Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Building Trusting and Genuine Relationships Beyond the "Norm"

Imagine a couple walking down the street, holding hands, or eating at a restaurant. If nothing was out of the ordinary, would you continue on with your day and not give the couple a second thought? In modern society, the general consensus appears to be that relationships are healthy and expected if you fit into the narrow standard of "normal".

What is normal, you ask? Well, you may have unintentionally imagined a white, able-bodied male and female couple, which is not an unusual answer when we think of what has been socially acceptable throughout history. When you think of the media for example, are you more likely to see the above couple described - or an interracial couple? A homosexual couple? A societally stigmatized couple (e.g. a homeless couple)?

Yes, there have been improvements in the media when it comes to representing couples that do not fit the standard of "normal" that used to be strictly enforced. However, one group that I believe still falls through the cracks is people with disabilities - and specifically - where is the conversation that concerns people with disabilities dating people without disabilities? It seems like the only way people can see a person with disabilities having a romantic relationship is when they are paired with another person with disabilities. Why is this?

Is it so hard to believe that a stereotypically "normal" person could truly love and care for someone with a disability?  We raise our children to appreciate the differences of themselves and others; if this is actually enforced, why haven't people with disabilities been included into the dating pool? Some people may say: "Well you can't be with someone with a different intellectual ability etc.". But, is this entirely true? Is there anyone in your family that you love to death who does not match your intellectual abilities? 

It is also important to note that many people may assume that someone with a disability is automatically intellectually impaired, when in reality, there are multiple cases where a person's brain is in tact and they are still treated as if they are impaired. Some people even believe that we shouldn't be treating anyone as if they are "intellectually impaired" because our standards for intelligence don't encompass all types of intelligence (emotional intelligence, for example). 

Unfortunately, society has done an excellent job of making the assumption that people with disabilities do not date or have meaningful romantic relationships. This assumption is harmful because many people with disabilities may be raised to believe that they are not worthy or deserving of a meaningful, healthy relationship with another person (with or without a disability). Personally, I find it hard to believe that a "normal" able-bodied man would want to have a genuine relationship with me because I feel that I would be a burden or embarrassment on that person. How did I develop this belief? Maybe I would have a different, more positive belief about my worth in future relationships if I learned early on that difference was okay and expected? 

Also, another harmful result of these assumptions is that people with disabilities are not educated in what a healthy relationship would look like for them personally. How can you tell if someone new is truly wanting to get to know you, or if they are trying to get something out of you as a vulnerable person?  How can you trust that respect you as an equal person? How do you stay safe while still meeting new people?  It's sad to say, but even I have been personally sought out by scammers or strangers who want to victimize vulnerable populations, and I am not the only one! It becomes a day job realizing the true intentions of people.

Until the narrow standard of what "normal" is in relationships, I will continue to broaden the scope through sharing my experiences and mind with you all. I hope that the people that I know and love in my life will also continue to represent these underrepresented groups so that we can all enjoy healthy meaningful relationships in life.