Whenever my friends get started on ‘you just need to meet a guy with a disability’, I always share the story of Geoffrey. Geoffrey was kind, a good listener and had great taste in music. He liked to argue, a trait I admired about him, and enjoyed my love of goofing off in class. We met our freshmen year of college. He and I continued to grow closer over the year. There was just one problem. He never liked to go anywhere.
My friends didn’t even know he existed because he would never join me anywhere. I didn’t tell them about him because I didn’t think they would believe me. About four months into our off-label relationship, Geoffrey disclosed to me that he had severe social anxiety.
While it explained the canceled dates and missed classes, I struggled to reconcile his positive and engaging demeanor with the anxiety he described. I tried to be patient with him. He was always so patient with me and the nuances of my disability; I felt he deserved the same courtesy. But for all of his understanding, it did not change the fact that our social lives were not in sync. He was very much a homebody, spending most of our time together at our houses. When he met my stepfather, they bonded over their mutual love of funny hats. To this day, I am still slightly amused by the memory of my stepfather wearing a Vikings hat, wooden staff in hand, and Geoffrey wearing a fur-lined cap in the middle of summer during their first encounter.
Simply sharing a disability with Geoffrey didn’t guarantee that a relationship would work. Our disabilities didn’t make us more compatible. I wanted to go out, meet people, experience the freedom that came with being in college.
Geoffrey wasn’t going to join me in these social pursuits, and my pushing him wasn’t going to change that. Here’s the thing: When someone tells you that dating someone with a disability will make the relationship work, what that really communicates is that your disability should come first, and then your identity. Lies. All lies. The person you end up with should embrace what you are and his or her identity should complement yours. Disability or not, that kind of love is possible for everyone.
I beat myself up for a long time after Geoffrey and I parted ways. I always felt like I should have been more patient. It wasn’t until a year later that I realized we just weren’t right for each other. Thankfully, Geoffrey ended up with a woman who is compatible with him. It’s what we all hope for one day.
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