I know, I know – the title of this post sounds ridiculously arrogant and narcissistic. But hear me out! Just the other day, I overheard someone (hi, Mom) gushing on the phone about how sweet it is that my boyfriend Daniel loves me with or without my arm. I knew she meant that he doesn’t care whether or not I wear my prosthetic, but her comment made me think about similar things I’ve heard all throughout my life. It reminded me especially of an email a church community leader once sent out in an attempt to inspire its recipients. The email featured a series of photos of a married couple and their children doing various everyday family activities. The wife and mother in the images happened to be missing both legs, and her husband’s marriage to her was being touted as an example of “true love.” It was supposed to be a “heartwarming” message, but it had the opposite effect on me.
The idea that a disabled person is somehow less deserving and less likely to find a partner is one that our appearance-focused dating culture and media unfortunately perpetuate when they publish stories like the one I mentioned above. And when well-meaning people share these faux-inspirational love stories online, they are unwittingly contributing to a belief that demeans people society considers less-than-perfect and ultimately devalues the concept of love as a whole. A good relationship requires the two people involved to view each other as equals. So when we are encouraged to see an able-bodied person as a saint or a martyr for dating/marrying someone disabled, that relationship becomes severely unbalanced and puts the latter person in a place of disempowerment and dependence. A healthy relationship is a two-way street, and love needs to be present at both ends for it to work. If we praise one person for loving the other, we imply that the other person is less deserving of affection and that their love means less. That’s just not okay, nor is it accurate at all.
Unfortunately, this idea has so saturated society’s minds that I feel the effects myself all the time. I can’t explain how rude it is when someone tells me that they’re so glad I found someone or that it’s great that my boyfriend isn’t shallow. Ouch. That can be a huge blow to anyone’s self esteem. (Do these people even think it’s a compliment when they say something like this???) In any case, they’re wrong in their assumptions about my relationship. My boyfriend is not selfless or saintly for loving me. He is not with me because of any sense of pity or self-righteousness. Dating me is not a sacrifice, and I am not a charity case. Yes, I’m incredibly blessed that I found an amazing man I’ve grown to love deeply. But my boyfriend is equally lucky that he’s with me. We both have a lot to offer each other, and our relationship is based on love and trust and caring and attraction (both mental and physical.) It’s an insult to both parties in a relationship for anyone to assume otherwise.
So I leave you with this: the next time you read or hear about one of these “inspiring” stories of “true love,” be happy for the couple (because yes, all love is beautiful) and then roll your eyes and move on with your life.