I am a 24 year-old girl on the shidduch scene. I’ve got all the great qualities, bli ayin hara (smart, pretty, funny, Torah-valued) except for the unfortunate fact that I have a very visible physical disability [specific disability not mentioned to protect the anonymity of the writer]. It isn’t something that will prevent me from having kids, but it does slow me down, and I am different.
Because of this, instead of getting set up with the type of boys I want to go out with, that have all the great qualities every girl looks for, I’m getting connected with boys who have baggage, specifically because they have baggage (disabilities, broken homes) like I do.
I am very discouraged because it seems like my options are to either stay unmarried or settle for someone whom I’m not really compatible with and try and make it work because I have no other choice.
How do I solve this emotional mess?
-Trying to Stay Positive
Dear Trying to Stay Positive,
You have a lot that you are pushing up against. But I don’t doubt that you can do this—I would imagine that you have tremendous inner-strength that was built up by overcoming all of your daily obstacles. So not it is time to harness your strength and try to tackle this one. But the obstacle may be in opening up and looking inside.
To start, I think it is important to tell any potential shaddchanim that while you prefer a mainstream guy who is able-bodied and does not have baggage, you are open to either type. The reason for this is because it is pretty clear that your shaddchanim already have put you in the “baggage” category. The harder you push to get out of that, the more likely they are to keep you in it. If you strongly state that you, under no circumstances will date the guys they have in mind, then you will be viewed not only as having a disability, but too picky, too demanding, etc.
Instead, we want to softly expand their preconceived notions while keeping you in the game. So we take what they have to offer and accept it by either saying “Yes,” and trying it out, or by saying, “Thank you, this sounds really great! I will think about it and get back to you.” And about a day later, tell her that while you could see why she thought of it, you would rather not because you are looking for someone who is more ____. If you keep everything positive, you are keeping the shaddchan invested in you and it will be more likely for her or him to consider you for guys that may not have been initially considered.
It is very important that you accept a first date with at least a few guys whom you would prefer not to date. This will keep the shaddchan working on you, even though it may discourage you at times. But you may find it to be good for you.
You’d be surprised that some of this “baggage” that you are trying so hard to stay away from can actually be a gift. People who have had difficult lives and not only survived them, but thrived with them are the superheroes of the emotional world. That sort of strength and self-awareness is a real asset in a relationship. (So long as they have faced their issues and developed resilience and acceptance.)
You may end up deciding that you are certain that you do not want to marry a guy who also has a disability. However, the road to that decision may be beneficial for you. Meaning, it can be very comforting to have gotten to know a few more people who have similar experiences to you just by going on a date or two with them. Obviously the goal of shidduch dating is to meet for marriage, however it is important within this goal to try new things and be open to it.
I also want to stress that you should not force yourself to marry someone just to be married already. Not a good idea for anyone.
Now it’s time to look inside. What does it do to you when you are set up with a guy with “baggage?” Does it make you feel like you are viewed by the world as B-list, or C-list? That can’t be a good feeling. Does it make it feel like all of those awesome qualities that you have to offer are actually null and useless because of this disability? If that is what you are feeling, that is pretty angering, and could make you feel powerless.
Now, imagine yourself in public on a date with a guy who also has a visible disability. How do you imagine other people are viewing you? Does it mean that you are that much more different if you are part of something that has two disabilities, rather than just your single disability?
I don’t know if I am hitting on your exact emotional experiences, but there is clearly a hotbed of stuff here. I am hoping that at some point you have explored what living with a disability did to your self-construct and, if you’ve never fully dug in there, I very much recommend that you open up that part of you. It can be as simple as keeping a journal, a few sessions with a therapist, or joining a support group.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.