Words by Jono Bredin

When I hear women say that every man they date seems to have the wrong intentions, I often wonder what factors are at play. Is it a specific type they’re going for? Or is it just terrible luck in the compatibility department? If we focus on the former for the moment, what would stepping away from that specific type look like? Perhaps trying to get to know someone new, someone unexpected? Maybe someone who moves through the world differently and communicates differently? Maybe me!

I’m a 31-year-old man living in inner-city Melbourne who has Cerebral Palsy (CP). My form of CP is called Spastic Quadriplegia, which means my body movements are reduced due to muscle spasticity, which in my case causes increased stiffness. I get around in a wheelchair and communicate with a tablet.

Many people, including my friends, believed I couldn’t have sex or wasn’t interested in pursuing romantic relationships. This couldn’t be any further from the truth. While I’m typically perceived as a blunt, straight-shooter, beneath all of that, is a very romantic person. I’m unable to do specific tasks such as cooking a romantic meal myself. Still, I take pleasure in organising a romantic date. I plan the date with a support worker, engaging them to cook a meal and set up the space to surprise the person I am dating. Once the set-up is complete, the support worker leaves and I spend time alone with my date. I would usually buy flowers and candles if the mood allowed for it. Unfortunately, I don’t get the chance to express my romantic side, as most women don’t see me as a potential romantic partner.  

Like many, I’ve given dating apps a go but usually find myself thinking, “why do I bother?”. Online dating can be a long, windy process, but I’m not even getting out of the starting lane (not for lack of trying), so it begins to feel pointless. I understand that many people struggle with dating and finding mutual connections; however, this isn’t where I take issue.

The problem is that I’m rarely given a chance to see if a mutual connection exists or can grow. I’m lucky to get one match a month, and that is when I am super active.

Comparatively, research has shown that 46% of people get at least one match per day. I can’t know for certain why my online dating experience has garnered little success, but I genuinely believe people swipe left once they notice the wheelchair in my photos. 

In hearing stories from other people with disability, I’ve learnt that most have had greater success at online dating when they’ve hidden their disability at first. Even though I believe this would tilt the scales in my favour, I refuse to do it because it goes against everything I stand for.

I love who I am, disability and all. Contrary to how people see me, I’m not just a disabled person. I am a person who happens to have a disability. My disability isn’t the centre of my life, it’s merely something that pushes me to navigate the world differently.

For instance, I need a support worker and hoist to get out of bed. Human beings are complex and have many differing qualities. You just find out about mine sooner rather than later. Is that a bad thing?

To understand the why and how of online dating success or failure, we must be cognisant of the societal norms that inform these certain behaviours and perceptions. The media, particularly social media, has reinforced the narrative that you must be conventionally attractive to be worthy of love and affection. Those who do not fit the mould are rarely given a chance in our society. In this day and age, dating apps in particular shape how and who we date. I firmly believe that dating apps have far more work to do in promoting inter-abled relationships by using photos and testimonials when people find love. 

To achieve real change in society and on dating apps, we need to be shown inter-abled couples.

In my opinion, this starts with dating shows on TV. While it is wonderful to have shows like Love On The Spectrum, people with disability can and should be on shows like Married At First Sight or the Bachelor. There have been instances where a person with a disability has been cast on a dating show, but the representation is far from consistent. To create meaningful change, these shows must endeavour to show the realities and complexities of disability – for instance, non-verbal communication, PEG tube feeding or the fact that many people require support workers in their daily life. These aspects of disability aren’t viewed as glamorous, so they are never shown on television. Casting people with disability would ultimately go a long way towards changing perceptions of disability. 

Ten years ago, I applied for Big Brother and made it to the fourth round of auditions. I had a feeling they liked me, but in the end, I believe my slow communication wasn’t compatible with the show. A few years back, I started to apply for Married At First Sight, but my love life started heating up, so there was no need. Off the back of this blog, I’ve decided that it may be time to give it another shot. Additionally, I want to give speed dating and singles parties a shot this year. I want to discover the pros and cons of both and find what works for me (and have fun while doing so!). I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that online dating — where it is now — just doesn’t work for me, so it’s time to try something new.  

If you want to follow my journey to finding love, follow me on Instagram at @realjonobredin.

February 11, 2022 — Clare Puki