Disability and relationships: overcoming shyness and a stammer

Disability and relationships: overcoming shyness and a stammer

In our series on disability, sex and relationships, expert and resident agony aunt Tuppy – who runs Outsiders, a private club for disabled people looking for a relationship – answers your questions. This week, how to overcome shyness and a stammer when dating.

Dear Aunty Tuppy

I am a terribly shy 33-year-old living in North London. I was born with scoliosis, a curve in the spine, which for me is very obvious – it means I really lack social confidence.  I have started online dating and have put ‘curvature of the spine’ in any ‘what I look like’ sections on my profiles.

I have very little experience of talking to people outside my family and old school friends. They all tell me I am difficult to socialise with, as I am so quiet and introverted. When I meet a woman I fancy, I start stammering, which obviously puts them off. This too has made me totally lose my confidence.

I need to prepare myself for meeting a woman for the first time and having a coherent conversation with her. Do you have any ideas to help me? And please explain to me when I can mention sex in the conversation and what kind of things I can say to someone I have just met.

I shall practice at home all the things you suggest. I look forward to your reply.

Lonesome Tom


Dear Lonesome Tom,

Great to hear you will practice any ideas. Decide what you want from a relationship, write it all down and then practice saying it. Practice telling a woman you fancy that she is wonderful and asking her about herself and her life. Taking a real interest in the person you’re dating is a very attractive trait.

Come up with a list of questions you could ask her and practice them. If you have a female friend or sister, ask them if they could listen to you and comment.

When it comes to sex, ask her what she would like to happen next. Again, practice this with female friends. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, have some sex therapy with a female therapist and ask for her support. You can find a local sex therapist by looking on the College of Sex and Relationship Therapists website.

Now, let’s deal with the stammer. Many people stammer when talking to people in a pressured situation, like in an interview or when trying to impress someone they fancy. It’s very annoying, but it’s very common.

The best way forward is to let them know in advance that it may happen. Explain that you don’t normally stammer, but when you feel nervous or vulnerable, it sometimes does. Most people find chatting to a new potential partner terrifying, so they’ll understand what you’re going through and you’ll feel less apprehensive about it happening.

If you start stammering, take a break – tell her you need to calm down and go for a short walk on your own. You can buy the girl a drink first and tell her you will be back in a few minutes. After these few minutes, take a big breath and get seated together with her again.

I wouldn’t mention sex until it is obvious that you are attracted to each other. You can tell by the way you look deeply into each other’s eyes (although some disabled people don’t like this). Holding hands and sitting close is another obvious clue.

Then, helped by your previous practice, you can ask her where she would like things to go and what she would like from a partner. Always asking a girl what she wants is the best tip I can give a guy (lesbian woman know this!!).

Now to boost your confidence in your appearance. ‘Curvature of the spine’ could be a bit off-putting online when it’s without an explanation of what it means for you. It sounds a bit like the hunchback of Notra Dame! I would say that you have a dodgy back and leave it at that, explaining it to them in more detail when you meet. Ask some of your female friends or sisters to tell you what they think.

Think about your appearance too – your hairstyle, clothing and posture. Accept your body for how it is, but pay attention to improving the things you can. Ensure you have clean teeth and a freshly washed body. It’s amazing how many disabled men I have seen who fail on one of these counts.

Before you meet up with someone you’ve been talking to online, I would always suggest talking on the phone first. It means you both get to know each other a little more before meeting face-to-face and should take the edge of your nerves. Again, tell them before you talk that you sometimes stammer.

It would be really great if you had or could find a friend who is also doing online dating so you can support each other as there will be disappointments – it happens to us all, disabled or not. There are usually more men that women on dating sites, so the women are inundated with men taking an interest in them. She may select someone else but not tell you, just stops replying to your messages. This can make you feel high and dry, deserted.

A friend who is going through a similar thing would be a great support. I would recommend joining the Outsiders Club where you can chat to other people in the same boat, both online and face-to-face. Our meet ups are very friendly and the females talk to most of the guys there. This will give you practice at communicating with strangers and experience of making new friendships.

By Tuppy Owens

If you’ve got a question for Tuppy and would like her help, please email her: AuntyTuppy@Outsiders.org.uk

Outsiders is a FREE social, peer support and dating club, run by and for socially and physically disabled people. Its members have a wide range of impairments, including visual and hearing impairment. 

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