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Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Blog

Navigating Dating with a Brain Injury: A Survivor’s Perspective

by Conor LaPlant

Dating can be terrifying. It doesn’t matter how experienced someone is or not. Everyone has felt those butterflies in their stomach at one point or another when they meet someone who they feel an attraction toward. For those with a brain injury, the thought of dating and putting themselves out there without knowing for sure how the other person will respond to or view their disability can produce fear and anxiety. Such feelings can override the ability for them to just be themselves. In turn, this can make the thought of dating too overwhelming to even consider.

Navigating Dating

“From personal experience, I feel that the best thing anyone can do, especially those with a history of stroke and Traumatic Brain Injury, is to never stop trying.”

Navigating Dating with a Brain Injury: A Survivor’s Perspective

by Conor LaPlant

Dating can be terrifying. It doesn’t matter how experienced someone is or not. Everyone has felt those butterflies in their stomach at one point or another when they meet someone who they feel an attraction toward. For those with a brain injury, the thought of dating and putting themselves out there without knowing for sure how the other person will respond to or view their disability can produce fear and anxiety. Such feelings can override the ability for them to just be themselves. In turn, this can make the thought of dating too overwhelming to even consider.

Navigating Dating

“From personal experience, I feel that the best thing anyone can do, especially those with a history of stroke and Traumatic Brain Injury, is to never stop trying. “

I have felt this same way when trying to put myself out there, not knowing how someone will react to the disabilities I have from my brain injury.  Obsessing over the “negative” aspects of my head injury had caused me to retreat and internally shut down at times on dates.  I’ve overwhelmed myself with thoughts and questions such as “Am I even worthy enough for love?” and “Will they notice my right arm or limp and immediately not have an interest in getting to know me?  This of course gave the date nothing to grow off of.  Feelings of defeat quickly overran the person I am.  These thoughts were a challenge to get over at first, but eventually I realized that I am more than just a head injury and that there is so much more I can be for someone.      

Although it’s not for everyone, online dating became a way for myself to meet others who were also looking for a relationship.  In the beginning, I was a little hesitant and skeptical about meeting people this way. It felt very bizarre to initiate a relationship over a social platform.  With the lack of social interaction I had during the pandemic, as did we all, the more enticing this form of dating became.  It felt strange at first to start talking to someone I didn’t know through messaging as opposed to meeting face-to-face.  However, it became easier and easier as time went on to start a conversation with someone and be my true self.  All doing so before deciding if we were both interested in going on a date.  The first few dates I had were a little rough. However, I realized this gave me time to calm my nerves and learn how to portray myself in an honest, less panicked light.

From personal experience, I feel that the best thing anyone can do, especially those with a history of stroke and Traumatic Brain Injury, is to never stop trying.  The more I put myself out there, the easier it became for me to learn from each date and relationship.  Even if you don’t think you’ve learned anything from a date that seemed to go poorly, somewhere in your subconscious you are learning and making improvements for the next time.  Just by putting myself out there despite my nerves had allowed me to focus more so on getting to know the individual and less so on how I perceived my disability and how I was imaging the date was perceiving my disability as well. 

One of the most important pieces of advice I can give to others living with the aftermath of a stroke or TBI is to never let ANYONE define you solely by your brain injury.  Although your injury is a big part of who you are, it is not ALL of who you are.  Each one of us is WAY more than what people might assume when they hear the words brain injury.

As I continued to meet and get to know others through online dating apps, there was one girl who I really enjoyed messaging with.  The conversation flowed easily and we never seemed to run out of things to talk about.  I became very eager to meet her in person.  Although our schedules weren’t lining, we continued to talk and build a connection.  It was almost two months before we were finally able to meet face to face.  Even though we had been chatting for a while now, my nerves were firing like I’ve never felt them before.  There was quite a bit of pacing in my room in the hours prior to the time we agreed to meet.  I was nervous but it felt different this time.  I went to the extent of reserving a table and making sure to get there early because I felt that would be a good look for me. 

I will never forget the moment I first saw Katie.  Even though I had seen pictures of hers online, not one compared.  Yes, I felt a giant knot in my stomach but it was very welcomed this time.  This initial dinner date of ours lasted six hours!  The conversation continued to flow just as it had through the previous two months of messaging. Funny enough, we were eventually kicked out of the restaurant because they were getting ready to close up for the night.  Not wanting the date to end, we stood outside by our cars, talking and learning more about each other before we finally said goodnight.

The reason for what I’ve stated above is to drive home the idea that you MUST be yourself.  The sooner you do this, the sooner you will find out if the other person has a true interest in you.  I never thought I could talk for six hours.  But that night was simply different.  The fact is, your real self is going to come out sooner or later.  Therefore, I feel it is best to initiate a date by being yourself.  Feeling comfortable around someone you’re interested in getting to know more or who you are dating is such an incredible feeling.  It truly adds to the sense of connection we are all searching for with someone.  And putting it all out on the table that night only strengthened our connection.

As our relationship continued to grow, Katie and I realized more and more that what we have is something very special.  Despite any disagreements that we may have, what really attracts me to our relationship is the level of communication that we have with each other.  Relationships require daily communication and can be essential for a relationship’s longevity.  Communication, or the lack there of, had played a large role in the failure of some of my previous relationships.  This is partly why I cannot be more thankful for what Katie and I have built.  Another factor that really aides is our relationship has been the level of patience we have with each other.  Finding someone that has been level headed and patient with me, and vice-versa, has been a true blessing.  It is important to remember that nobody is ever completely correct in every situation.  Therefore, having composure during moments that might get tense and boil over can make a huge difference in living with each other.

This past October, I made the decision to propose to Katie.  With the excitement that came from our decision to commit even more to one another, also brought along with it the understanding that things will not always be sunshine and rainbows.  With or without a head injury, relationships can take a lot of work and can sometimes be stressful.  There is no skating around this.  I can honestly say that there have been times that I’ve noticed my own head injury has caused a stressful situation to feel amplified.  However, when it comes to putting in the time and effort, no matter if it’s a date, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a fiancé, or a marriage, can make all the difference.  Dating with a stroke or traumatic brain injury is no easy task.  It can feel very overwhelming and impossible at times.  But once you have found the one, it will all be worth it.  Trust me.

ABOUT BRAIN INJURY ASSOCIATION OF ARIZONA

The Brain Injury Association of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with all types of brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. BIAAZ also houses the Arizona Brain Health Resource Center, a collection of educational information and neuro-specific resources for brain injury survivors, caregivers, family members and professionals.

What began in 1983 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with all types of brain trauma at no charge.

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