Sometimes it can be hard dating when you have a disability. When I was younger I was much more self-conscious. I found it hard to believe that someone would want to be with me and so I stayed in problem relationships for longer than I should have done, scared that I would be alone. Finally, after being all but bankrupted by a boyfriend, I realised that actually being on my own was better than being with the wrong person.
My sister was fed up with me going out with the wrong men and decided to take control so she signed me up to My Single Friend. We looked through profiles online and discovered Paul, a fellow lover of tea and cake with a kind face and clearly a dog lover from his profile picture of him with a collie. So I sent him a message, a message which he almost didn’t reply to. One of his friends had put him on the website as she couldn’t understand why he was single (I really can’t either but I’m glad he was) and he hadn’t taken all that much interest. He’d had some messages on the website but the girls who had been in touch had turned out to be fairly odd and his subscription was due to end, luckily though he did decide to reply.
We sent emails back and forth for a bit, I couldn’t work out when to tell him about my disability. I wanted to tell him before we met, I didn’t want my arms to be a surprise so finally I plucked up the courage and told him, I explained that I have short arms, a condition called Holt-Oram, I waffled on, worried about whether he would reply, whether he could accept my differences. He replied quickly, as he thought I’d be worried about his response. He told me that he had a receding hairline and was concerned about what I might think when I met him. He immediately put me at ease, making fun of himself and showing me that it really wasn’t a problem.
In December, a few weeks after we’d met online, we decided to meet in person. I chose the location and ever the romantic, I chose a car park. I’m utterly useless at directions and thought it was somewhere that we could both find relatively easily. I was really nervous waiting for him. Yes, any friends reading this, I was early and he was late so our lateness isn’t always my fault! I immediately felt much less nervous once we met, we walked and talked for hours, the date ended up being about seven hours long. By the time we headed our separate ways my classic mini was completely covered in ice. Paul scraped the windows for me, our first date, his first heroic act. New Year’s Eve saw our first party as a couple, thrown in at the deep end, meeting all of his friends in one go, in fancy dress. We went as Bananas in Pyjamas. Luckily his friends were all lovely.
We continued seeing each other regularly, although living an hour and a half apart and both working full time was tricky. At this point I was still living with my parents and I was looking for somewhere to buy. Paul came with me to look at a house, it was lovely but I realised that as much as I liked the house I didn’t really want to live in Plymouth. We began looking for a house together, it’s not really something that we made a conscious decision about, it just sort of happened. We got a map out and found a location that we could both commute from, that had a train station and by the end of August we were moving into our first home together.
A year and a half later Paul proposed. We went to the beach where we’d shared our first kiss, Paul proposed as the sun set. It was perfect. Apparently he’d had the ring for months but was waiting for the right moment. He clearly knew me well as he’d hidden the ring in the door pocket of my car under some rubbish. He was relying on my laziness to keep the ring hidden and embarrassingly it worked and I clearly didn’t empty the door pocket for months.
Just over a year later we got married. I woke up on the morning of our wedding covered in an itchy rash and with a swollen eye. I called the out of hours doctor who told me I needed to go to my local hospital. They said that it was an allergic reaction and gave me antihistamines to take and steroid cream to put on the rash. Luckily an eye wash helped to make my eye less swollen and my rash was covered by my wedding dress. During the day I had to go and take my dress off at one point to reapply steroid cream and I took a total of six antihistamines, I’m amazed that I managed to stay awake! Our wedding night was not of the traditional variety, Paul spent the entire night applying cold compresses to my rash. It was February but the compresses were drying instantly when they touched my skin because I was so hot. We spent the first day of our marriage back at the hospital where they put me on oral steroids and antibiotics. I was ill for the whole of our honeymoon and Paul took care of me the whole time.
The following October we found out that I was pregnant and Paul took such good care of Lentil and I, making sure that I ate the right things, cooking for me, trying to help with aches and pains. By the end of the pregnancy I was finding moving around very hard. I couldn’t drive once my bump got big as I couldn’t reach the steering wheel so on days when I couldn’t get a lift with someone else he would drive me to work then drive to work himself, adding an hour to his existing hour and a half commute. I became fairly weeble-like. My arms aren’t very helpful when it comes to getting up, I have to use my legs and core strength to get up from lying down, get off the floor etc. Dressing and washing became more difficult and Paul had to help me more and more.
After Lentil died, Paul and I were devastated and we knew that we would only get through it together. I told Paul that the worst thing had happened now, that there couldn’t be anything worse. He looked me right in the eye and told me that the worst hadn’t happened because he still had me. I knew that he needed me to be there emotionally as much as I needed him. We made a pact, which in those first few weeks was incredibly important. When one of us was drifting off, getting lost in our own thoughts, allowing ourselves to be consumed by grief, we would make eye contact, reconnect with each other, we were always there to bring each other back. I genuinely believe that this made a real difference. We were and still are completely open with each other about Lentil, about thoughts we have, memories, the future, dreams, we share it all. When things make me cry Paul has already seen whatever it is and knows why I’m upset. A few weeks ago I had a dream, maybe a nightmare. It was Lentil’s funeral and I had jumped into the grave beside Lentil’s coffin and I had set my skirt on fire (disturbing I know). Then Paul grabbed my arms, pulled me out and put the fire out. In real life and in my dreams he is my hero. He won’t let grief consume me.
For the first four weeks after giving birth Paul became my carer as well as my husband and my best friend. I was terrified that this would put a strain on our relationship but it made us closer than ever. There is always an element of the carer role in our relationship, Paul always helps me when I get stuck with something but for those initial four weeks I couldn’t have functioned without him. Physically or emotionally.
Paul can make me smile at the darkest of times, I have a connection with him that I don’t seem to share with anyone else. I’m so incredibly lucky that Paul decided to reply to that message that day and he didn’t just ignore it. I used to worry that no-one would love me, not only do I know that Paul loves me, I know that he needs me like I need him. He doesn’t just make me feel loved, he makes me feel adored just like I adore him.