged muscle contraction. This affects his gait, along with his speech. Being a speech-language pathologist, I would go into more detail about his communication differences, but just know the CP affects his ability to communicate easily with others. Being with Jason in public was a little nerve-wracking for me because I had never been in public with a disabled individual in a romantic sense. I was nervous people would stare. I don’t think anyone likes it when people stare at them in public. Some people did stare, but I think it was because we use American Sign Language (ASL) a lot when communicating. That’s pretty normal for people to stare at since it’s a visual language and it does catch people’s eyes very easily.
Some people think Jason is unintelligent and they talk to him like he’s a baby, which is super annoying to us both. But other than that, most people treat us like any other couple. I was more nervous about how my family and friends would interact with him. If you’ve never interacted much with a disabled person, your first few interactions might be uncomfortable. You might not know how exactly to interact with them respectfully and courteously, what to say, what to ask, or more importantly not ask, etc. It can be a little intimidating. From what I’ve learned from Jason and other disabled people online, they just want to be treated like everyone else and they are open to questions about how you should interact with them. If you wouldn’t say or do it to an able-bodied person, don’t say or do it to a disabled person. Education is key to everything in life, especially when interacting with others who are different than yourself. Surprisingly, my family and close friends who have met him actually did wonderfully.
I gave them tips for how to respectfully interact with Jason before they met him and helped facilitate communication when it was strained. My parents were a little hesitant at first, but my mom has warmed up to the idea and Jason over time. She now loves Jason and is very supportive of our relationship. I knew I loved Jason before I met him in person. He is the sweetest, kindest, and most caring person I have ever met. It was a struggle to try and hide that from him because I wasn’t sure if he felt the same. On his last night in Arkansas, we had a long conversation about how the visit went and what we wanted out of this relationship. We both decided the visit was successful and we wanted to pursue whatever our relationship was. I had previously told Jason I didn’t want to rush into anything and wanted to be cautious and he was very respectful of that. At the end of our conversation, right before we fell asleep, he admitted he loved me and told me he didn’t expect me to say it back, but he had just wanted me to know. The next morning, I told him I loved him too.
This newfound love was unexpected but so comforting. I didn’t really know what my relationship would look like, being with someone who is disabled, but I knew it would be amazing because Jason was amazing. My relationship is different, but it is also good. The fact that Jason is disabled doesn’t change anything about how our relationship works. No, I’m not in a caregiver role. Jason is very independent and capable of anything (except cracking eggs…sorry babe!) We do normal things together, eat out, go on hikes, watch movies, etc. It’s a completely normal relationship. We each go out of our way for one another. There are some things he might need help with, but there are things he can do that I can’t. That’s very typical in a traditional relationship if you really think about it. A couple can’t really get to know one another without adversity, and with adversity being the first thing you learn about your significant other, everything is pretty transparent from the start. I’m still learning what it means to be in an interabled relationship, but I can honestly say that this relationship with him is the most “normal” relationship I’ve ever been in. Now together for more than a year, we are so happy. To be fair, we have always been happy together, we just can’t believe a whole year has gone by! He’s met more of my family and friends, and I’ve met his family as well. We are currently still doing a long-distance relationship but will be moving in together this year. We have already made so many memories together, despite the pandemic and distance. We have fun date nights over video chat, we send each other surprises in the mail, and we’ve done some socially distanced traveling when permitted.
We’re still learning about each other and our lives, but have had so much fun over the past year. When I think about our relationship, I always think of the quote by Emily Bronte, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Jason is constantly doing small things for me, which is super important to me. I do the same for him, it’s much like a revolving door in a sense. We’ve often talked about how we are so great for each other because we are both “givers.” Our relationship isn’t perfect, because no relationship is perfect. What’s important is that we both put in the work to make our relationship as healthy and fun as it can be, regardless of our differences. Recently in July of 2021, Jason proposed and we are now engaged! We are so happy and cannot wait to “make it official!” We love sharing our relationship and our story with others via our social media posts on Instagram and TikTok.
Being in an interabled relationship is not weird or atypical, we just don’t talk about it enough. We strive to break the stigma around disability and dating. Jason’s disability is an important part of him, but it’s not the most important thing about him. Disability shouldn’t ever make someone less worthy of finding love. We are all diverse humans with diverse abilities and interests. Interabled relationships are becoming more socially acceptable as time goes on, but they shouldn’t be such a taboo subject in the first place. Disabled people are deserving of love. Disabled people are sexual beings. Disabled people are worthy partners. Jason’s disability is a small fraction of what makes him special and I am so fortunate that I saw that video back in 2018. I can’t tell you exactly why I felt the need to reach out to him last year, but I’m so happy I did. Our relationship might look different from the outside, but it’s just two imperfect people learning how to love each other and tackle this funny thing we call life. Disability or no, you fall in love with the person you fall in love with and you deal with whatever entails.