In life, we experience a number of very specific and character building 'firsts': first word, first day of school, first failure, first job, first date, etc. Each of these 'firsts' are seen as a right of passage that each of us go through. They give us the tools and the experience we need to become the people we want to be. It is expected that these 'firsts' will quickly become seconds, thirds and fourths as we navigate the world around us. I'd like to focus in on the first date, and discuss why I feel it has been a particularly pivotal post for me as a PwD.
The first date is a trope that we have become all too familiar with. Movies and media have highlighted that one's first date can have two very distinct outcomes: it can go amazingly and you can meet someone with whom you connect on all the levels; you know that whole "sparks fly" thing occurs, and the fires of passion begin a-burning. On the other hand, first dates can lead to you making up stories to run out of there with your dignity intact. C'mon, we've all been there: you're looking across the table and thinking, "I should totally be binging Netflix right now", wondering why you left your apartment for this sorry attempt at social interaction.
Even with the risk of romantic ruin always on the horizon, we trudge forward, slogging through bad date after slightly better-but still-pretty-bad date, knowing that eventually, 1 will lead to 2 will lead to standing in the sun in Vermont. We just have to keep putting ourselves out there, and we will click with someone, right?
Imagine though, that the cringe-inducing first date that is chock-full of awkward silences, uncertainty and a slew of poorly placed puns, was the only kind of date that you had ever been on. That you don't know what it feels like to actually connect with someone, because after drinks and dinner, as you wheel out from behind the table in your wheelchair, they don't call you. They say all the things that they have been conditioned to say, in an attempt to spare your feelings, and for two seconds you think maybe you'll see them again. You don't.
Seriously, at times it can be like living in a bad Adam Sandler/Katherine Heigl date film without the happy ending. I am not sure how many times I have explained my disability to someone, being sure to insert a pun, waiting for the look of terror to twist into, at the very least, an uncomfortable smile. How many times I have had text conversations that very quickly became one-sided and eventually ended by telling me they "just couldn't do it" or some variation of this.
These are things that could happen to anyone, I know, so it doesn't necessarily mean that they are directly correlated to disability, but I will say that when you have never had anything other than a first date, these thoughts start to creep in.
To paraphrase a line from any number of romantic comedies from the late 80s to mid 90s, while I have been kissed MANY TIMES (I am indeed that amaze balls), I often feel that I will never be missed. Will anybody ever want to see me again? I'll never get to experience that which comes after the first drink or dinner, and bad movie we both watched together. I'll never get to really understand what it means to be wanted. My dating history will be filled by awkward half-hugs and nothing more. I worry that every time I go on a date, you'll only see a part of me, and never get the chance to experience the All-Encompassing Awesomeness that is Andrew. I think I know why, too: Agreeing to go on a second or third date with me, means that not only will you be getting to know me, you'll be getting to know my disability as well. The novelty of going on one date with that disabled dude will wear off, and all you'll be left with is my crippledness in context.
Many well-intentioned guys can't handle that reality, and to them I say, "That's okay, but you don't know who you're missing out on." The scariest part of that last statement is that, if they don't come back for more, I'll never know who it is they're missing out on either.
If this world is all about our 'firsts', I think I may just be ready for my first second date.
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