Online Dating with a Disability

Online dating is hard enough.  Try doing it with a disability. (Sykes, 2014, p. 1)

Last week, at an amazing conference called “Breaking Silences, Demanding Crip Justice: Sex, Sexuality and Disability”, at Wright State University, my colleague Erica Tachoir and I presented research on online dating to an enthusiastic, participating audience.  To start, we introduced six common statements of potential online daters with disabilities (PWDs).  What do you think; are these statements true or false?

1.         “Everyone my age is married but me.”  FALSE

In fact, between ages 18 and 34, the percent of PWDs who have never married is 74%.  This appears high, but according to the U.S. Census, most people (65%) in this age group without disabilities also are never married.  If we consider all adults ages 18 and older, 41% of PWDs are married as are 52% of adults without disabilities (Schur, Kruse, & Blanck, 2013).

2.         “Online dating is only for losers.”  FALSE

Surely not, in that according to the Pew Internet (2016), 27% of American adults ages 18 to 24 have used online dating, 15% of Americans overall.  These percentages have only been growing.  For example, the share of 55- to 64-year-olds who use online dating doubled from 6% in 2013 to 12% in 2015.

3.         “There’s no website for people like me.” FALSE

Of course, there is no reason why a PWD cannot use a dating app or online dating site like OKCupid, Tinder, Bumble, and eHarmony. However, PWDs may have an advantage and feel more comfortable when using sites targeted directly to them. These include Whispers4u and Dating 4 Disabled, which address people with physical and mobility-related disabilities; Disabled Passions and Prescription4Love, which include daters with a variety of physical and mental health conditions; NoLongerLonely, for adults with mental illness; and POZ Personals, for daters who are HIV positive.

4.         “No one without a disability will ever find me attractive.” FALSE

PWDs need to be careful about internalized stigma.  In other words, some PWDs may feel suspicious of people without disabilities who desire a romantic relationship with them. That distrust may be based on experience or may occur because of the internalized stigma that something must be wrong with a person without disability who voluntarily desires to be with a person with a disability.

5.         “PWDs can’t afford to be picky.” FALSE

Actually, many of the almost 12,000 members of Dating 4 Disabled specify the types of disabilities they would accept when seeking a long-term relationship.  According to Merryl Kaplan, the site’s head of member services, “Like anyone else, people with disabilities have different preferences.  Someone with good mobility may prefer someone also mobile, others don’t limit at all”. In general, people tend to be comfortable with the disability that they know.  However, some PWDs prefer a partner who can compensate for their disability, someone without similar limitations.

6.         “Everyone lies on their dating profile.” TRUE

Adults without obvious physical disabilities most commonly misrepresent themselves in terms of their physical appearance, the characteristic that daters most highly value in their potential partners.  This stretch of the truth is unlikely to differ for PWDs.  Online daters typically experiment with their self-descriptions and photos to increase their success at attracting others to their profile.  Constructing an online dating profile is, at least in part, an exercise in portraying oneself by guessing  the opinions of potential partners.

Any other True or False statement about online dating with a disability that you can think of? Please send, and I will try to address them in a future blog.

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