Amin Lakhani is a 29-year-old man with CMT. After graduating second in his high school class of 700 students, getting two degrees from an Ivy League university and landing his dream job at Microsoft, he thought he had finally made it. But something wasn’t right because he felt completely alone. He hadn’t learned how to make friends and had never even been on a date. So he hired a dating coach and completely turned his life around. Now he makes friends easily and has even found love. This experience gave him a new purpose, pushing him to become a dating coach himself so he can help others find that deep, meaningful, human connection that he wasn’t able to find in his younger years. You can find more of his advice on his website, where he goes by The Dating Coach on Wheels.
I used to think that dating with a disability shouldn’t be any different, because … I didn’t want it to be different! I have felt different my entire life — and I didn’t want to continue feeling that way. I mean, my friends don’t see me as any different. They don’t talk about my disability. They just see me for me. Why can’t someone else do the same? Especially the person who is supposed to love me for who I am on the inside?
But dating with a disability is different, and here are my top five tips for making sure you don’t miss out, like I did.
1. Joke about your disability immediately
Human beings are intensely curious creatures and we are very skilled at noticing differences. Your differences make everyone curious — they are wondering which condition you have, whether or not you need help with something and even how you use the bathroom. But people believe they are not supposed to talk about that, and this can make everyone uncomfortable. When people speak with you, everything they say might go through a filter.
Now, this filter isn’t bad — I mean, I don’t want to be seen as just a disabled person, or get stopped all the time by people who are curious — but this filter may prevent you from building an intimate connection with someone you’d like to pursue romantically. Sometimes you want to be seen as fun and playful, and that may not happen if the person you’re speaking with feels that they need to be overly cautious about what they say. Fortunately, as the person with the disability, you have the ability to open the door to a more relaxed, easy-going conversation with another individual.
If you can show someone that you’re OK with your disability, then they are more likely to be OK with it, too. And the best way to do that is with humor — something as simple as “Hi, my name is Amin, but I also respond to ‘that handsome guy on wheels,'” which immediately puts people more at ease.
2. Be confident
Would I trade in my body for that of a male model? Absolutely! But given that that is not an option, I do the best with what I have. I eat healthy, I exercise to the best of my ability and I wear clothing that makes me say “that is one handsome man” when I look in the mirror. I actually like the way I look, and not because I’m following the advice of fashion gurus on Instagram but because I’m choosing the style that I like.
It took a while before I got there, though. I used to try to dress “normal” so that I would blend in. But then I realized that people were going to stare at me no matter what I did. So I colored my hair, I wore big funky blue glasses and I wore jeans that were way too tight. It took a lot of experimentation to settle on a style that I like (and it still changes), but it was totally worth it. I feel awesome every morning when I look in the mirror. And that helps when I’m meeting new people.
Invest the time to find the style that you like. Most of my wardrobe comes from Asos, because they have smaller sizes, cheaper prices and better quality than most of the stuff I find at the mall. Most stores offer free shipping and returns, which beats trying things on at the mall or carrying things back and forth. I usually order a BUNCH of items and keep only the ones I really like.
I recommend being bold but classy with your choices — this sends the signal that you know people are going to stare at you, that you’re OK with it, and that there is more to you than meets the eye.
3. Be very clear about your intentions
People want to be very nice to people with disabilities, as I’m sure you know, and they may avoid directly rejecting your romantic advances because they don’t want to hurt you.
I know, I find it annoying too …
But if I were in their shoes, I would do the same. Which is why I recommend that YOU take responsibility for getting a clear answer from people in whom you are interested. When I ask women out, I don’t say I want to “hang out” — I say I want to “take you out.” It is scary, but it sure beats the endless wondering and heartache that results when you hang out with someone for months or years only to finally realize that they are not romantically interested in you.
Could this be a potentially uncomfortable situation? Yes, absolutely. However, you’ll be surprised at how often people respect this kind of courage. Several women who have “rejected” me for a date have become my good friends because they value my courage and sense of humor.
4. Be cautious
If you don’t have a lot of dating experience — or even if you do — it can be easy to throw safety concerns out in the excitement of finding a potential partner. But take precautions to make sure your dating memories are good ones.
If you meet someone new online, I recommend talking on the phone before meeting up, or even video chatting. Always meet in a public place, and take your time through the process. Before getting intimate, talk about the health concerns that decision brings up. You may think this will be a buzzkill, but those who are genuinely interested in you will know good things are worth the wait.
5. Do something courageous
As I said before, confidence is extremely attractive, so don’t be afraid to approach someone and introduce yourself. And it can be simple. You could say, “Hi, I wanted to roll over here and introduce myself. I’m Amin.”
Get out there and do something you care about. Speak up for something you believe in. Or just share your story and what you have learned. Ironically, my dating life improved even more after I started speaking as The Dating Coach on Wheels.
Women started reaching out to me, and I didn’t have to swipe hundreds of them to the right.
So find something courageous to do. If you can’t think of anything, I highly recommend public speaking.
I started out at my local Toastmasters club, which is how I ended up speaking at City Hall, and then a magazine wrote about me, and then a YouTube channel filmed a video of me that got 2 million hits.
Seriously though — my own dating coach said to me, “Amin, 95 percent of women, or maybe even 99 percent, may not be interested in you because of your disability. Are you going to let that stop you, or are you going to try 100 times, and then 100 more times, to find the one who is?”
I’ve made my choice — what’s yours?
This post originally appeared on The Dating Coach on Wheels.
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