Love, dating and affairs of the heart are complicated matters that can end in heartache. Many people assume that if you have a disability, this is a likely outcome of any romantic relationship you may enter as it surely puts a strain on the relationship. Raya Al-Jadir spoke to one woman about how wrong this assumption is.
Marie-Ann Andrews is a happily married woman and mother to one-year-old Mark. But what distinguishes Marie-Ann from other women is her disability – she has Osteogenesis Imperfecta type 3 (brittle bones). This means that Marie-Ann’s bones can break very easy, with little or no known cause. She is unable to walk and uses a power wheelchair for mobility.
Marie-Ann explains: “I have deformities in pretty much all my bones as I have had over 200 broken bones in my 30 years of life. I am not on any medication or treatments for my condition, just painkillers when I break a bone.”
Yet Marie-Ann has never let her disability or the fragile nature of her condition deter her from pursuing every aspect of life. She was only a child when, after a serious operation, she made a list of things she wanted to accomplish. Her list is too long for me to write out, but among the ‘tasks’ were; getting a degree, working, driving a car, dating, falling in love, getting married and become a mother.
Marie-Ann has managed to achieve everything on her list, despite all the obstacles she has had to encounter.
So to the topic of falling in love, marriage and motherhood. Marie told me: “I started dating when I was in secondary school, but met the love of my life, and now husband Dan, in 2001.” As a person living with a disability myself, I know broaching the subject of disability with a date can be a tricky task. But not for Marie-Ann. Because the nature of her condition makes it very clear that she is disabled, Marie-Ann has always just acted herself.
She did admit that being disabled did play a big part in where she could go on dates. It means that some activities, such as sports, and even venues, are obviously out of the question.Just like dating has never been an issue for Marie-Ann, nor has the physical ability of her dates – she has dated both disabled and able-bodied men. It took her 7 years to find her perfect partner, Dan, who later become her husband and father of their child, Mark.
When Marie-Ann and Dan’s relationship become serious and they got engaged, people’s reactions were mixed. “There was some prejudice. All kinds of silly people with such stereotypical daft views. Someone once said to me: ‘He’s only with you for your benefit money.’ The sad thing was, most of the people saying these things where disabled themselves. The majority of people, though, have been amazing and supportive.”
Dan and Marie-Ann met in 2001, got engaged in 2009, moved in together in 2010, then got married and had Mark in 2013. They have gone through so much together and endured all sorts of challenges and occasionally the odd prejudice. They have travelled all over the world together, participated in many charitable events and awareness campaigns, been together throughout all the hospital appointments, fractures, breaks and operations that Marie-Ann underwent, plus the usual mundane matters of saving for their house, wedding and raising their child. They are essentially an ordinary couple, but with special gift; true and unconditional love.
At the end of my interview I asked Marie-Ann what advice she would give to people who are reluctant to date due to their disability. Her reply was instant: “Don’t let it hold you back. Don’t dwell on your disability. If you see past it yourself, then so will others.”
There is still discrimination and prejudice that exist within our society, but never allow anything or anyone to shape your destiny. Just rely on your own inner strength. I hope we can all learn from Ann-Marie’s story and begin to challenge our own insecurities and prejudice. Only then will society become more open to dating and disability.
By Raya Al-Jadir