One of the most dreaded diseases in history, polio is now almost completely preventable today, thanks to safe and effective vaccines. Even then some people continue to fall prey to the poliomyelitis virus that can damage nerves and lead to partial or full paralysis. However survivors can lead a healthy life if certain basic precautions are taken. If you know someone who has polio and wish to go out with him/her, here are a few things to keep in mind.
Focus the person not the disability
If you are dating someone with polio, it is likely he/she has a disability; this may be as minimal as a slight limp or severe enough to warrant a wheelchair. When you are going out with your partner, don’t put all your focus on his/her disability. If he/she is ready to date, in all likelihood he/she knows well enough to manage their condition too. Thus don’t be fussy or extra-solicitous towards the person you are dating. Behave with him/her as you would do with any other person. Constantly jumping up to ‘aid’ them or fussing about them can make them feel dis-empowered and hurt. At the same time though, be aware that they may need some assistance during the date. This may include holding the door open for them, assisting them while getting in or out of a car and helping them getting their coat on or off – in other words, the very same things you would do for anyone else that you were trying to impress. Also since polio is only transmitted by feco-oral route, don’t obsess about the dangers of eating with, kissing or hugging your date.
As much as you are ready to accept your partner’s appearance, do not expect the same of society at large. If your partner’s disability is visible like a paralysis on one side or use of a wheelchair, it is very likely that there will be stares and whispers from people wherever you go. This will vary depending on the country and culture. If you have chosen a public place like a movie theater or restaurant, brace yourself for curious looks from some people around.
Do some advance planning
While you should not consider your partner weak or less than others, at the same time you should keep his/her physical difficulties in mind when planning a date. apart from affecting limbs, polio can bring about weakness in respiratory muscles thus making breathing difficult or weakness in swallowing muscles which can even make eating safely difficult; even in the most minor cases, overwhelming fatigue is the most debilitating symptom,. Thus it is goes without saying that for a date you should avoid physically rigorous activities like hiking, bowling or date ideas where there is a lot of walking involved, like a city tour. Even if you are planning to go to a restaurant, make sure ahead that it is well-equipped to handle medical emergencies in case your partner has breathing or swallowing difficulties. If your partner uses a wheelchair and you plan to visit a museum or a theater, ensure beforehand that the venue has a ramp and other facilities like a washroom for the disabled. Even something like dancing which many couples take for granted in a date might be difficult for your partner.
Instead organize your date around activities which don’t involve much of a physical strain like going to a movie, a concert or an art gallery. If you would like to be in the outdoors, a visit to the zoo or a nature park can be a good idea as these are places where you can rest intermittently and simply enjoy the view. Above all be adaptable and allow your date to set the pace. Depending upon how severely your partner has been affected by polio, he/she may want to walk slower or need to take breaks more often than you are used to. Conversely, they may surprise you with how quick they really are.
Whether or not to discuss
One of the most difficult things about dating someone with a physical disability is to know whether you should talk about it and the same could apply to a person affected by polio. Here it is again best to take your cue from your partner. If he/she brings it up, feel free to discuss your partner’s physical condition. In fact talking about something as significant as a life-threatening experience, can actually bond people together in a relationship. If you are thinking in terms of a relationship, it will help you both to gauge each others values and priorities in life and whether you are mutually compatible. At the same time, resist the urge to ask umpteen number of questions about his/her disease. This will not only make you come off as rude and intrusive but also obsessive about someone else’s disability.
Adopt a positive attitude
In a culture obsessed with physical perfection and beauty, it is hard for polio survivors to maintain a positive self-image, especially if the illness has left them physically disabled. It is likely that from time to time they may start thinking of themselves as somehow inferior to a person with intact limbs and thus as less attractive. So if you are dating someone with polio, it is important that you should say positive things to them. For instance compliment your girlfriend on her hairdo or mention to your boyfriend that the jacket suits him very well. However make it a point not to say anything that you don’t mean deep down in your heart. If you lie, then your partner will see you as insincere and patronizing, traits which are hardly welcome in a meaningful relationship.
Take it slow
When dating someone with polio, don’t be in a rush to move things forward. Allow the relationship to develop at its own pace and avoid trying to force anything, especially intimacy, too soon. Though sexual intercourse is possible even after polio, the exact nature of the condition will determine the extent a polio survivor can enjoy normal sexual life. Even if your partner is only partially disabled and not significantly paralyzed, he/she may be still be wary of their physical appearance in an intimate situation. Since notions of self-hood in human society are so intricately wound up with physical perfection, your partner may be hesitant to move your relationship to the intimate level. Also there may be trust issues wherein your partner may be hesitant to allow him/herself to open up to you for fear of being vulnerable or rejected.
In the end, approach a relationship with a polio survivor like one with any other person. If you are dating him/her, let it not be just for their condition, but because of the person he/she is on the whole.