For many of us, while dating can be complicated and awkward, it is often an ocean we start navigating in adolescence. Some believe in the idea of soulmates; that there will surely be someone out there for you and all you have to do is find them, or wait to be found. Some believe in multiple kindred souls that you can connect with in a lifetime. Others believe nothing happens without effort. Theresa Goh, 30, a swimmer and public speaker with spina bifida, counts herself as a member of the last group.
With a laugh, Theresa Goh candidly describes her dating life as “non-existent.” Having swum competitively for over two decades, she has mainly been “too busy to do anything else.” She realized a couple of years ago that she needed to be more pro-active when it comes to relationships. She signed up on a few online dating sites to try and meet people outside of her usual social circles.
“Recently, I found that I needed to do something otherwise I’ll be forever alone. Sometimes you meet people [offline] and get along with them, that’s lucky. But because at the events I go to, it’s the same people. So I have to go online.”
Online dating can be harsh on the ego when there are no replies to carefully-written emails. Months of only ‘first dates’ can also lead to burnout. However, while she admits that dating is “so tiring,” Theresa does enjoy the simultaneous distance and instant intimacy of online communication.
“I like meeting people in real life because you can immediately feel if there’s a connection. But online dating is a bit more relaxed. Depending on the mood or moment, I can just talk randomly to anybody. And it’s nice to have that wall between you and the other person. For at least a couple of conversations.”
“Sometimes you need the right opening line [online], whereas in real life you can just say hi. It’s easier to find people online because there’s so many profiles. In real life, you have to find someone, you have to start a conversation and then see if you have a connection or not. There are pros and cons.”
Being a four-time Paralympian and a wheelchair user, Theresa has appeared on television, in print and has even been the face of Pink Dot 2017, an event to show support to the LGBT community in Singapore. Being relatively famous means that people tend to approach her with assumptions – both online and in real life.
“I haven’t decided if I like that they say they know me or they don’t. [On my profile] I put my face, and a picture of me on a wheelchair. I definitely don’t hide that part of myself. The only part I hide – well not really hide, if they ask I’ll tell them – is that I’m a swimmer. I don’t think it’s necessary.”
One aspect of online dating that has surprised her is how hard it is to gauge someone’s personality from chatting online.
“The way they talk, the way they move, the tone of their voices, their vibe – whether it’s positive or not – it’s very hard to tell. Usually they tend to surprise me a little.”
While she has not had any online dating horror stories so far, her experiences have made her think more deeply about how much work a relationship requires.
“My friends have been telling me to be unafraid. Just to continue until it fails or not. I think I always try to stop before it goes anywhere. Because just a mere feeling will make me feel like this will not work out. I have a lot of premature fears.”
“I think it’s just me, it’s not specific to disability or anything.”
Adding to these six tips for dating for people with disabilities, Theresa has her own advice: “Start early!” [laughs].
Be sure to share this post with others to encourage them to try a new approach to dating. It just may work out!