Where is my hat?

We were at the pub after church, and getting ready to leave.

“Where’s my hat?” I said, as I picked up my coat and bag. “Did I have a hat? Is it in church?” I wondered, as I considered how tricky it’d be to ask someone to open up the building to fetch it.

“You definitely had it when we came in, I remember you wearing it.” said Rich. “Now, where were you before?” Someone else chipped in, “Nobody would have taken it, so it must be here somewhere”

I checked in unlikely places – on the table, down my coat sleeves, in my small handbag for a big hat. I looked on the floor. No hat. “It is, it’s definitely here” said Rich, as we kept looking.

I looked on the floor again. There was my hat! It had rolled across the floor and under a bar stool.

“Would you mind, my hat is under your chair” I said, as I crawled under the table to fetch my hat.

hat

I’m experiencing loss at the moment, and not the millinery sort. I’ve gained some, too, but mostly it’s been loss, of ability, identity, interaction, and a whole range of things I never noticed when I never knew I’d one day miss them. But then I lost my hat, and gained some thoughts:

  • When something goes, it’s a surprise. The things that go together, “hat, coat and bag” or “dress, make up and high heels”, feel incomplete without one. The others are diminished for the absence.
  • You question if it existed in the first place. “Did I have a hat?” can be “…..” and you need friends who notice you, who’ll reassure you that the thing that is lost was definitely once in your possession.
  • The worst case scenario, in this case interrupting an exhausted curate’s well-deserved glass of wine, springs to mind. You feel guilty for how your loss affects others, even before you acknowledge the effect of loss on yourself. I apologised for wrong notes in my piano playing to others ages ago, but can’t bring myself to accept how much I miss playing fluently.
  • And you come up with bizarre ways of trying to compensate – looking frantically in unlikely places in disbelief – could I be pain-free if I eat this or that? Or stretch just so? – until you’re called back to face reality. You knew that was never going to work.
  • And then hope. “It’s definitely here” and that assurance from others that they’re with you, searching until you regain what was lost. Not telling you that actually you have your hat when it’s lost, or that you never owned one, didn’t need it today, or that most people managed without one, so where was the problem. Friends who acknowledge your loss, and search because even when you forget, they remember that it was once important to you and honour your previous wishes.
  • Lost things are eventually found again. But even when you see where they are, reaching them may require persistence. You may need to ask people to remove the barriers they’re putting in the way, be that a bar stool or a poorly timed meeting request. You will have to try yourself as well – as much as friends back you, they’ll never have the fear or a cold head spurring them on, if they’re already certain where their own hat is. Those who’ve lost hats before and suffered the consequences, or who are still looking for their hat, those people are the best at cheering you on. Then crawling on hands and knees, you will recover what was lost.

And life will continue as if it was never lost.

Why I’m not online dating

I’m back on the shelf. In the market. Dating. Or whatever.

Having allotted myself a healthy period of singleness since my last relationship ended, I am “caarsting me nets” once again. Over the last week, I’ve told a best friend, and later to a woman I’d just met. The response was identical, and surprising – “have you gone online?” I haven’t. I have thought about it. Here’s why not.

Because people are more interesting and multi-dimensional than they think they are

I met a middle-aged man at a dinner recently. If he listed ten things about himself, not one of them would have drawn me in.

What made him fascinating to me is that a minor project in his career was developing the shopping centre I spent Saturdays in as a teenager, and campaigning for recognition of one of my engineering heroes, in the TK Maxx where once there stood an innovative workshop. But until we were discussing the merits of Gloucestershire, I couldn’t have known.

In comms, your audience is as important as your message, so without knowing who I am, how can someone have any idea what to write to connect with me? Filtering through incomplete profiles is impossible.

The whole “Christian Dating” thing

I’d like to marry a Christian. Of course. My faith is the rock on which my identity is built. Someone who can challenge and strengthen that faith would be a literal Godsend. But Christian dating sites? Have you seen them? And once you’ve met up with the chap, what next? Find out that “Mr Right” is “Mr Biblicalliteralist”, “Mr Forwardinfaith” or “Mr Idon’treallybelieveinChurch”? A doctrinal basis is all very well as a starter, but I’m of my denomination and tradition with good reason. I love a good argument about theology, but not on a first date.

