Dating, Anxiety, and Believing in Love

Dating, Anxiety, and Believing in Love

brianna albers

True to my word, I joined a dating site this week. And by this week, I mean the day I wrote this column, since I’ve been putting it off all week. But I did it! Which means I can tell my therapist on Tuesday that, yes, I finally did the thing, and, yes, I absolutely listened to “Stronger” by Kanye West while setting up my profile. This was a confidence boost, naturally.

Bow in the presence of greatness, right? You should be honored by my lateness. And, of course the best line, which appeals to my ever-present cyborg sensibilities: Harder! Better! Faster! Stronger!

So I did it. But just because I did it doesn’t mean I wasn’t texting my friends the entire time, saying things like, “I FORGOT THAT I REALLY DON’T LIKE DATING SITES” and “MY HANDS ARE SWEATING.”

A lot of people reached out to me this week, mostly saying the same thing: Dating is hard for people like us. And I think a lot of that difficulty stems from an inability to see ourselves as worthy of love.

I was scrolling through OkCupid users today and had to laugh, because so many people gave one-word answers to profile questions and relied on pictures — usually mirror selfies, which made me feel like I was 13 again — to get attention. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here trying to figure out how to include my diagnosis in my bio. Do I just throw it out there, e.g., “I’m in a wheelchair,” and immediately move on to more important things like my love for Star Wars? It’s the best way, at least for me, but that doesn’t make it any easier. It doesn’t make my anxiety any less… cloying.

Ask questions and share your knowledge of SMA in our forums.

I had to mute OkCupid notifications a few minutes ago. Every time my phone buzzes I can no longer breathe.

Dating websites are so popular these days. When I tell people that, no, I’m actually not on Tinder, they give me the strangest look. And then they shrug, because it makes sense, in a way — why would someone like me need or even want to be on an app associated with casual sex?

This is, of course, incredibly dismissive, not only of my individuality but also the individuality of disabled people everywhere. Our desire for relationships — romantic, sexual, a combination of the two, even platonic friendships — while varied, is undeniable. And yet it is continually stripped from us, probably deemed an attack on societal disability, so often asexual in nature. When we, in turn, insist on recognition of those desires, our pursuits are seen as optimistic. My belief in, and visions of, my future love are hopeful, inspiring, but when my back is turned, I quickly become childish or naïve.

This happens to most of us, I think. Well-meaning people tell us that of course we’ll find love someday, we just need to find the right person, you know, because — and here they stumble, swallow, all flushed and beading sweat — our situation is, well, pretty unique, right?

We never see ourselves in movies, TV shows, and books, so we are consistently asked if, like, we can have babies, or if sex is possible. And when our stories go viral, it’s always because of a tragic accident: motorcycle pileup, paralysis from the neck down, did you hear she’s going through with the wedding? I hope she knows what she’s doing, I wouldn’t want her to be stuck with him for the rest of her life. And what about the sex?

It’s either pity or a dream — there’s no in-between. So when my phone buzzes, saying something about a new like or match or message, my body convulses. I don’t want to be on display, and that’s what this — this experiment — feels like to me, existing so unapologetically in a public sphere. Here I am, firm in my worthiness, my own lovability. To some it’s pathetic.

Still, it’s this or nothing, a continuation of things as they are — me and my cat and my ever-growing collection of poetry books. I can be brave or lonely and there is no in-between.

I tweet about being a romantic, how everything I do is for love, and it’s a joke, yet still true. Everything I do is in pursuit of love — recognition and companionship, but also self-love, forgiveness for the things this body cannot do.

Like my favorite lines from my favorite poem:

“…how the dog runs straight toward the pickup trucks break-necking down the road, because she thinks she loves them, because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud roaring things will love her back. … Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love.” 

But what can I do? I have no leash.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


  1. Pamela K. Muhammad says:

    Alright Brianna! I think it’s great that you signed up in a dating site. Why not we all have one life to live no matter what our individuality is.. I do have one person if it only for people with a disability or some kind of disabled people on there also? Well much enjoy!!😂😂

    • Hi Pamela! Thanks so much. :~) I currently have an account with OkCupid, and while I’m sure there are other disabled people on the website, I haven’t connected with any of them yet. I’ve been honest about my disability on my profile, though, so maybe I’ll match with someone with SMA!

  2. Liz says:

    Hey Brianna 🙂

    Congratulations to your courage, I am happy for you. 💕Certainly it is hard for people with a handicap to find the right partner. My mother once said wise words to me. To each pot there is the correct lid, which fits only once, this must be found. I found my lid and can say. 23 years lucky married with my dream man, thanks to my mom they gave me always so much wise words. Me husband carries me on his hands through life. We are happy without children.
    I hope so you find your dream partner too. Send all my postive vibs to You. 💕 Warm hugs


    • Hi Liz! Thank you so much. :~) It sounds like your mom was a wise woman! I’m so happy for you and your husband, and can only hope to find the pot to my lid someday — my adventures on dating sites are just my attempts at hurrying things along a bit!

  3. John says:

    Hi, I have tried different dating sites. You have to let them know that you have a disability. I’m 100% upfront and honest with my profile. I let them know that I have Muscular Dystrophy and the type that I have (SMA) and the type 3. I put in my profile to do some research before contacting me. I also let them know that I’m in a wheelchair. I have met some wonderful ladies on different sites. Be honest, be yourself and let them know what a wonderful person you are in your profile! I wish you the best!!

  4. Angela says:

    My patient has SMA 3. He is such a sweet boy. I hope he gets to grow up and do the things he wants in this world, and perhaps get married and have a family. I know it’s complicated.
    This world is complicated. I enjoyed your article Brianna. I’m a 47 year old widow on Your statement “Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love.” is so true!

    • Hi Angela! Thanks so much for sharing. I also hope your patient gets to grow up and do anything and everything he wants. Sometimes the outlook is bleak, but I try and remember that every day the world gets a little bit more accepting. Hopefully someday the things we love won’t obliterate us at all! That is, as always, the goal. :*)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This