Observations From Below: Blurred Lines

Now you can see why I'm hesitant. I'm hoping to stay in the 20 percent, but I would also like to have a romantic relationship. How does one first develop a relationship, which is a big barrier in itself, and then make sure it is safe and healthy?
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"There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time." -- Jane Austin

A lot of my friends are having romantic relationships, getting married, having kids, etc., so the topic is on my mind. Everyone says love is complicated and takes many forms. I can verify that.

I've never had a girlfriend, but that doesn't mean I've haven't fallen in love, many times for many reasons. Not to brag, but I seem to be popular with the ladies. All kinds of ladies. All ages. All political persuasions. Some of my girl friends are even lesbian. You get the idea.

My mom arranged my first relationship. I was two. Our moms had a very elaborate plan to marry us off. We are both 25 now and are still close friends. I had a litany of various crushes.

In high school, I participated in a fundraiser in which I was auctioned off as an eligible bachelor. As part of the auction, I had to have a talent. For my talent, you can probably guess that I wrote something. I wrote a romantic letter that kind of encompassed all the girls I knew and "loved." After my computer read the letter to the audience, all the girls in the audience made a collective sigh. After a bidding war, our class president won a date with me for $170. I brought in the second largest bid of the night. We wound up hanging out several times and continued talking for several years after. Here's where it begins to get complicated.

In college, my first personal care assistant (pca) happened to be on the softball team. When it was time for her to leave, she recruited another former member of the softball team. This established a pattern and I wound up with four women from the softball team. I sure saw a lot more women's softball, than I ever had before and increased my tolerance for country and Christian music.

According to research done by Heather Chapman, more time people spend together, the more apt they are to fall in love. Three out of four times, I developed a close connection with my PCA. It probably would have happened with the forth, too, except she didn't work for me long enough. I remain close to all of them to this day. In most cases, I did a few things that a boyfriend would do. Like I met their parents and families and they must have talked about me in their churches, because when I recently attended one of their weddings, all these strangers were able to talk to me like they knew me. More than once, I made a few of their boyfriends jealous, due to our closeness.

The closest I've ever come to having a girlfriend was my relationship with one of my former PCAs. I've written about my battle with perfectionism and other mental health stuff before. I would not have made it through that difficult experience without her support. I don't know if she was joking, but in one conversation she tried to convince me to drop out of school and follow her to California, where she was planning on going to school. Obviously, I didn't take her up on it. Another time, she told me that she didn't plan on leaving me. That relationship seemed to be developing into something else. Unfortunately, she got another job and stopped working for me. Our relationship stopped developing. We are both very busy people. We live in the same town, but we don't see each other. We talk on holidays when we both have free time.

Developing all these strong relationships made it hard to develop other relationships beyond friendships with other people. It's hard for me to flirt when I already feel connected to someone.
The second barrier to building relationships is having a constant companion. Given my disabilities, I am not often alone. This makes it difficult to meet people and have them view me as a romantic prospect. My current PCA is often mistaken for my mother and sometimes, my wife. She finds this incredibly funny and tells me that she doesn't know whether she should apologize to me or find it flattering that people think she could attract a man more than half her age.

I'm not the first man with a disability in this predicament. Many of the men I've read about, while studying disability history, have married their PCA or their physical therapists. Famous Ed Roberts, the man considered the father of the Independent Living Movement, married his occupational therapist. Stephan Hawking left his first wife and married one of his assistants. Max Starkloff, another well-known disability advocate, married his physical therapist and the list goes on.

I am an avid researcher and wanted to explore love and disability. This made me feel better, at first. Until I learned about a little something called, "Devoteeism."

Devoteeism is the sexual attraction to people with physical deformities and disabilities, especially amputees, paraplegics and quadriplegics. It might sound like a perfect solution, because people with disabilities need romantic connection and these people are naturally attracted to people with disabilities, but obviously, this could lead to very dangerous situations. The person with a disability is at the mercy of the devotee. I'm not trying to paint all devotees in a bad light. I personally have never met one. The idea both terrifies me and intrigues me at the same time.

National studies estimate that almost 80 percent of people with disabilities are sexually assaulted on more than one occasion and 50 percent of those experienced more than 10 victimizations

Now you can see why I'm hesitant. I'm hoping to stay in the 20 percent, but I would also like to have a romantic relationship. How does one first develop a relationship, which is a big barrier in itself, and then make sure it is safe and healthy?

That's how I roll.