TW: emotional abuse, mentions of eugenics and abuse of disabled people
CW: This post may be difficult to read for those who have felt like a burden in relationships.
“Even though it’s really hard that you’re sick, I still love you.”
“Of course I love you – despite all this!”
“I could never be with someone in a wheelchair.”
Words like these have haunted many of my relationships and, despite the obvious ableism, I could not accept that each one was doomed to fail because conditional love, isn’t really love at all.
As an ex-features journalist, I had become particularly desensitised to non-disabled folk speaking about the conditional love they inflict on disabled people.
I regularly interviewed non-disabled carers, parents and lovers who said that they loved the disabled person but prefixed the profession with “in spite of”, “despite” or “even though”.
The disabled person would not even flinch at the phrasing; instead they dutifully accepted that love came with conditions because their disability simply made them harder to love.
I adopted the same belief in relation to my own experience of disability.
I thought that anyone who deigned to love me in spite of all my chronic health problems was saint like and, as a result, ignored red flags in relationships.
Simply put, if your love for a disabled person is measured by how well they overcome their condition or how well you can ignore the difficulties of their disability, then your love is conditional, not true.
Every person on the planet has traits that other people will find annoying or taxing, however, this does not make people’s love for them conditional in the same way that disability seems to.
But why is it acceptable to only love disabled people with conditions attached? And why do we expect disabled people to earn affection by overcoming their conditions to make themselves “easier to love”?
Frankly, this blasé acceptance of conditional love for disabled people has always been the norm.
Throughout history, disabled people have been singled out as burdens so unworthy of love that they were killed, hospitalised and criminalised simply for existing.
To this day, the one billion disabled people who live in this world are consistently ignored and accessibility is always treated as an afterthought.
This attitude is exacerbated by our woeful underrepresentation in the media; approximately 2.7% of acting roles are disabled in comparison to 15% of the global population being made up of disabled people.
Then, even when our stories are commissioned, non-disabled actors portray them and our stories are directed by non-disabled creatives who objectify our experiences by setting us up as inspiration porn for the masses.
The trend of conditional love for disabled people is also aggravated by the centring of non-disabled people speaking on behalf of their disabled friends, children and loved ones.
Insights from loved ones of disabled people are important, however, they must never be prioritised over actually disabled people because this gives credence to the belief that loving us is a trial.
When society constantly tells us that disabled people are difficult, burdensome and eugenics is still debated like a trending topic, is it really surprising that so many non-disabled people are unable to love a disabled person without conditions?
These backhanded professions of love crept in slowly during several of my personal relationships.
I acknowledge that being romantically involved with a disabled or chronically ill person can be difficult, but this should never result in choosing only to love the easy parts of a person.
In one partnership, I was frequently told that seeing my symptoms made them depressed and, contrastingly, that they always felt closer to me after moments of intense medical vulnerability.
Once, I was rushed to hospital by ambulance and upon my return home, my then partner informed me that although the day had been difficult they were sometimes glad for these moments because they always felt like they brought us together.
The relationship ate away at my self-acceptance because I never knew if my disability was instigating depressive episodes for them or if they felt closer to me because of it.
I started to suppress symptoms in an effort to make myself more loveable.When they ended the relationship, one of the primary reasons they gave was their inability to deal with my disabilities.
Thankfully, the bluntness reminded me that I deserve far more than someone who could only love me conditionally.
When your love is conditional, it places exhausting pressure on the disabled person to make their condition more palatable. Therefore, it also encourages the belief that they cannot truly be loved as a complete person, because their disability makes unconditional love impossible.
So, if you ever feel like using those phrases before you tell a disabled person that you love them, then I suggest that you keep your love to yourself because we do not need it.
All disabled people are loveable as complete human beings and there are plenty of people capable of doing so without applying conditions.
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