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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Dating with Disabilities > The Scarlett Letter

Dating with Disabilities
by Melissa Blake

The Scarlett Letter

I've had three great loves in my life, all three of which rejected me. They were all silent rejections too. No words were said, and no reason was given for said rejection, such as “I need my space,” “This just isn’t working for me” or “I met someone else [read: someone who is prettier, smarter, less clingy, etc].

I’d even settle for the classic “I just want to be friends” routine.

But then again, I didn't need them to say the reason out loud. I already knew what it was: my physical disability. It was my own Scarlett Letter, a sort of man repellent, I thought, that seemed to make men want to stay at least 50 feet away from me. At. All. Times.

Some people are afraid to fall in love. Me? I'm afraid I'll never fall in love. Or should I say, I’m afraid I’ll never find that sort of love that is mutual in its rampant passion, altogether sensual in its togetherness and forever in the honeymoon, can’t-keep-our-hands-off-each-other phase. I know, I know. Real-life love isn’t always like that, people tell me, but why can’t we at least believe it’s out there?

I always assumed I’d too find this love someday. Like any younger girl, I’d sit on my bed and fantasize about how it would all play out when I was a “grown up.” My fantasy was always the same, my own private fairy tale. I’d meet my soul mate in a crowded, dimly lit room, he’d instantly fall in love with my awkwardness, I’d think his geeky glasses were the cutest thing ever and we’d walk out hand-in-hand (laughing, of course, because we have so much in common) at the end of the night.

It’s funny (well, probably more like psychologically significant), but in this fantasy, I’m neither disabled nor able-bodied. It just naturally never entered into the picture. I just am. I’m just me.  

But like all fantasies, reality never seemed to measure up. In reality, my disability tended to be in the picture. Quite a lot, actually. In high school, I remained virtually invisible to the opposite sex, which resulted in four years of silent tears and inner angst and frustration. Of course they saw me, just ‘never in that way’ like they saw all the other burgeoning women with their long legs and fresh-face, scar-free skin. In college, things remained pretty status quo; at least I had consistency in love with me.

But somewhere after I graduated from college in 2005, it all caught up with me. I no longer had my books and classes and, well, life to distract me anymore. And what I realized even more than the absence of books was the absence of that story-book romance. I saw it all around me: On a crowded city street, on a bench in a quiet park, at candlelit tables in restaurants. Madly-in-love couples kissed and held hands as if showing that their forever signaled my never.

A crooked nose can be attractive. A round belly can be sexy. A pair of big feet can be downright adorable. But a whole body full of scars and deformities? In our society, where physical beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, I simply didn't fit into any category.

Who would ever love me?

What man could ever want me?

Who would look at me and think I was any ounce of beautiful – a plucky red-haired 27-year-old who spent more times in hospitals than singles bars and had more scars than freckles.

I eventually got tired of letting those questions have free reign in my mind, so I tried overlooking, maybe even denying, the fact that my disability had anything to do with my relationship (or lack thereof) with men.

But the truth was, it did. Or maybe more important, it did to me. In my attempts to deny my disability, I also pushed myself so inward that no one – not even the strongest man – could penetrate the wall I’d built around myself.

But finally, it began to sink in. I had followed other people’s notions of beauty for so long that I’d lost track of my own. I thought that if I could just walk, if I could just cover up those pesky scars, if I could just be blonde and blend into the background for awhile, I could be just another face in the crowd.

Maybe that's part of the reason I became a writer in the first place, not so much to escape my disability altogether, but to take a little breather every once in awhile. In my writing, I could be anyone I wanted to be. I could be the woman who gets the guy. I could be the woman who is chased instead of the one always doing the chasing. I could even be the girl who finds her Happily Ever After.

It was only in that moment when I realized that there is really no such thing as normal, that I could start to feel my insecurities melt away.

Who knows, maybe men were more turned off by my insecurities than my disability all along. I know I’ll never be a 5”7’ blonde model walking the runways of Paris, and that, yes, to some extent, my disability will always stand out. But I also know that’s okay. I’ve finally learned women can’t keep relying on others to guide them on all things beautiful; it’s up to every women to form her own category of beautiful, to find what it is that makes her stand in front of the background.

The more I grow, the more I love the category I’ve created for myself. I love how my red hair turns heads, how I’m not afraid to look people in the eyes when we’re talking, how I’ve discovered a newfound confidence as a freelance writer and how I no longer care if I’m the one who laughs the loudest. I feel more womanly than I’ve ever felt before. I feel confident and sexy. I finally feel like me. A strong woman can live with her disability but not live within it

It just happens to be that my disability is the first thing people see when they look at me. If they dug deeper, they'd see I'm more than the sum total of all my parts, deformity, scars and all. I'm a daughter. I'm a sister. I’m a best friend. I'm a writer and lover of great movies. I'm feisty and have known to be stubborn more than once. And of course, I am a woman. 

And anyway, who says scars can’t be sexy?


Dating with Disabilities is published every Tuesday by Online Dating Magazine columnist Melissa Blake. Melissa is a freelance writer and columnist. Her work has been featured in Redbook, Pregnancy magazine and the Chicago Tribune. She can be reached at

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