By Emily Lopex
Photo by Loren Worthington
I remember the first time I had a crush on a boy. I was eight. He had dark eyes, curly hair that swept across his forehead and a smile that made me swoon. I decided I must have him, and did what I do best; I wrote passionately about my desire to meet him on the playground and marry him under the monkey bars. I drew a map from the classroom to the playground and placed it inside his desk drawer.
As any eight-year-old boy would be, he was perturbed by being pursued by a girl. Particularly a little girl with braces on her leg and arm. His face was a permanent shade of red for the remainder of the year as our classmates teased him for being the object of my affection.
He never did come to the playground that day, but that didn’t faze me much. I moved on to other interests and other boys, my audacity growing each time.
I’ve had cerebral palsy my entire life, but despite its obstacles, both social and environmental, it never quite registered to me that the world saw me differently until I started liking boys. To be fair, the construct I had built for myself that said “I can live the life I want in spite of my disability” came crashing down at thirteen, when I heard a boy I liked speak fondly of my beauty and character then say he could never date someone with a disability. And if at any point I was tempted to believe that his opinion was the exception and not the norm, men would continue to come in and out of my life voicing the same opinion for years to come.
The hardest lesson I’ve had to learn is that I cannot advocate my way into the heart of another.
Such a buzzkill, right? To spend a lifetime advocating for my right to attend mainstream education, to learn to drive, to simply be allowed to be fully human, only to discover that dating and romantic relationships is the one area of my life I can’t create on my own.
The person sitting across from me either accepts all of who I am or he doesn’t. No amount of advocacy can make another person date you, nor should you want it to. Learning to rest in the tension of what it means to both fight for the life I want as a young woman with a disability and also understand that there are parts of my life that I cannot force to happen in the timing I want it to happen is a process I am still learning to master.
My hope with this ongoing feature is that by sharing parts of my story, sometimes humorous and other times in the throes of disappointment, a dialogue is started. I want – we at Ability360 want – to hear your stories of love and heartache, the lessons we all have to learn in the process of becoming who we are meant to be.
This is the “360” of Ability360 . One of my biggest frustrations with articles on dating from the perspective of a person with a disability is that one person cannot possibly speak for an entire community, particularly one as diverse as ours. I see this ongoing column as the catalyst for others to consume and then respond from their perspectives.
May we be honest and compassionate in how we respond to one another, never ceasing to listen or learn and have the humility to admit we have more to gain from each other than we do from criticizing the process someone else is going through.
Happy responding, fellow 360 Humans!
Reach Emily at AskEmily@ability360.org with your stories of love and life.
Lopex on Love
Emily Lopex has a reputation for being overly assertive and an almost irrational love of the chocolate-frosted donut. Her legislative advocacy journey started at 15, under the guidance of teachers who wanted to curb her enthusiasm for debate (read: arguing openly in class) into something more productive. Currently, Emily is an active participant in the disability community as the Advocacy Support Specialist for Ability360.