My boyfriend washes my hair, cooks my dinner, cleans our home, and collects the mail. He’s not some kind of superhero; he is just doing the things I can’t, to keep us both happy and healthy. It wasn’t always this way. We met hiking a mountain. We fell in love over bottles of red wine and late-night cinema visits. Almost everything has changed in the way we live now but we remain as happy as we were before I got sick.
It is often touted as an act of modern feminism to get your partner to do the laundry or contribute equally to the household chores. However, in my and many other disabled people’s cases, it is merely a requirement for survival. Of course, it impacts our relationship — the way any life adjustment does — but it does not make me needy or high maintenance. Nor does it make him special. There is no savior complex here, just two people who fell in love and are managing through sickness as they did in health.
There is much to be said about the assumptions people make when they see a disabled and a non-disabled person in a relationship. We have had our fair share of everyday ableism and I am someone who uses a wheelchair only part of the time, so my various disabilities are only partially visible to outsiders. People stop by our car, gesturing to help carry me into my chair; mothers with stroller and patronizing smiles look over at me, and him, and me again. Someone asks what happened or when I will get better (as if that is something I can control). When strangers pass us in the street there is a knowing look we have both come to recognize, eyes that say: Good on you mate, looking after that disabled girl. Most of the people we both value in our lives accept my illnesses and consequential limitations to social activities or events, but that doesn’t make declining invitations almost every weekend any easier.
I’m not alone. Ciska is 24 and has been with her boyfriend for over six years. She lives with endometriosis and POTS (postural tachycardia syndrome), alongside other undiagnosed chronic pain. Ciska says there are people in her life who often talk about “how amazing [my boyfriend] is, that he has stuck by me all these years”. It is this judgment, from those looking in from the outside, that many disabled people in inter-disabled relationships find frustrating. Ciska has to remind herself of “how much emotional labor I do in our relationship” and says that therapy has helped her feel more confident in those feelings.
An unequal distribution of physical and mental loads is often referenced in unsuccessful relationships, and I have to remind myself constantly that the desire for a 50-50 split across all facets of a couple’s shared life is a standard set and upheld by …read more