I was thinking about ableism in romantic relationships last night. About all the various forms it can take and how hard it is for me to detect it. When I look back at past relationships, I see many cases of ableism but while they were going on the thought never occurred me. As far as I knew I wasn’t even disabled, I was just a very bad person who couldn’t do everything that people expected of me. I tried so hard to not be the failed version of me that I somehow always ended up being in romantic relationships. I went to therapy, I read books, I listened and tried to learn but somehow certain problems kept coming back. My lack of energy was one of them. My need for quiet time on my own was another.
I had a long distance relationship for a while, and every time we met it got very intense due to the practical arrangements. She lived in a dorm and I lived in a small apartment and we spent almost every minute together. We both wanted to be physically close but I had a bigger need for space and this became a huge problem. My girlfriend at the time wanted to be physically close to the point where taking a shower by myself always ended up with a fight. My need for time when nobody touched me or talked to me was not a big thing to me but my girlfriend couldn’t understand why I needed this. I tried to explain but since I didn’t know that what I was experiencing on a daily basis was called being overwhelmed, I didn’t have any words for it. My efforts to tell her that it felt like all the sensations from our physical contact stayed in my skin, undigested until the point where I felt like I exploded if I didn’t have time on my own – I didn’t get through to her.
Sometimes I gave in and we showered together. Sometimes I let her sulk while I showered on my own, angry with her for not respecting my need for space but also ashamed and feeling guilty for needing this. The times I had a meltdown due to the lack of time on my own the shame and guilt was even worse, and somehow this always ended up with me reaching the conclusion that something was horribly wrong with me. We both agreed I needed therapy to be “fixed”.
It seems to be a recurring pattern in my romantic relationships: I can’t live up to other people’s expectations and it makes me feel guilty and ashamed and I think I’m a bad person for not being able to do certain things. The fact that I’m disabled and that’s why I can’t do those things somehow always hides behind my feelings of shame and guilt.
Update: There’s a follow-up to this post here, where I write about how an ableist society affects romantic relationships from the outside.