I forgot what it’s like to be lonely. It’s a funny statement to make considering the times we are living in, with a pandemic outside and having spent the better part of the start of the pandemic alone. Getting used to being forgotten was already a familiar feeling, until I met my partner. After a whirlwind of a summer romance with sunrises and sunset drives, waffles and ice cream dates, sing-along and screaming laughter at traffic lights, my head in the clouds and my heart in my mouth, I began liking the feeling of waking up next to him, feeling his body next to mine. With his presence being a quiet and safe space for me, with few disagreements and a willingness to be open about how much I needed him in my life, I forgot what it’s like to be lonely.
He had to leave the country for a while and we kept postponing. For selfish reasons I felt a sense of relief every time he said he had to put his trip off and that meant one more week with him, a few more days of getting to love him and feel safe without insecurities.
I broke up with him when I started feeling myself getting sick at the thought of being without him. One thing about me is that I fall hard for kindness. Although I had my suspicions about his motives, because this man had come into my life and decided to lift the heavy cloud of loneliness and self-doubt that I wore, he lit up the room and always looked so happy to be around me. I got frightened. “Why would anybody want to be that happy with me?”, I asked myself. So I broke up with him while I was planning to move to my new home. He offered to help me with the move as I was telling him I wasn’t sure we were in the same peapod.
I forgot what it was like to be alone for a while, save for a visit from my sibling once a week. But the dynamics of a relationship aren’t as intimate from a partner to partner support. We talked about how he didn’t want to leave me alone in the country while he was gone and that I should try and meet somebody who would keep me company while I waited on him to return. I went back to online dating and tried to match up with somebody who wouldn’t make me uncomfortable.
Online dating, for me, is the only way to meet people. Because of the virus that has us locked up, going outside isn’t an option I can exercise. It would be dishonest of me to make it seem like pre-Covid life was any better or easier. Dating is difficult as a whole, add a visible disability and it’s a whole other story. I live in a country that judges women by how much labour they can provide to others. Self-sacrifice is encouraged and rewarded with promises of a life together with somebody who will hold your hand through all your challenges. So by virtue of not being able to perform physical labour, I’m automatically out of the count to suitors outside. Regardless of how much I might scream at the top of my lungs that I am capable of looking after myself, and I am not looking for a replacement of my legs but a person who sometimes has to get the lights because I got into bed first, being heard is as good as impossible.
In a world where all the ‘isms’ are created as a preference, it leaves a lot to be desired. Even the conversations that I wish I could have with the world, as they pretend to be paying attention to the inaccessibility that we talk about, is still not enough to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zones and ask somebody out on a date without worrying about what people will say. We pretend not to care about what society thinks and yet we spend so much of our time conforming to what it dictates.
I’m well aware that I’m not entitled to companionship. It’s pure luck and sometimes intervention from family and friends. I woke up this morning wondering if any of my friends would consider matching me up with people they know are single and looking, and what that would look like in conversation because matchmaking is a sales pitch. I imagine it would start with listing all my “positive” attributes, my humour, my character (or however they define me) then leave the biggest detail to the end: “oh, by the way, she is a wheelchair user” – just to see how thin a veil of bigotry is.
It’s the same in non-romantic settings just on a lesser magnified point of view. Friendships with able-bodied people are also lonely because disability needs an active effort to show up. In business it’s just as brutal. Having lived through an office job and making an attempt at self employment, inaccessibility is living through actions and words.
I can have these conversations with myself. I don’t know if I trust myself to have them with anybody without raising a discomfort in all of us that might not be gotten over. I can’t afford to lose the already small circle that I have, so I will keep wondering what life would be like if the possibilities were all explored. I am able to make the comparison to myself because I was able-bodied until my mid-30s. I experienced a life of dating without disability and I can only imagine what life is like for those who are born with disabilities or got them in their childhood. Having seen how my agency didn’t exist until I moved provinces, there are those who never get the opportunity to leave their homes and thereby never get an opportunity to fully realize their autonomy.
The burden to find love out there as a disabled person is a solo project in this world. Those who are fortunate to meet somebody who loves them, are often subjected to projections about why they would go out with somebody that the world considers worthless because their labour can’t be physically defined. After all, even in love stories that get written, there isn’t a love story that centres disability without making it a burden to the able-bodied person.
Yes, I could date somebody as disabled as I am. I have considered it. However, it appears that cishet men with disabilities also have a preference for able-bodied women. I understand that mobility is highly valued, so I’m not resentful of that. I’m just aware of how much smaller the circle gets once again.
So I take comfort in my work and have an even bigger appreciation of the fact that if I didn’t have self-pleasure I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. I therefore invite loneliness sometimes, before it shows up on its own. I’d rather feed the monster myself instead of waiting for it to show up and demand my attention. The other option of inviting more strangers into my life who won’t see the light of day with me is not one I’m willing to take. It’s safer knowing that I embrace it before it forces me into a corner because it finds me wanting and alone.
And the likelihood of being in a relationship where my sex work won’t always be a point of discussion or disagreement is very slim. The one person who has accepted me as I am is not in the country and only the heavens know if I will ever see him again.
So I make space for my loneliness and manage it. The world has no time for a Disabled Damsel in Distress.