Dating is hard. Dating with a disability is, arguably, harder and online dating is a warzone where dreams go to die (kidding, kind of). Here’s my list of useful tips and trips to help navigate the impending swipe fest.
A Brief Defense of Traditional Dating
Though the idea of being set up by your family and friends sounds daunting, they are often the best people to help you find a relationship because they know you as a person. One of the primary drawbacks of online dating is the inability to truly vet someone before meeting them in person. There is always a measure of risk when meeting someone from theIinternet in person, but meeting someone through a friend greatly decreases the likelihood of dangerous dates. Please use discernment and video chat before meeting, and for your first date, definitely meet in a public place.
Choosing the Right App for You
There are a few hundred apps on Google Play and the App Store. Which one is right for you? Disability specific? Paid? Free? Girls’ choice? Unless you have a specific interest in mind, start with the most popular and go from there. Websites and apps need money to continue operating. In the case of dating, revenue comes from ads, and the purchase of subscription plans allow for additional perks. Niche communities like having a disability often have a sparse amount of daily active users. One disability website showed less than 1000 people. OkCupid boasts 5 million daily users. Less active users makes for a substandard experience due to a lack of potential matches and funds.
Paid apps or free? If you want to spend the money, go ahead, but opt for the premium ones. Sites like Match and eHarmony adopt a free-to-sign-up model in which the user is able to make a profile, however, features like messaging are unavailable without a fee. Conversely, apps like Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel employ a “freemium” structure where messaging is free and features like figuring out who likes you are blocked. Paying for a premium experience from the beginning tends to discourage those who are not serious about dating and will hopefully limit the number of negative experiences compared to the free option. I, and many others, have found relationships through free apps. It takes time and patience, just like it does with paid ones. Take your time and find the right person, regardless of method.
My disability is visible while someone with an invisible disability may have a different perspective. For the first half of my online dating career, I made no mention of disability in my profile and made sure to use properly angled upper body shots in my photo library. In my early days, I would wait 2-3 days before telling the person about my wheelchair. Over time, two days became two hours, which turned into, “I have a disability, see last photo album,” because people mistook the wheelchair emoji as advocacy alone. I changed my approach because I was tired of nice conversations abruptly ending due to my unexpected news. The choice to disclose or not is ultimately your decision. I would suggest mentioning it, especially if your disability is physical, only because it will limit your date options. I would also argue that not being honest about it will hurt your potential relationship in the long run.
Also, if you use a wheelchair, be ready to contend with uncomfortable questions about whether you can have sex, pee on your own, and reproduce. This is because of the massive assumption held by 99% of the dating public that every wheelchair user has SCI and is unable to do any of those things. Try to educate ignorance with love and understanding.
Most importantly, know your worth, be honest with what you want and need, respect the process, and be safe!
Disclaimer: the above advice is from firsthand experience and is not meant to be scientific in any way. Something that works for me may not work for you and vice versa. I am a straight male. Your ability to form and keep romantic relationships does not determine your value. I have been on dating apps for approximately eight years and, at the time of writing, have been seeing someone for the past three months.
About Tim Shin: Tim lives in River Vale, NJ, and works as a communications manager for AbleThrive, a nonprofit organization. He enjoys food, fashion, music and television. Click here to learn more about Tim.