Sherry Nevius, single and 52, is looking for a mate with all the important adjectives — caring, sincere, intelligent, funny. Oh, and one more thing: disabled.
Born with cerebral palsy, Ms. Nevius uses a wheelchair. She is independent and mobile, but would prefer to meet a man who could roll alongside her.
“That way we’re on equal ground,” she said.
Ms. Nevius has dated several perfectly nice able-bodied men, but none seemed willing to start a serious relationship.
“I think they were a little bit scared because they didn’t know how to treat me,” she said. She lives in Normal, Ill., a town with few single men around her age, let alone familiar and comfortable with disability.
“It’s hard enough to find someone with similar interests,” she said. “Finding someone O.K. with your disability just makes it harder.”
So this fall Ms. Nevius took her search online.
Several dating Web sites for singles with health problems have started up in the last few years. Ms. Nevius joined Dating 4 Disabled (pictured), a site for people with an array of disabilities, including paralysis and multiple sclerosis. Other sites include NoLongerLonely, for adults with mental illness, and POZ Personals, for people who are H.I.V.-positive.
These sites are generally small and run by one person or a small group. They are usually free, although some have a few ads to cover costs.
Michael T. Maurer, 57, a professor of applied psychology at New York University, came upon POZ Personals while doing research for his work and found it to be a welcoming community where it was easier to get to know someone.
“As a gay man from Bucks County, Pa., I thought dating would be easy in New York, but it didn’t prove to be so,” Dr. Maurer said.
He said the worst part of dating was the anxiety over disclosing his H.I.V. status. Getting to know someone in an online community of people with H.I.V. allows relationships to form without the burden of the big reveal hovering overhead.
“Here everyone knows you have H.I.V.,” he said, “so it gets that barrier out of the way.”
Another site, Prescription4Love, has communities dedicated to sexually transmitted diseases and physical disabilities, but also to other diseases that don’t conjure images of romance and intimacy, like diabetes and Parkinson’s. The site was created by Ricky Durham, whose late brother suffered from Crohn’s disease — a condition that came with literal baggage.
“He was a good-looking boy,” Mr. Durham said. “But when do you tell a girl that you have a colostomy bag? The first date? The third? There’s no good time.”
Awkward issues that come with an illness can be discussed frankly and openly in an online space in which everyone is dealing with something out of the ordinary.
“Sexuality, travel, mobility, pain: Everything takes on a different dimension,” said Merryl Kaplan, who is in charge of member services for Dating 4 Disabled.
The anonymity of the Internet allows people to be forthcoming and honest about what they are truly looking for in a companion. Among the almost 12,000 members of Dating 4 Disabled, for example, many specify the types of disabilities they would be open to dealing with in a long-term relationship.
“Like anyone else, people with disabilities have different preferences,” Ms. Kaplan said. “Someone with good mobility may prefer someone also mobile; others don’t limit at all.”
As for Ms. Nevius, the man of her dreams may be paralyzed or blind, but there is one potential deal breaker: He must be an animal lover.
“My dog and I,” she said, “come as a package deal.”
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The NY Times:
Posted by BA Haller at 5:25 PM