I’m so grateful to have met my soulmate so I never again have to date as a disabled person

It’s true that 2020 was a year full of surprises, but I never expected to find love through a dating app (Picture: Maisie McGarvey)

I’ve had many escapades on the dating scene, and most have been disappointing. 

I once met up with someone, and as soon as I said hello, the person I was with looked embarrassed to be seen with me – just because I was in a wheelchair.

I had dates where it was so obvious they didn’t know how to react to my chair, even though they knew in advance. I could tell they felt uncomfortable, even after I tried to make a self-deprecating joke about the chair being the elephant in the room.

As a result, I felt sad because all the hope I had attached to the possibility of the other person accepting me turned out to be wasted.

All I ever wanted was for someone to feel at home with me and for that feeling to be reciprocated – but my wheelchair was the problem for them.

I have cerebral palsy due to my premature birth at 28 weeks. I once was told on a first date that I was lovely, but ‘a bit too much’. Initially, I was confused by this comment. Was it my personality or my disability that was ‘too much’?

That then became the one thought that would run through my head after every unsuccessful date. 

That was until lockdown. It’s true that 2020 was a year full of surprises, but I never expected to find love through a dating app. 

In December 2020, aged 25, my mum encouraged me to join the dating site Match.com after I’d admitted to losing all my confidence in dating. 

I’d been online dating rather unsuccessfully since I was 18. At first, I found it easier to connect with people online as I felt more relaxed, and it also allowed me to tell them about my disability before meeting in person. 

Except, on one night of looking through profiles, I received a message asking if I was ‘normal’ because, at that time, I had a picture with my wheelchair visible as my profile picture. 

I’d heard it all before, so I rolled my eyes and clicked ‘block’ on their profile. While it saddened me to read messages like that, and I knew it wasn’t worth my time responding, I felt deflated. Why should I keep being the target for trolls, all because they couldn’t accept me as a disabled woman?

But my mum was persuasive, and I signed up. I was worried that the same conversations would happen as they did years ago and felt that it wouldn’t be worth my time, so I wanted to be strategic in setting up my profile. 

This time, I ended up picking a selfie that disguised my chair, focusing on the most crucial thing in my profile: my personality. The top priority for me was finding someone who understood me and who could be there for me. 

I knew that a picture featuring my wheelchair would result in uncomfortable conversations, asking why I was in the chair and if I could have children. I’d had those questions asked before, and they did nothing to help build my confidence. I felt like I was just someone to poke fun at, especially when I grew tired of finding wheel puns amusing. 

When I was single, I often wondered when I would get to a point where I fully accepted my disability

This time, I decided to wait until I had chatted to the other person a bit first and sussed out their personality before sharing my disability.  

The most important thing for me to help my confidence was allowing my personality to speak for itself and not let any preconceived ideas of who I was simply because of my disability overshadow that. 

The night I joined Match, I matched with my now-partner. Immediately after seeing his profile, I thought: ‘He looks nice.’ That gut feeling was correct. 

When we matched, neither of us knew that we both had cerebral palsy. After an hour of messaging, he sent me a message saying: ‘I have something to tell you,’. When he told me, my response was: ‘Oh my gosh, so do I.’ When I found out it was a major relief, like all my dating anxiety had drifted away. It felt like, finally, someone understood me. 

The thing with cerebral palsy is that it’s a vast spectrum, which means it affects everyone differently. For example, I can’t walk, but my partner can. Despite this, what we found together was something that neither of us had experienced before: a pure understanding of each other and our individual needs.  

Although we couldn’t meet for seven months due to lockdown, shielding and the borders between England and Scotland being closed, we spoke every day on WhatsApp and FaceTime. 

The first time we met was on July 9 2021, we went for dinner, and not a single moment went by where it didn’t feel as if we hadn’t been doing this for years. I was already in love with him by the time we met in person. He knew me like the back of his hand, as I did him before we even said ‘Hi’ in person. He is my soulmate, and now, the one person I couldn’t see myself without. We’ve been together officially now for seven months. 

My partner has helped me so much, including how I perceive myself and the world around me. Before I met him, I was anxious, had low self-esteem, and sometimes felt like my disability was the most significant barrier to my own happiness.

It’s been a year since we matched, and now, we never really talk about cerebral palsy. Yes, it is a part of us as a couple and may have been what bonded us initially, but we are more focused on our future together, rather than our conditions. 

I often think about how much I have changed since meeting him, and the most defining thing is that I feel so content and confident. It excites me. I am excited because I can see a future with my partner in ways I could have only wished for before. 

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When I was single, I often wondered when I would get to a point where I fully accepted my disability. Now I’ve made it to that point – I am happy and I am loved. 

The perception of disabled people and dating needs to change. We are allowed to have happy, exciting and fun lives, where we can fall in love with a partner, ourselves and our lives regardless of a disability. 

My advice for anyone deliberating: just enjoy it and have fun, you really never know where it might lead. Online dating brought me to my perfect person. You may just find that, too. 

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing emmie.harrison-west@metro.co.uk. 

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