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Disability and Dating

12 July 2017

By Thuthula Sodumo

It seems like every time someone asks me about dating they are not expecting me to say “Yes I am dating”. It shocks them every time and without tact from their side they will always ask, ”But how do you have sex?…What does your family say? Are they happy about it?? These questions go on and on with condescending tones. In many instances, I resort to sarcasm and I have grown a thick skin but even the best of us crumble. This has made me highly paranoid and sceptical of every man that pursues me and I end up self-sabotaging. Zintle Godongwana, a 30-year-old receptionist from Bisho, Eastern Cape, has had similar dating experiences as a woman with cerebral palsy.

“The moment I started working it seemed like family members had unsolicited dating advice for me and mostly it was about these “users/opportunists’’ that will only want to date me for my money. This added to the list of insecurities I have as a woman with disabilities. It made me paranoid. I could never really give anyone a chance because what if they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. What if everyone is correct, that no one would ever love me truly unless I offer them something.’’

Having a disability means you constantly deal with inaccurate assumptions. ‘’When I finally did get someone who was considered successful and who had his own money, there were always those stares of disapproval. I know the stares I have been disabled long enough to recognize them,” Zintle says. “I remember one time we went to dinner, the waitress who was serving us was flirting openly with him. She even called him my brother because, to her, there was no way it could be the other way. These situations completely dented our relationship because I refused to go out with him in public places.

“One time he was hailed as a hero by a bunch of churchgoers for being kind enough to fall in love with me. I was lucky to have him and for him to see beyond my disability. Our environment shapes our thinking, the people you surround yourself with influence the way you do things without even realising it.That’s what killed our relationship – the outside influences. I crumbled under the pressure of not being an “ideal ’’makoti”,” says Zintle.

According to Kate Malon a 35-year-old from Cape Town who is an administrator of a group on Facebook which discusses disability and dating issues amongst women with disabilities;  “Dating comes with many risks for people with disabilities, especially women as they are most likely to suffer abuse and sexual assault in the hands of a wrong partner.

The sad thing is that they don’t report it as they feel that no one would ever love them, so they stay in the abusive relationship. Women with disabilities should be careful when trying online dating as there are many weirdoes who are just twisted and after a good time. Trust your instinct and be careful always.”

Even though it seems the negatives outweigh the positives, there are many feel good stories about women with disabilities who have found love. Their partners were able to see beyond the physical traits and the stigmas of dating a person with a disability.

Lazola Nyongo, 28, is an independent woman with blount disease (a growth disorder of the tibia (shin bone) that causes the lower leg to angle inward, resembling a bowleg). Lazola says, “I was very lucky to have a man who understood me and was always willing to learn and know more about my disability. He was open and curious. I also found that the environment he was working in had an influence in how he viewed me and my disability. The downfall of him overlooking my disability is the fact that when I really needed support regarding disability issues that cause constant shin bone pains, he didn’t understand fully.

He didn’t get how with all my operations that were supposed to ‘fix’ me I was still in so much pain and how I was always exhausted from doing what he said was absolutely nothing. So the constant exhaustion meant no sex, and no sex meant fights but in every other aspect he was a sweetheart.”

A male perspective is provided by Kgomotso Meso, 28, who has myelomeningocele (a defect of the spine, the most serious type of spina bifida). He says, “I am always open about my feelings. From the first encounter I make sure my intentions are known, what I expect from the other people, what I’m offering and so forth. I cannot change my physical appearance, and I make sure no one belittles or ridicules me because of how I walk etc. and I always make sure that there’s comparability and conformability.

I always inform people about my disability, answer all the questions (that I’m able to) when they arise. I always say, communication is the best when it comes to the art of companionship. So I tackle the prejudice with information. It doesn’t often work out, but at least when we part ways, I leave them with as much info as I can,” Kgomotso says.

People with disabilities are human and deserve the best of what this life has to offer too. They add value to this world and are deserving of respect, dignity and love like every other human.

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