Seeking a Lover, Not a Nurse

My suspicions were once strong enough to ask if a friend had feelings, and I was sorely mistaken. At first, I was happy, because all I had wanted was clarity, and I figured we were close enough for him to know he didn’t like me. But lately I have pondered his unquestioned clarity.

I am not so conceited that I believe every man will be beguiled by my winning personality, but I fear those who are beguiled have already dismissed attraction as impossible: How can a disabled person be the object of desire?

There are two main concerns people seem to have about dating a disabled person. First, whether we can have sex, and second, whether our partners must become our caretakers.

For me, the answer to the first question is easy (“Yes, but not with you”). The second, however, is more loaded. Although it’s safe to say that while disabled people want many things from love (a best friend, a partner, a lover, an Instagram photographer), none of those roles is a nurse.

These questions arise from fear rooted in ableism. Disabled stories aren’t mainstream or seen as sexy, certainly not disabled love stories, and it’s easy to fear the unknown. I have hidden my disabled reality from friends, swerving between wanting to trust them with my full self and my fear of being seen as a burden. But when I have been open, in fits and spurts, I have been met with love. The result has been a mélange of understanding: One friend helps with my heavy water bottle while another suggests accessible venues instead of leaving it to me.

At times, feeling the weight of their care, I have wondered how a romantic relationship might fare in this context. But my concern is internalized ableism. People care for each other every day: They pour water for the table, steady a clumsy friend, ensure a vegan colleague has food. Why are these normalized while my care is a dreaded dependence?