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8 Things I Learnt From Dating Someone Differently Abled
My cousin once dated a man who had an OCD about seating arrangements. While we all joked that he reminded us of Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, the fact is that we accepted his OCD as a part of him. There were times when we went 'Awww' at how he'd spend two full minutes adjusting the cushions at a restaurant. There were also those times when we made a few faces when he'd overturn an entire room at a house party. But, like I mentioned, we remember him for the curious, witty, loving person he was -- not for his disorder.

While we take similar steps to meet other people halfway, like when it comes to dating someone with a bit of a temper, or a chronic problem with procrastination, or even a semi-lethal snoring pattern, one bridge always seems too far away -- dating someone who is disabled. Or like they empathetically call it, differently abled.

Dating someone who is differently abled does have a stigma attached to it, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise. I thought it wouldn't be so too, until I got into a relationship with Karan, and watched the world look at me with worry, sympathy and a hint of disappointment. To cut it short, Karan had Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA -- please Google!) and the time I spent with him left me with several realisations about life.

While I’ll share those musings some other time, today, I want to tell the world what my major takeaways from this relationship with a “differently-abled” person were…

1) Do Not Assume That Help Is Required Until It Is Asked

On our first few dates, the one thing he was very clear about was the fact that if he did not ask me for help, it is because he did not need it! Wanting to help your partner might come from a very good place in your heart, but it is imperative that we understand what goes through the mind of someone who is differently abled when people assume that they always need assistance. How would you feel if during a conversation, the person you are speaking to stopped after every sentence to reiterate what he or she just said assuming that you might not have understood it in the first place? Not fun!

2) Questions Are Good

As I recount my experience of having dated someone who was “specially abled” (another one of those terms), the first thing I had to understand was that it is OKAY to ask a lot of questions until you have a clear understanding. I would initially hesitate to ask questions as, a) I didn't want to come across as ignorant and b) I didn't want to make my partner conscious by constantly asking him stuff. Yet, it was when my partner helped me realize that information is crucial, that I was open about my doubts. Moreover, if the two of you last for a while, the questions will soon turn to, 'What do you want to have for dinner?' and nothing more. Stick on … it gets simpler!

3) Don't Play Hero (ine)

One of our favorite things to do was to go out for midnight ice cream. It was 'our thing'. With a bewildering consistency, almost every second time we'd go for our midnight trips, we would encounter someone who felt compelled to stare for eternity or passed a rude comment. While it might feel like instinct to protect your loved one, one must always be given the room to fight their own battles. Refrain from the pity-party attitude!

4) You Are Allowed To Be Mad

The ultimate quest of everyone in the margins of society is to be treated equally. Special privileges and perks were never demanded and neither is one expected to be falsely cordial. It is okay to be mad at your differently abled partner if they are late for a date or screw up a plan. Just be yourself and try not to be unreasonable.

5) Humour - Friend Or Foe?

I must admit, this was a tricky subject for me to broach. I was initially so paranoid about unconsciously passing a remark or joke that would end up being hurtful, I’d often think twice before saying anything at all. Slowly, I realised my partner had the ability to laugh at himself (told ya, never assume or judge!), after which I breathed a sigh of relief. Moral of the story? Don’t stress the small stuff!

6) Plan and Plan Well

While the taboo surrounding dating specially-abled people is disappointing, no one said it is easy. Dating someone who might have confined mobility comes with its challenges. Especially in a country like ours, public facilities are still often rudimentary and that might limit several decisions. So, it is crucial to plan your dates and avoid unwanted surprises or too many awkward moments.

7) It's All About Loving Your Choice

If ever a cliche about Indian families were true, it would have to be the one about parents interfering in the dating lives of their children. Indian families can get messy, are often conservative and will almost certainly not hold back from warning you about the many consequences and challenges of such a relationship. I always felt that it is best to be open and yet assertive about what you want.

8) Awareness Is Everything

While I certainly feel that one must avoid playing doctor and nothing is more irritating than spouting 'Googled' medical wisdom, it is important to be aware of facts. Differently abled people often battle a whole range of medical issues and ignorance is never fruitful. Discuss details with your partner and make sure that you know what to do and when you should do it; this is most definitely required.

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