Dating can be challenging! However, in today’s digital world, exploring romantic partners via online dating has become the norm for many. A 2016 Pew Research report found that 15% of U.S. adults have used online dating sites or mobile dating apps to find love; and many have even found their one-and-only perfect match. Could love really be just a click away? Maybe!
Match (Match.com) launched as the original online dating site and, because of that, it still has one of the largest databases of singles, including people with disabilities. This site doesn’t specialize in matching persons with disabilities so not everyone is a fan. But, if you consider dating to be a numbers game, the odds may be in your favor with a larger dating pool. You can include a disability on your member profile and also set search filters to match with people with disabilities. However, there are many dating sites solely catering to singles with disabilities.
Living with schizoaffective disorder, a condition that combines features of both schizophrenia and mood disorders (i.e. bipolar disorder or depression), James Leftwich found it difficult to navigate the dating scene. So, in 2004, the librarian founded No Longer Lonely (nolongerlonely.com), a dating site designed for adults with mental illnesses including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, personality disorder, post-traumatic disorder, dissociative disorder and eating disorders. “Users find it very reassuring that they don’t need to worry about the stigma of telling a significant other they have a mental illness,” Leftwich told AmeriDisability Services. Now with about 20,000 members, he says, “We’ve had 40+ marriages result from the site!” No Longer Lonely is a supportive community that invites members to “check stigma at the door” and unlock the potential of friendship, love and support.
Inspired by his late brother Keith, who lived with Crohn’s disease, Ricky Durham founded Prescription 4 Love (prescription4love.com). “It was hard for him to disclose his disease to anyone, but it was really hard for him to tell someone he had a colostomy bag. When do you tell someone that you have a colostomy bag… the first time you meet? The first date? The second? So, I thought if he met someone at a website where everyone had the same condition, there would be nothing to disclose,” Durham explains on the site. It launched in 2006 with 11 conditions and has since expanded to include nearly 40 conditions, such as blindness, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and many others.
“I always loved helping people,” says Louise Maxwell, founder of Soulful Encounters (soulfulencounters.com), a disabled dating and community website. She spent a twenty-year career working in medical offices and especially connected to patients with disabilities. Following a car accident and surgical complications, Maxwell became disabled as well. “When I was housebound, I just felt as if I had no purpose; but everyone needs a purpose,” Maxwell says. Her purpose and second career came, unexpectedly, from her son’s love life. “My son was using online dating and I thought that I could create that for the disabled community.” A decade later, the site has evolved from just a dating hub to include social-based support and resources, similar to Facebook. Many members gravitate to the chat room feature. “Soul Encounters is more than just a dating site for the physically or mentally challenged; it is a place where people meet and talk about the day-to-day things in life. We talk about current events, religion, the state of the world and each other’s families − the good and the bad. Members here know that no matter what they say, or how they feel, there will be someone who will have an opinion, encouragement, prayer or just a listening ear,” shared Laurreen in an online testimonial.
Additional dating sites to explore:
Be honest! Some people looking for love frown upon online dating over concern that member profiles may not be completely authentic. Whether you’re dating online or otherwise, it’s important to be yourself. Remember, your disability is just one piece of you and does not define who you are. eHarmony states, “The heart works just fine, even if some body parts don’t.” So, if a person is not interested in getting to know you – your likes, dislikes, humor, intelligence, faith, etc. – because of your disability, then that individual is not the right person for you anyway. Online daters share a goal of finding someone special, so embrace the experience and enjoy!
Once you set a date with a match, if possible, choose an accessible meet-up location that you’re familiar with. You don’t want to arrive to a new place and discover obstacles that’ll distract you from your task at hand (the date itself).
Give it time. You may not find a match overnight and that’s OK. If you find a match with an able-bodied person, be patient as he/she learns about how your disability can impact your life and, potentially, your partner’s life. And, if you find a match with an individual with a disability different than your own, be patient with both your new partner and yourself as you navigate new understandings and, if applicable, adjustments.