I'm hooked on SBS's new dating series, Undressed - the show where strangers meet and undress each other immediately, getting to know each other on a bed (it’s awkward but entertaining viewing) - promoting diverse dating and casts people with disability.
In episode three, Johnny, a process worker from Bendigo (who has a disability - he's deaf) and Charlotte, a restaurant manager from Melbourne, are paired. Virginia Gay's sultry voiceover tells us they've both faced big challenges and are looking for an understanding partner.
Initially they're a great match. Charlotte recently lost a lot of weight. She likes "skinny, fit guys covered in tattoos" - and Johnny fits the bill. She says Johnny has a nice body and especially likes that he's covered in tattoos. Meanwhile, Johnny's looking for someone adorable and gorgeous that he can have fun with. He says he loves Charlotte's hair and smile.
People often think about how our disability will inconvenience them, rather than even considering whether a relationship will work.
Attracted to each other's bodies: tick!
Johnny and Charlotte's initial discussions show they've both experienced bullying throughout their lives. Charlotte felt relieved to talk to someone who's been through what she has.
Empathy and similar life experience: tick!
Then, the love bubble bursts.
Charlotte felt uncomfortable with the massage, it appears, and doesn’t want to kiss him. But then, she does kiss him, for which Johnny gave her a nine out of 10. Charlotte's apprehension and discomfort is understandable because it's being filmed for TV, but it might also be because of Johnny's disability.
Johnny revealed he wanted to see Charlotte again. Charlotte didn't. She laughed and said she's sorry for saying no.
"It feels like everyone will think I'm an arsehole but I want to say no," she tells the camera.
I wondered why. Was it Johnny's disability? I bet he felt that was the reason. Even though he fit her criteria, 30 minutes was enough for her to know she didn't want to see him again.
I empathised, sighing at the reality that no matter how nice, attractive, funny and smart we are, our disability is often the deal breaker. To find out whether other people feel the same, I spoke with Jarrod Marrinon, who is a wheelchair user, about his dating experiences.
"I used to have a Grindr, Tinder and any other ‘R’ account you can think of. Lots of people were up for chatting to me, seeing me naked (via sending pictures) but when it came to dates and hook ups in person, the conversation suddenly came to a halt", Marrinon says.
"Jarrod, I have two kids and work full-time. How are you even going to run me a bath and massage my back?”
"Once, I was talking to this lady online for a good three months and when I asked her where she thought this was going and if she would consider taking it further, her response was a bit shocking. "Jarrod, I have two kids and work full-time. How are you even going to run me a bath and massage my back?”
People often think about how our disability will inconvenience them, rather than even considering whether a relationship will work. I dated a guy who told me he wasn't comfortable with me writing and speaking about my disability so publicly. Maybe he thought I shouldn't class it as part of my identity. Over dinner, he told me he'd kill himself if he was born with an appearance like mine.
But Marrinon tells me that it's not always so hard. Sometimes, she says, it’s easier to date other people with disability.
"When you date someone like you, you have a more relaxed conversation around your disability or difference."
But there are still challenges. "When dating a person with a disability, while having a disability, and both having physical attributes that affect [your] bodies, you have to think and then talk about logistics. What would sex look like? Will you be able to sexually express yourself the way you wish? All of these have come up for me and it can be really had to work through."
In February 2016, Scope, a UK based disability charity, ran a poll asking 500 people if they'd ever dated a person with disability. Just over five per cent said they had. Furthermore, previous research from Scope found eight out of 10 respondents had never invited a disabled person on a social outing, and almost half of the British public had never spoken to a disabled person. I expect this would be similar for Australians. It's no wonder dating for people with a disability is so hard!
While Jarrod is happily planning is wedding now, he thinks back to the many times he's been rejected. "I would be lying if I thought my disability didn't play some part in the rejection."
He's not sure if people should be more honest about disability being a factor in rejection, or not. "I feel like if you can be nice about it by not being completely honest then that's okay," he said. "Plus, if they are rejecting me because of my disability, they really aren't worth it."
Just like unconscious bias comes into play when hiring an employee, it comes into play when dating. No one explicitly says why you're not suitable for the job or a relationship, but we can tell our disability is a factor.
I wish Johnny and Charlotte all the best for future relationships.
Carly Findlay is a proud disabled woman. She's a writer, speaker and appearance activist. Find @carlyfindlay on Twitter.
Undressed airs weekly from Monday 16 January at 9.30pm on SBS. Join the conversation: #Undressed. Catch-up on episodes online via SBS On Demand here or watch Johnny and Charlotte below: