Srishti Pandey, (20), lives in (Delhi) and is studying psychology. .
That friend request
I was in tenth standard and had just returned home from school when I received a message on Facebook. I would rarely receive texts from someone except my close friends. So I was excited when I saw the notification on my phone. It was a senior from school asking if I was in a relationship. I replied with a ‘no’.
His reply left me stunned. It read, ‘Oh! But you're too cute to be on a wheelchair! And you know what? Don't worry! I am willing to date you.’ I didn't know what to say so I left the chat instantly.
I am willing to date you. I kept repeating the words to myself all day long. It was almost funny how easily and without a second thought he assumed that I am single because no one wanted to date me! He had also assumed that I'll remain single if he didn’t ask me out. He felt he was doing me a huge favour!
My chances at love
I called my friend that evening and to my surprise, she said something even more bizarre! She said that I should think about dating him as he's the first guy ever to ask me out. According to my friend, I didn't have a lot of ‘chances’ at love like my non-disabled friends.
I was shaken because it came from a close friend. Though I was hurt, I couldn’t share my pain with her. For some reason, I have always been bad at confronting people and I thought that even if I did confront her, she wouldn’t understand my point of view.
However, it wasn't the first time someone gave me advice like this. I've been told by people that either I am not made for love at all or that I should fall in love only with a specific type of guy.
Not a single family function goes by without random aunties and uncles telling my parents that it's gonna be a task to find me a decent man. To everyone, I couldn’t find men who would like me for me - just men who were ‘willing to date me’.
Perhaps my friend that evening asked me to date that guy because he perfectly ‘fit in’ the category of guys she thought suitable for me. Guys who will be ‘willing to take care of me. Guys who will be 'willing to make an effort without any expectations'. Guys who will be 'willing to help me out' with literally 'all my work'.
All these statements come from the place where my value as a human, as a woman, as a person looking for love, is reduced to my disability. As if I am not capable of any of these tasks or in actuality, I am incapable of contributing at all in a relationship.
For most of my life, I was made to believe that relationships would never work out for me. And so I would freak out or become awkward around men who would ask me out. I would take advice from here, there, everywhere and mess it all up. Because I didn't expect that someone even half decent would want to date me! Let alone fall in love with me.
My expectations were repeatedly lowered by everyone around me.
What does an ideal date look like?
When my friends would discuss the kind of date they'd want to go on, they'd start describing an 'ideal date' for me as well - without even asking what I wanted! Their description of my dates would be of a man who'd be extremely caring and sweet of course - totally willing to go out with me. When we went out, he'd push my wheelchair (without even asking me if I need help, of course) and basically do everything for me; from ordering food to picking me up and dropping me `safely'. Available to me at all times.
But I didn't want any of that.
I didn't want a caretaker! I longed for romantic dates; just like they did. I'd dream of flowers, movies, holding hands, hugs and kisses! But my friends would censor and invalidate my ideas of a date - reminding me again that my decisions will be made for me. I was always left feeling embarrassed and anxious after their reactions.
For instance, I told one of my friends about the guy I had a crush on. At first she was surprised. She wasn't expecting me to have a crush. She asked me a hundred times if it were true. Then not only did she laugh at my face but also went around telling others about how silly I was being. They kept talking about this for days! I was so embarrassed that I stopped sharing things with my friends.
All these experiences have led me to ask myself if it is 'hard to love me'. If I was irrational for thinking that I'd find a guy who'd be compatible with me. If I was silly to believe in love.
I'd also wonder why it was so hard for people to understand that I wanted the same things they did. That I had expectations too. Wishes. Desires. Dreams. Fantasies. The same ability to fall in love and be loved.
I remember day dreaming about my first crush and wondering if they’ll ask me out. We weren't in the same classes, but I would get a chance to see them at school everyday. I never got an opportunity to talk to them because they were popular, while no one even knew my name; I’m pretty sure they didn't even know that I existed.
But that didn't stop me from dreaming about it all. I still think about how magical it would be if they had felt the same. How my friends would tease me with their name. How they would take me out for a coffee and how we could talk about everything and anything! It was so beautiful just thinking about it. Dreaming about living this fantasy.
It is simple for me. I don't want a 'caretaker' disguised as a boyfriend. What I want from the person I choose is respect and love! I never wished (or wish) for a partner who would overlook my disability. My disability is a part of me. I wish for a partner who is ready to let go of his inhibitions and is willing to learn about my likes, dislikes and even my quirks.
I believe love is much more than doubts, risks, and definitely more than sympathy. In fact, it's nothing like any of this. If it brings risks, it also brings new learnings. If it brings doubts, it also brings acceptance. No one should ever be told that love isn’t made for them. Love doesn’t mind. Everyone deserves to love and be loved.
The person in the picture is a model.
Love Matters, in collaboration with Rising Flame presents a series of essays on love, intimacy, relationships and disability. Dil Vil Pyaar Vyaar is an effort to amplify voices of disabled women; narratives on love that seldom are seen in mainstream discussions on romance. Starting February 14th, we will be releasing several pieces authored by women with disabilities giving us a sneak peek into their lives.