The first time my boyfriend took his leg off for sex, it was a little weird.
The next time, it wasn’t really weird at all.
Now, I honestly barely notice ‒ or care ‒ that he has no foot from the left shin down (for which he wears a prosthetic leg). To answer your next question: he was born with it, due to amniotic band syndrome, which can restrict growth of limbs in the womb. And your other question – we met online (after I’d suffered my fair share of heartbreak in 2014).
Incidentally, he also has a corrected club foot, a scar from a corrected cleft lip, and problems with his fingers on both hands. No major deal though, (apart from the fact that he’s also gorgeous). Move along. Right?
Or so I thought. Turns out, according to the latest figures from charity Scope, released for the Valentine’s Day season, that 67% of people in Britain “feel uncomfortable talking to disabled people”. Apparently, my generation, the maligned “millennials”, feel twice as uncomfortable as other groups, with 21% saying that they had even “actually avoided talking to a disabled person”.
This has prompted Scope to launch a campaign called “End the awkward“. I’m genuinely flabbergasted that it’s even needed.
Because I’ve been on a lot of first dates, and let me tell you about awkward. Silence between two people who have nothing in common is awkward. Making a joke and having the other person not laugh at all is awkward. Hell, even accidentally making intense eye contact with a stranger on the train is awkward.
But honestly? When my now-boyfriend first told me, on our first date, about his disabilities, my reaction was “Huh, interesting, why’s that, hmm these meatballs are really good, tell me more, let’s have another cocktail so we can keep talking please?”. And I don’t think I’m unusual, or being especially “good”, just to be clear. It just felt like common sense.
I mean, obviously, I do ‘notice’, in the sense that I can see. But is it really “awkward”? Er, no.
As far as dating goes, it’s generally something to accept and get used to, like someone’s stupid laugh, or their inability to grasp why you care so much about the Bake Off.
It is lucky (for him!) that my boyfriend doesn’t need help doing stuff, and he isn’t confined to a wheelchair, which might be harder to manage. And no, of course it doesn’t hurt that I find him ridiculously sexy, and that he himself is pretty open about things.
But I do accept that there are certain issues. I’d be lying if I said I’d never worried about whether we’ll ever be able to do typical “couple-y” stuff like go on really long country walks or city breaks (because too much walking can hurt) or, I don’t know, hike Machu Picchu.
I sometimes worry about other people’s potential reactions, in case it might hurt or annoy him rather than because I give a toss what people think. I don’t like it when his leg causes him pain, and I feel sad that the disability means he hasn’t always been as confident as he might have been.
But you know, I’m sure – if our relationship is “meant to be” ‒ we’ll figure it out. Do a bit less hiking up hills or around cities, and a bit more sitting in country pubs, bars, taxis or trains. It’s hardly purgatory, is it?
Disability is just not a dealbreaker for me in the same way as someone being rude, stopping texting for no reason, or just generally behaving like a dick. And as anyone who’s done any dating in a city will tell you, at length, you don’t have to be disabled to do that.
Admittedly, before I met my boyfriend, I didn’t know anyone disabled, and hadn’t given “them” much real thought.
But then, I still don’t give “them” (as if they’re one big group…) much thought even though I’m dating someone who qualifies. Because often, they don’t need you to treat them hugely differently. Yes, people with reduced mobility might need you to consider access or transport alternatives, and those with intellectual disabilities might need you to slightly alter your expectations of what they can do.
But the key thing here? They’re all people. The same damn rules apply. Treat others how you want to be treated. Everyone has flaws, successes, insecurities, passions, and issues. Some people’s are just more visible.
My boyfriend may not have all his limbs or fingers, but he’s still a whole human being. That won’t ever change.
If the Scope research does its job, and makes people realise that a bit more, perhaps we – especially people my age – can all focus less on the fact that disabled people are “awkward”, and more on the really important relationship issues.
You know, like giving him a hard time for how long he takes to text back, taking issue with the fact he doesn’t like whisky (WHAT? I LOVE IT), and groaning at his sarcastic jokes…
There are plenty of things in a new relationship that can be awkward, as anyone who’s ever dated anyone will know. But your partner’s disability? Not so much.