The whole “Disabled Dating” thing

Lee Ridley sums up “Disabled Dating” sites perfectly in this article. I won’t reiterate, just offer this quotation as a taster of the general tone:

“This is an International dating site, not only FOR disabled men and women but also for those not afraid to take on the responsibility FOR them. This is our possible contribution on the solution of the problems of the handicapped people.”

Gee, thanks. Disability, striking fear into the hearts of irresponsible people everywhere, the problem that needs a Final Solution.

I’ve had bad experiences with people who not only find my disability unattractive and tell me so, but who seek to use it as a weapon against me;  to isolate me, shame me, infantilise me, patronise me, control me by exacerbating my symptoms, and to take away my rights of choice and self-determination. Abuse within relationships is tough, having a disability is tough, and very often the two go hand in hand*.

To enter into a relationship “partially sighted” – only seeing what the other presents about themselves – and without recourse to a wider network of character witnesses would be dangerous, and I think irresponsible. Of course, I’m not saying that abuse is ever the fault of the abused, but conducting relationships within accountable frameworks of mutual friends at least gives both parties a space in which to be supported, should warning signs emerge.

*The 1995 British Crime Survey showed that disabled women were twice as likely as abled women to experience domestic violence.

Because I haven’t explored all my options yet

There are lots of good fish in the sea, and some of them even like Gilbert & Sullivan. If I know 50 people well, 10 of whom are single, my 50 will know 500 singletons. Maybe 200 of these are straight cis men, and 50 within a feasible age range. That’s a date every week for a year! And they’re all people who are liked by people who I like, rather than randomly picked out of the ether. Simply by telling everyone I interact with, I could easily meet these potential dates, and each of those 50 would have single friends too.

Because I am slow to warm to people

I’m an introvert, and have always had a small number of close friends. The handful I’d trust I’ve known for at least three years, and on average six. I don’t remember my first impressions of any of them as being positive. So while the Disney model of swooning at a handsome prince and being married by sunset may be right for some, for me a few dates isn’t going to tell me anything. (Unless, perhaps, I detest them, in which case it’s probably going to work out.)

Can you help?

Since setting a New Year’s Resolution to go out to something interesting and social at least once a week, I’ve spent time in museums, at conferences, comedy, cabaret, and even just eating lunch. But in order to widen my social circle, I can’t just go to the pub with curators, conference speakers and comedians, however much fun that’s been. So if you can, would you help?

  • Come and do these sociable things with me. Spending, as I do, 2-3 days a week housebound, when I do go out, it’s good to not be doing that alone too. Help me with point 5 – trusting new people I meet sooner, and opening up to more than my closest friends.
  • Teach me. Married people, tell me about your relationships and what you’ve learnt. Single people, let’s encourage each other in the emotional rollercoasters of dating. Celibate people, help me to learn patience.
  • Sort out your theology of disability. And if you preach, make sure your congregations don’t call me “brave”, lay hands on me without asking, or talk about me only in medical terms. Some of your congregants could be dateable, but not if they’re patronising idiots.
  • Create opportunities in which I could meet your friends. And I don’t mean the awkward Sunday lunches that plagued my days as an intern – two single people at a family lunch table without warning that it’s a set-up. But if you’re hanging out with friends, can I come too?
  • Campaign for accessible dating venues. I can no longer see films for grown ups at the cinema, because neurological-impairment-accessible screenings are all of family films. The best pubs don’t have a loo I can use, neither do many coffee shops or restaurants. In trying to book theatre tickets, I was genuinely asked if I’d be happy for staff to hold my things while I crawled up the flight of stairs. This doesn’t make for a happy dating experience. So just ask “is there an accessible toilet?” or “do you have step free access” when out and about – if enough people ask, my voice will get heard.
  • Think about whether you know anyone who’d tick most of the boxes on my list.

I’m pretty open minded, but here’s the list:

  1. I’d like to be able to physically meet them. I can travel for up to an hour from SW London, four times a week including work.
  2. I have a high IQ. Ideally they would too, but if not, they have to not find it threatening or tell me off for thinking.
  3. I have a disability. I don’t mind whether they do or not, but if not, they have to not find it threatening or tell me off for being in pain.
  4. I am a Christian, specifically an Anglican. If they couldn’t ever belong to the Anglican church, I’d have problems.

I realise this is now something of an online profile. How ironic.