‘It is amazing how life changes. When I had joined work, I had never imagined I would find him there. I was his trainer. He would ask me doubts and stuff. We started talking on the phone, sharing our philosophies and dreams, and things clicked.’
Namita (name changed), 29, visually impaired.
I am attracted to someone, but I am scared of being rejected.
Well, you’re not alone! The fear of rejection is universal – irrespective of how old you are, what work you do, the way you look, and whether or not you are disabled. Says Neha Trivedi, counsellor and project consultant, Mumbai, ‘To be in a relationship, there has to be a certain degree of connection and attraction on both sides. If you take statistics amongst the nondisabled, then you will generally find that anyone who has one successful relationship, has had a failed relation in the past, has rejected someone, or has been rejected by someone. So don’t think that every nondisabled person who approaches the other gets accepted.’
Despite this, you may feel more prone to rejection because of your impairment. Even if the attraction you feel is reciprocated, you may feel the other person will not want a relationship with someone who is ‘disabled.’ Don’t attribute everything to your disability. Try and separate out your disability from other factors that may prevent a relationship from developing. As one counsellor says, ‘What often ends up happening with disabled people is any rejection in the relationship is understood by them as only the disability.’
This doesn’t mean you won’t ever be attracted to a person who sees your disability as a problem. Then it becomes a personal question. Do you want to be with a person who can’t distinguish between you and your disability? If ignorance, inhibitions or social pressure is getting in the way, these can be dealt with through open, honest communication (although this is not as easy as it sounds) as long as the attraction is mutual. If that doesn’t help, or if there are deeper prejudices lurking in the background, these will have to be dealt with somehow.
I have never been in a relationship. Am I that undesirable?
For many women, the feeling of being undesirable is almost as universal as the fear of rejection. And it often has nothing to do with disability. The media tells us we don’t have perfect lips or eyes or bodies, we judge ourselves by others’ standards, we see people who are thinner, fairer, or ‘prettier’ than we are – and find ourselves lacking in comparison. Adding a disability to this mix often increases this sense of inadequacy.
One way to circumvent the ‘undesirability trap’ is to think about what makes you feel attractive. Is it wearing mascara that brings out your eyes? Or an outfit you save for special occasions?Or perhaps it’s after you’ve been exercising and your body feels fit and healthy . What do others compliment you on? Is there anything you can add on to your daily life to enhance this positive sense of yourself? Building outward from a positive core is more likely to add to your desirability quotient than minusing points from a media-generated view of what counts.
Despite this, attributes attached to your disability – whether they are real or imagined – may mean that others find it hard to see you in a sexually attractive way. One wheelchair-bound woman asked a discussion forum whether her physical disability made her undesirable. Some men felt that even if they did find a woman with a disability attractive, they might find the situations her impairment presented hard to handle. Some expressed concerns over practicalities of dating, others the idea that they would have to ‘take on’ her disability, and many worried about the mechanics of sex. Although these may not be deal breakers when it comes to meeting someone, they may need to be kept in mind.
I am in love with a nondisabled person. Can this work out?
If the feeling is mutual, then why not? A relationship is something you build together – so if you are compatible, like each other, appreciate the other for what they are, have a zing of attraction, trust in and respect each other, there is no reason not to give it a shot. Says Neha Trivedi, a project consultant for visually impaired young adults, ‘The relationships I have seen amongst visually impaired people are both with visually impaired and with non visually impaired people. The way relationships work out is the same as between two nondisabled people – that is, if people like each other, then they are together. There is no larger theoretical complication there.
I have seen that it is visually impaired people that are more confident in themselves, happy, and for whom their disability is not a disability (disabling), who are in relationships with nondisabled people. It (Their disability) is just an aspect of their lives, in which case they land up interacting with the world in a different way, and have very happy marriages. The fact that one group can do it, means that others can do it as well.’
Of course, there will be cases where such relationships won’t work out. But the question is this: Did it not work out because one person is disabled and the other is not? Or were there other reasons? Your impairment may not have been the reason for your incompatibility, so don’t jump to hasty conclusions or shy away from potential nondisabled partners in the future.
I am in love with another woman. Is there something wrong with me?
Nothing is wrong with you. All that this means is that you are not heterosexual – or do not feel attracted to someone of the ‘opposite sex’. Unfortunately, opposite-sex relationships get far more social recognition than same-sex ones, so it may be difficult for you to accept this part of yourself. But don’t let anyone trash you, your partner, or your preferences. Same-sex relationships are aslegally recognised and as legitimate as any other relationships, despite the stigma attached to them. For more information, see the page Sexual Orientation.
All my friends say that having a relationship is the most important thing in life. Is this true?
Unfortunately, many of us are ‘programmed’ to believe that in order to be truly happy we MUST be in a relationship. This hype overrates the value of a romantic relationship and gives us false expectations of what a relationship is supposed to be like. Girls and women feel particularly pressured to enter relationships in their teens and 20s when they are seen to be of ‘marriageable age.’ Older women who are single are often undervalued, despite other accomplishments. The pressure to be in a relationship – from peers and from family members – can often push women into unhealthy relationships. However, being in a bad or abusive relationship, or one that erodes your self esteem, is often worse than not being in one.
At the same time, it is true that a good relationship is something worth experiencing – whether it lasts for a week or a lifetime. But a relationship is not the be all and end all of life. Being single can be as rewarding if not more.
Start saying no to relationships that don’t work for you. Please don’t marry someone simply because they are available. Please don’t think you are a beggar in the relationship zone, even if all through your growing-up years you have been made to believe that you don’t have options.
My daughter is 21. With all that she has to cope with, I think she shouldn’t even consider getting into a relationship.
Every parent faces anxiety when his or her child moves into new arenas of life. You are no different. Granted, maybe your anxiety levels are higher due to your daughter’s disability. This disability may have impaired her hearing or sight, may have led to slower cognitive and intellectual development, or had other consequences. Look at it this way. Your daughter is a human being, like anybody else, with feelings and desires like others. Where can she go if she needs the kind of intimacy a romantic relationship may provide? She may not be able to express herself or her desires but these may come out in a different way – through aggression, frustration, or depression.
Are you truly apprehensive of her being in a relationship, or are you apprehensive of her being exploited in that relationship? What will help is talking to your daughter and making her understand relationships, the expression of love, the expression of affection, and the signs of exploitation.Educating your daughter about sexuality and sexual activities is another way to protect her. Once she has information on sexual relations, intercourse, contraception, and the consequences, she will be better equipped – and you will feel more secure. Don’t underestimate your daughter and don’t be overprotective. Everyone has to hurt a little to grow up and progress in life.