I’m not sure anyone likes Valentine’s Day. If you’re single (like me) it can be a dreadfully depressing date in the diary. Still, I’m not sure people in relationships fare much better. Even if you’re in a relationship, I wonder if your sense of romance just gets stage-fright.
I know a couple who, to my mind, are perfect for each other. The kind of couple that make you believe love really exists. But last year, one half of this couple asked me if I’d take his girlfriend out on Valentine’s Day so he could stay in and play X-Box. I’m still not 100 per cent sure he was joking.
Whatever our thoughts on Cupid’s biggest day of the year, it inevitably makes you wonder about the delicate issue of dating. Certainly where epilepsy is concerned this can be a very sensitive subject. With the stigma still attached to the condition, many people fear telling potential partners about their seizures.
Of course, we live in the digital age. Online dating doesn’t carry quite the stigma that it used to and at least trawling the web for potential partners makes us feel a bit more pro-active. The questions is, do dating sites really work?
Disability or not?
There are several dating sites that say they cater specifically for people with disabilities. I wanted to find out more about whether these sites had any success stories, so I posted a comment to Epilepsy Action’s Facebook page. It asked if anyone had used these sites and, if they had, how they’d found the experience.
What followed was a heated debate about whether epilepsy was in fact a disability at all and whether it was offensive that these sites even existed. Now – purely from a legal point of view – epilepsy is a disability. What I found interesting was that several people really objected to the term ‘disabled’ – particularly in the context of dating.
One user commented: “Surely a dating website for ‘disabled people’ just points out that we are different from the ‘normal people’. Yes, it is a disability – but when I was dating I didn’t go around advertising epilepsy as a personality trait. These sites sound degrading.”
Everyone’s epilepsy is different. Some people’s seizures are controlled and so may not present too many difficulties on dates. Some people may have a more difficult-to-control epilepsy that might be hard to accept for a potential partner. Some people find seizures quite frightening – which might prove a problem in the early stages of a budding romance.
Another user agreed: “My daughter is 22, her seizures are uncontrolled even on medication. Watching her failed attempts at relationships has broken my heart, as the men just can’t deal with or handle her seizures.”
The needle and the haystack
On one hand, if we are determined to find love, shouldn’t we use all the tools at our disposal? Wouldn’t tailored disabled dating sites be peopled with those who could understand life with a disability best of all? Not necessarily. In fact, they may not be peopled at all. Only one user on the Facebook thread had any experience of them.
He said: “I tried, but basically there’s no one in Yorkshire and very few people across the UK. These sites seems more tailored to the US market.”
As ever, no matter how you find your potential partner, the success of any possible pairing is still based on the individual. Some people will accept your condition and others won’t. While disabled dating sites might offer some advantages, the jury is out on whether they can be of any use. I actually contacted two of them to ask for their input into this feature. Neither responded.
So are we back to square one? Scowling at card shops and confetti hearts on 14 February? Avoiding the postman (since we know he’ll be empty-handed) and sneering at happy couples in the street? Let’s have some faith. Because the regular routes to finding someone had a better review on the Facebook thread. Love is always a lottery, but at least the bigger, more mainstream dating sites have a lot more people buying tickets.
One Facebook user said: “I used a ‘normal’ dating website and have met someone special. I just made sure she knew what I was going through and she didn’t run off. I met her seven months ago and we’re moving in together soon. I have only ever had one seizure while in her company, but because I spoke about it she knew what to do. It was very traumatic for her but she managed and we got through it.”
So happy endings do exist. Sometimes. Of course, I haven’t said the unsayable, although many readers may have thought it: what if love isn’t waiting around the corner? Well, maybe that’s okay. If you were single this Valentine’s Day, maybe there’s only one person you should be showing some love – and that’s you.
After all, a happy person is an attractive person and we all have to accept ourselves before someone else will. If I’m happy with myself and someone shows up to love me for it then great. If not? Well, I’ll be round my mate’s house playing X-Box. I’m not sure what his girlfriend’s up to…
A good example
Emma Leathley explains her experiences of online dating – which did lead her to a potential match
Has your epilepsy caused dating-related problems in the past?
People were very quick to judge once they found out I have epilepsy. What many found even more strange was that I couldn’t drive. In the past couple of years, it has put men off dating me. I have been told I am ‘different’ or a ‘liability’.
I once didn’t tell a young man I had epilepsy until the fourth date. He seemed very interested until I told him – then I never heard from him again. I was worried I would never find anyone who understands and isn’t scared of epilepsy.
What methods had you been using to try and meet people?
I hadn’t used any methods as such, it was just who I met on a day-to-day basis or maybe sometimes in a club. The young men I met never felt like the relationship kind. I didn’t know there were disabled dating sites, so I just used a regular one. I used a site called ‘Plenty of Fish’.
Would you consider using a disabled dating site?
I understand some people being offended by epilepsy being referred to as a disability. I used to get offended when it was called a disability. The more I have come to understand and accept my epilepsy, the less it bothers me. It is a disability and some people have worse epilepsies than others, we are all different. If in the future, if I was single again, yes I would certainly have a look at the disabled dating sites.
In the past there has been a bit of a stigma attached to online dating. Do you think online dating is a bit more acceptable in the digital age?
I think online dating will become the norm, especially for people looking for love and to settle down. I do think though there are still a lot of people who judge online dating. It is a great way to meet people in your area. You can have a chat with someone online, get to know them. I think in a few years – if someone were to do a questionnaire on couples and how they met – I think we would all be surprised how many have met through online dating.
How successful was it? I believe you met someone special…?
Yes, I would say my experience was successful, I met some very lovely young men on the dating site. I was surprised how many accepted my epilepsy, however they still weren’t quite right for me. I used online dating for two years and I met my current boyfriend just as I was giving up on the whole thing.
He is brilliant with me and understanding of my epilepsy. I had a six-week period where I had three quite big seizures. Each time, he was there by my side when I came around and he took a day off work the next day to look after me. (It takes me between 24 and 48 hours to recover after a seizure.)
Do you have any tips for anyone who might be considering online dating?
I would say if you’re considering giving it ago, then just do it – what have you got to lose? Just make sure someone knows you’re doing online dating. Make sure they know when, where and who you’re meeting. Even though you have been chatting to someone online, at the end of the day this could be anyone. You do have to be sensible and careful – but at the same time, have fun getting to know people! One day that perfect man or woman might just appear.
What are your hopes for the future of your relationship?
I don’t know really, but I hope things work out and last. I have always wanted to get married and have children, so that is something I would like. Still, it is only early in the relationship at the moment…