Dating Apps and Disability

About the Author: Sylvia is a student at Stanford University living with a disability and sharing her experiences with the world. She is a published author and has had articles feature on news sites such as Huffpost, and is using her platform to educate others on the disabled experience. If you would like to see pictures of Sylvia's adorable guide dog Nikola or read more of her amazing writing make sure to check out her instagram here.

I am not allowed to use tinder. This is a rule I have made for myself for the sake of my wellbeing. I have many of these rules. Eat dinner before 7 pm to avoid fatigue, only argue with people if I feel that it is necessary, leave my sister alone if her body language signals she is not in the mood for my antics. These rules of life that I have given myself over the years are designed to protect myself from harm, whether that be simply mild discomfort or to the extent of agonizing loathing. This list is flexible, and like all rules, sometimes I break them, though I try not to. My rules have grown over time as I experience new things and face new challenges, my avoidance of tinder is one of my newer additions.

Interestingly, I was very motivated to join a dating app when I turned 18. Somehow, I latched onto the idea that online ‘dating’ would be the key to the very complicated puzzle of dating while in a wheelchair. Honestly, I just wanted to start the puzzle, because in order to date you need perspective partners. I was - and still am - ending my teenage years without having even being kissed. This isn’t because I haven’t felt ready or because it isn’t something that interests me, I was/am very eager, but the opportunities never arose. As a senior in high school, my solution was to broaden my dating pool. I was convinced that my lack of dating experience was a product of the lack of suitors around me.  

I am embarrassed to share that I was impatiently waiting for my 18th birthday and waited no longer than needed to join. However, it didn’t take very long for me to face a greater issue, one that I always knew would be there, but was able to pretend didn’t exist up until this point. I looked at all of the attention that my friend was getting on the app. While she was constantly getting new matches and messages from strangers who were interested in her, my app was silent. I did chat with some people, none of who were very interesting. There was one boy who showed a lot of interest in me, he was eager to learn more about me, we shared many passions and hobbies, he even wanted to meet me. The whole experience was so exciting to me. No one had ever shown real romantic interest in me before. I was so overwhelmed with the idea that someone, anyone, thought that I was special and funny and wanted to get to know me. It didn’t take much for me to be so giddy about it all, I didn’t think that we were meant to be or that he was my soulmate, I knew that talking to someone on tinder can mean a lot of things to different people and I wasn’t looking for love. I was just so excited to feel wanted for the first time in my life. 

After messaging constantly for a few days, he expressed interest in meeting me. I felt honored as if his gracing me with his presence was a gift of some sort. But there was this feeling in my gut that was holding me back, not from meeting him, but of not warning him. I wanted to make it explicitly clear that I was disabled, yes if you looked at my profile my wheelchair was visible in some of my photos but I still didn’t want to leave any room for misunderstanding. So, one night before bed, I messaged him just to make sure we were on the same page. When I woke up in the morning, he had blocked me. 

I was so angry and sad, and heartbroken. I wasn’t mourning the loss of this unrequited love, I was mourning the fact that my disability was going to make finding a significant (or not so significant) other so much harder for me. They say college is a time that you can throw caution to the wind and explore your sexuality, but how am I supposed to do that if people don’t see me as a sexual being? 

After this very negative experience, I deleted the app. However, a few months later I convinced myself to give it another shot only to be met with the same disappointing results. This cycle continued again and again. Swipe, disappointment, self-loathing, delete. Swipe, disappointment, self-loathing, delete. Swipe, disappointment, self-loathing, delete. Seasons changed, locations changed, but my desire to try again never faded. Even now, I am writing this because throughout quarantine I had an urge to repeat the cycle, even though it only left me feeling withered and frail. I hope that this time, I am able to stick to my rules, that I hold my ground, and stay away from patterns of toxic behavior, at least for a little while.