My best friend is having no luck at all meeting somebody. She is in her mid 30’s and has never been in any form of relationship with anyone.
The thing that puts people off? She’s disabled. Unfortunately, men seem to see only this part of her, when in fact she is extremely successful career wise, has a lovely home, fancy car, goes on lots of amazing holidays, is very independent, extremely sociable, attractive and glamorous … The list goes on.
She’s done some online dating (she’s upfront about her disability in her profile), but her meet ups with people haven’t been great, and none of the dates have really gone anywhere. She doesn’t have a lot of confidence, and doesn’t really know how flirt. It’s just not in her and I don’t know how to help.
Although she is usually pretty upbeat, when we have heart to hearts she gets extremely upset about not being able to meet anyone and feels very low. This is the one bit of her life she feels is missing. It makes her feel a failure, but more importantly, she craves being loved and wanted.
She is desperate not to go out with anyone who also has an obvious disability as she doesn’t want to be labelled “the cute disabled couple”. As much as I love my friend, this is where I think her own prejudices get in the way.
She works in a job where meeting men just isn’t an option and isn’t part of any social groups or activities where men might be there. I think she’s starting to lose hope that she’ll ever find someone.
What can she do? She’d kill me if she knew it was me who’d written this!
The question I’m going to answer here is not: “What can she do?” but rather: how can you, or anyone, help a friend who is struggling to find a partner, and feels sad about it? I think that’s going to be more useful in this case: even if I had a perfect solution for your friend (and of course I don’t, because I don’t have a perfect solution for anyone), how would you deliver it? Would you announce it over dinner with unprecedented gravitas? Would you pretend to have stumbled upon it in the Guardian? “Oh, I just happened to read this column, and in an amazing coincidence it precisely addressed your problem!”
To be a bit more serious: it is really kind that you care so much about your friend that you were moved to write to me to ask how to help her. From your letter, I’d infer that you don’t share the problem of finding dating difficult, because I imagine if you did you might be less concerned that her case is an exceptional one, or identify your friend’s disability as the thing that “puts people off”. Dating is tough for all kinds of different people for all kinds of different reasons, and my recommendation to anyone who wants to support a friend who is lonely and wants a partner is: it’s not useful to identify one thing about them as a key problem. In particular if it is a thing that they cannot change.
Another thing that’s not useful to do is identify a kind of category of person that you think your friend should be open to dating and be critical of their decision not to choose that kind of person. It’s not your job, or my job to tell anyone who they should be attracted to in general. When people have said to me, “Eva, you’re too picky”, did that make me think that I was too picky? No, it made me think that the people giving me this advice were not cool, especially since I know that if I’d replied, “I guess your lack of pickiness is what led to your marriage”, it would not have been appreciated.
So, what is useful? Well, you could work on helping your friend to meet people. You note that she is sociable, attractive and glamorous, but doesn’t meet a lot of men through her work or social life: what’s stopping you from creating some opportunities to help her to meet men?
She’s your best friend, so you know she’s great: why not do what you can to facilitate situations in which she will feel great and be able to show other people how great she is? Having a good friend along will surely help to boost her sense of hope and confidence. That could mean attending parties with her as her wingman/woman, or signing up for some classes or other social activity in a pair. It could mean swiping through her Tinder matches with her so that it feels more like a game and less like a burden.
You could, I daresay, even set her up with men who you know. What, you say, you don’t know any? Then maybe you’ll need to make an effort to meet some. I promise, it’s a smaller effort than your friend will have to make to fall in love. You have already demonstrated your desire to help your friend by writing to me: you can help her in the real world, too.