The Story of Ian and Cleo

Bunny’s note: Considering my significant other and I are of varying disabilities, I want to occasionally use this blog to highlight issues of disability and sex. This first entry in that category comes from my ex “Ian” who is dating the most lovely disabled woman at present. Enjoy.

When I was first sounded out about writing a guest piece for this blog I have to confess that I had my doubts that I’d have anything very interesting to say to you. I don’t regard the circumstances of my relationship as being particularly exceptional or unusual. I certainly regard the relationship itself as being very special indeed – but anyone who’s found themselves the right person can, and should, say the same. So I pondered your regular contributor’s request for a couple of days and then I decided to give a go to writing this piece. I realised that just because I don’t see our circumstances as exceptional it doesn’t naturally follow that everyone else feels the same – maybe I can help to break down or (more realistically) chip away at a few walls of prejudice?

I’ll start by introducing myself and my girlfriend. You can call me Ian (it’s not my real name) and I’ll refer to my girlfriend as Cleo (not her real name either). We’re both in our 30s and live in the UK. Just over a year ago I signed up to a couple of online dating sites. I’m not really sure what my hopes or, indeed, my expectations were in doing so. Take it from me – this was a very daring move by my standards as I’m naturally a rather shy person. You’ve no idea how much I struggled with writing my profiles and trying to sell myself as reasonably interesting prospect! Modesty might be a virtue but it makes for very poor reading matter…

Anyway, the story really begins in earnest around three weeks into my membership of the site. One Sunday in June I signed into my account and found a Wink from a girl. For those of you not familiar with the workings of that site I should say that Winking at someone is a way in which non-paying members are able to signal an interest in one another. Things can’t go any further than that unless one party is a paying member as only paying members can initiate first messaging contact. Upon finding Cleo’s wink I went and read her profile and, of course, looked at her photos. Everything about her ticked my metaphorical boxes except for the fact that she lived in Hull – somewhat beyond the limits of the geographical preferences that I had. I’d set these distance limits into my search parameters purely because I’m a non-driver. I was looking to meet someone local to the Lincoln area. So, with a feeling of disappointment, I wrote her a polite message back telling her the problem and wishing her well with her search. She wrote back to me within minutes expressing similar wishes for me.

I think I went for a walk or did some shopping after that. What I did doesn’t really matter but what I was thinking does. I was mentally kicking myself. OK – so maybe we live too far apart to start a relationship? We could still be friends. When I got home I messaged her again and apologised for being so hasty and invited her to my Facebook. We chatted… and we chatted… and we chatted… and we got on like a house on fire. I suggested that I might go over to Hull and see her sometime. I like fish and there’s a brilliant aquarium there. She seemed keen to show me it and the other delights of Hull too. So we set a day to meet up – 7th July 2012…

As that day drew closer I confessed to her that I’d stopped searching on and the other dating sites because I first wanted to see how things went when I met her. She’d done the same! So we decided that what was originally going to be two new friends meeting up for a day would now be our first date. It was a great success and our relationship is over a year old now.

You’re probably thinking to yourselves that I was asked to write this article because I’m in a long-term relationship that began on a dating site. Actually no… I was asked to write this article because I’m in a long-term relationship with a girl who is physically disabled and is a wheelchair user. It’s not my intention to go into great detail about Cleo’s disabilities but I’ll just give you the basic picture. She uses a motorised wheelchair to get about outdoors. Within her own home (which she shares with her mother – who is her official carer) she is able to get about very slowly using crutches. There are some basic everyday tasks that Cleo is unable to perform without help (such as dressing) but there are many more things that she is perfectly able to do just as well or better than anyone. Obviously Cleo had been completely upfront about everything on

As I said at the start of this piece – I don’t regard our situation as exceptional but our relationship has certainly opened my eyes as to how awkward things can be made for wheelchair uses. I find myself raising a mental eyebrow each time I walk by a pub, restaurant or other public place which doesn’t offer wheelchair access. On the other hand, with Cleo, I’ve also seen that society is, at least, making an effort. I’ve been in more lifts (or elevators as they’re known in the USA) in the last year than probably in my whole previous life combined. Lifts in museums, in shopping centres and even in some restaurants – lifts that I’d never have really noticed before. Likewise with ramps, of course. Ramps can be quite funny sometimes. There’s a particularly steep one inside one of the museums in Hull and Cleo has driven into the wall on that one twice. We have a laugh about stuff like that in just the same way as we have a laugh if I trip up – life plays tricks on us on an equal opportunities basis. Sometimes Cleo accidentally runs over my foot… at least I think it’s accidentally… :D

So what are the practical problems associated with being in a relationship with a wheelchair user? I’ve already covered the fact that some places still don’t cater for wheelchairs – I could have a rant about that but what’s the point? The world is changing for the better in that respect and it’s not hard to imagine that it’ll not be too long before almost everywhere is up to speed on the issue.

As for the places that do cater properly – well we have to make a bit of an extra effort ourselves in order to use their facilities. For example – all cinemas have wheelchair spaces now but they don’t have very many. Cleo and I go to the cinema a lot and we make a point of going early in order to nab the, perhaps only, wheelchair space before anyone else does. Once we’re in the theatre itself things can get a little surreal. Have you ever noticed how much lower cinema chairs are compared to wheelchairs? No? Well neither had I until I started going to the cinema with Cleo. Sometimes I find myself sat a good 10 or15 centimetres lower than her. I really have to reach up to put my arm around her shoulders during the movie… :D

Recently we’ve started to use the city buses together. They all have a space set aside for a wheelchair and ramps to access to bus – but if there’s already a wheelchair user on the bus when it pulls up at the stop at which we’re waiting then it’s no use to us.

Finally I come to the physical aspect of our relationship – which is wonderful. We have a very happy and fulfilling sex life. When you’re snuggled up in bed with the person that you love then wheelchairs, crutches and suchlike certainly don’t exert any limitations – indeed they’re not even in the room when the bedroom door closes. The only thing that sometimes hampers sex is Cleo’s cat climbing all over us… ;)

In the year that we’ve been together I’ve been happier than at any time in my life. I think that Cleo feels the same way too. I’ve met several of her family and friends and she’s met some of mine too – they’ve all taken to her right away. Actually I can’t imagine anyone meeting Cleo and not liking her. I’ve only been aware of one negative reaction to our relationship – and that was from an online friend that I’ve never actually met. What that person said hurt me at the time and I’ve never told Cleo what was said – I just tried to put that person right in my own gentle way. I don’t think it worked but prejudice is irrational anyway so sometime rational arguments don’t work.

Thank you for taking the time to read this piece and I hope that you enjoyed looking though this little window at my life.

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