by Amy Alkon
Q: I’m new to online dating. I’m a nice, good-looking guy with a good job, but I have a muscular condition that causes me to shake a lot. I’m not looking to fool anyone, but I don’t want to advertise my condition on my profile because it’s so personal. My last date was several months ago, and it ended with her saying I was “creepy” because of my disability—a condition I was born with.—Bummed
A: Apparently, this last woman you dated is so used to wearing her heart on her sleeve that she failed to notice that most of it broke off (and is maybe still lying there with her driver’s-side mirror at the Burger King drive-thru).
The thing is, even women who might be open to dating a guy with a bit of a wiggle are likely to be miffed at having it withheld from them until the first date. They’d probably feel similarly if they were surprised by your actual height, weight, or species. In other words, the underlying issue is the lack of disclosure, not the lack of sit-still-ness—which doesn’t justify for a second what this woman said to you. (Clearly, her disability—being a compassionless bitch—is just less visible than yours.)
However, I’m not going to kumbaya you. Advertising yourself as “tall, dark and shaky” wouldn’t be ideal. Even revealing it on the phone could lead to some painful date cancellations. But, as for your notion that your condition is “so personal,” a spastic colon is personal; a woman won’t know about yours unless it’s in such an advanced state that it cuts into conversation to correct her grammar. Your tremors, however, become public the moment you walk into a place to meet a woman—which is actually the perfect time to make a crack like, “Is it freezing in here, or do I have a muscular disorder?” Maybe while wearing a T-shirt with, “That’s my groove thing I’m shaking.”
How dare I joke about a disability?! Truth be told, I can’t really take credit for this approach. I call it “The Callahan,” after my late quadriplegic cartoonist friend, John Callahan, who buzzed around Portland in a motorized wheelchair, cracking jokes like, “See my new shoes? I hear they’re very comfortable.”
Callahan understood that a person’s disability often becomes a big wall between them and the rest of us because we’re afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing. But through his refusal to, uh, pussychair around the subject, Callahan told people how the disabled want to be treated, which is “just like everyone else.” And because the rest of us get poked fun of, Callahan did cartoons featuring disabled people. One of these has a posse on horseback in the desert looking down at an empty wheelchair. The posse leader reassures the others, “Don’t worry, he won’t get far on foot”—which became the title of Callahan’s autobiography.
Adopting a more Callahan-esque attitude—using humor—would allow you to set the tone for your condition to be just a fact about you instead of a fact people pity you for. And by offering to answer questions they might have, you can shrink any big, scary mysteries down to a more manageable size. For example: How permanent is your condition? Will it get worse? If we make babies together, what are the chances they’ll be vibrating in their crib?
And, no, I’m not going to tell you what 35 readers will write to tell me after this column comes out—that you should go on a dating site for people with disabilities. What I will tell you is that online dating isn’t an ideal venue for everyone. Plenty of non-disabled people find it brutal.
But there’s good news for you from some research by evolutionary psychologists Kevin Kniffin and David Sloan Wilson. On day one of a six-week archeological dig, they had students give their first impressions of the smarts, likability and physical attractiveness of their new classmates. On the last day, the students re-rated one another. Well, it seems that physical attractiveness can be heavily influenced by personality and character. For example, a woman whose looks initially rated a measly 3.25 (out of 9) became a hardworking, popular member of the group. By the end of the course, her hotitude in other students’ eyes shot up to a 7.
In other words, if, beyond that shaky exterior, you’re a pretty great guy, you’re probably better off looking for dates in Meetup.com groups and other arenas where you’ll have continuing contact with women. Remember, you only need to charm that one girl—one who is so excited to find a sweet guy who reminds her of a movie star that she doesn’t mind that it happens to be Katharine Hepburn at 70.