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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Dating with Disabilities > Society and Labels

Dating with Disabilities
by Melissa Blake

Society and Labels
What Label Has Society Slapped on You?

I may have talked about this before (well, OK, knowing my obsessive brain and its tendencies to fixate, I'm quite sure I have talked about a few times already), but it's just one of those topics that never seems to have one, clear, definitive answer. It's all a swirly mass of grey, sort of like trying to traverse through a sheet of London fog. You just keep going and going and going with no evidence of any clearing ahead.

From the moment we’re born, society slaps us with labels. I sort of picture it like those sale stickers they place on items at Wal-Mart. We’re going through one giant conveyor belt, those labeled stickers flying everywhere. Boy. Girl. Mother. Father. Brother. Sister. Friend. Enemy. Teacher. Journalist. Clown (who knows?).


And as we get older, more labels get heaped upon us. This is especially true in the dating world, as we search for love and seek out those who we think might, possibly, maybe, could be our other half. Now, I’m not talking about those good labels that are sort of a prerequisite: charming, caring, sensitive, a Chandler Bing sense of humor. Those, frankly, are just the basics – sort of like food and shelter. It’s just something you come to expect in the other person.

But there are some labels that we simply can’t escape from, labels that are inherent in our DNA. Some of these labels you can easily hide – under some makeup or under a glove or under a sweater. My disability label is sort of hard to hide. And sometimes, I feel like one giant bulls eye; people’s eyes gravitate toward me, but not always for the reasons I’d like them to (read: guys, it’s OK, you can come up and talk to me. I promise, promise that I won’t shatter like one of those China dolls; I’m probably even stronger than you, actually).

I can't help but feel like I'm constantly walking a tightrope of sorts. There's a fine line between acknowledging my disability as a part of me and letting it define my life, especially my wish-I-had love life. Guys are obviously going to notice my disability on the first date (remember, I’ve got that fire-engine red wheelchair; that alone is an entity in itself right there). I don't want to be known as "that woman in the wheelchair," but at the same time, I don't want to completely ignore it and pretend like it doesn't exist because that would be like denying a part of who I am. I wouldn’t be who I am without it, but isn’t there a part of me that is independent of it, of my limitations, of my physical deformities? Yes, my disability is a part of who I am, but how far should that part extend? I feel bad sometimes when I get to thinking that I don't want to be the spokesperson for "my people," almost as if I’m turning my back on them or something. The very people who understand me the most are not the people I should really be trying to run (no pun intended) away from, right?

But then on the other hand, I can't help but feel a certain sense of responsibility -- not like I have to constantly fight and defend us, but if I'm not an advocate for us, who will be? I always say that showing my life with a disability – a life that I live fully, everyday – will help show society that, yes, people with disabilities are exactly like everyone else. The old stereotype of us sitting at home, unable to work and live full lives, is sorely very, very outdated.

In dating – and in life – we all have to find that balance, I suppose. So why is it so difficult for me to find that correct balance? Ultimately, there are just some labels we can’t ignore, no matter how hard we might try – and try and try and try – but that doesn’t mean we have to let those labels have more power than we want. In the end, I suppose, those labels are as powerful or as powerless as we allow them to be.  

Is this making any sense? Or is the summer heat merely inducing delusions of grandeur?

Do you ever feel this way? I’d love to hear your story.


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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