The Undateables is a Channel 4 TV show featuring people with a variety of disabilities, all of whom are looking for love.
Steve Carruthers, who has Crouzon syndrome (a genetic condition affecting the shape of the face and head), was a participant on series two, back in 2013. Though romance did not blossom with his date, the experience gave him much needed confidence.
Following his appearance, Steve – now 36, from Manchester – soon met the love of his life Vicky, through social media. Vicky had in fact seen Steve on the show and decided to contact him.
The Undateables screened Steve’s romantic proposal and the couple later married in 2015.
1. Steve, why did you apply to The Undateables and, what reservations did you have?
I initially applied for a different show called ‘Beauty and the Beast: The Ugly Face of Prejudice’. As a result, I was approached to appear on series one of ‘The Undateables’, but I declined as it had never been on TV and I didn’t get the gist of the show. After series one ended, I was approached again but this time it was by my good friend Adam Pearson, who worked with the team to find participants for the show. He convinced me to give it a chance as he said it would help me with my confidence and outlook as I had a negative outlook on life after the loss of two of my siblings. I was a bit reserved and concerned that after being on the show, more people would make fun of my appearance. But, in doing the show, my outlook changed to a positive one and allowed me to help other people in a similar position.
2. How were you treated throughout the production process?
The whole team was incredibly nice, supportive and understanding. Everything was treated with care and compassion.
3. What response have you received following your appearances?
Like all things with TV, there are negative people who see disability as something to mock and joke about. But the positives outweighed the negatives in a huge way. People are so kind and understanding. I found that it [the show] helped educate people about disability. It also helps with how we perceive ourselves and how society perceives us to.
4. The show has been accused of being insensitive and exploitative. The title in particular is widely criticised. What do you think?
The show itself really is everything you see (believe it or not). It is exactly how dates are in real life – you have moments of silence, awkwardness and moments of hope. The show’s titles show cupid shooting the [prefix] ‘Un’ off, leaving the word ‘dateables’. The point of this is to prove we are all dateable, and that we [disabled people] have the same experiences on dates as everyone else does.
5. What would you say to anyone who is considering applying to the show?
My advice to anyone applying for or appearing on the show is to go into it with an open mind. There will be those who will say [derogatory] things, but overall the positives more than outweigh the negatives. It is a life-changing experience. Embrace it! The positive message you’re putting out there helps others as well as yourself. The show has had a huge impact and gives so many people, like me, much needed confidence. Those who watch the show have gained so much more understanding of different disabilities too.
I’d like to thank Steve for taking the time to speak with me.
You can watch his original appearance on the show here.
Are you lacking in confidence and social skills? Do you suffer from low self-esteem, struggle to form meaningful relationships or find dating too nerve-wracking a prospect?
Well, if you haven’t already heard of him, allow me to introduce Amin Lakhani, the Dating Coach on Wheels. With hints, tips, and tailor-made “no bullshit” advice, he could be just the answer you’ve been searching for.
Amin, from Bellevue, Washington, has a progressive form of Muscular Dystrophy called Charcot Marie Tooth Syndrome, which presents in overall weakness, particularly the hands and legs. Now 29 years old, he has been a wheelchair user since the age of 15.
He excelled academically, achieving two Ivy League University degrees within four years, progressing onto a successful career at Microsoft. Nevertheless, the Self-confessed “nerd with poor social skills” felt lonely and insecure, with only a few friends and no dating experience.
Finally, at the age of 23, Amin hired a dating coach whom he worked with for around four years. This enabled him to totally transform himself, his relationships and his life.
He’s popular, makes friends easily, has been on over 40 first dates, enjoyed sex and fallen in love. Now the Dating Coach on Wheels, image consultant and motivational speaker is returning the favour.
1. You became a wheelchair-user at the tough age of fifteen. How did this affect your sense of self and your personal relationships?
I didn’t mind so much at first because I have a huge family and a lot of support. In fact, it was pretty cool because I had this brand new wheelchair and I no longer felt exhausted all the time. Up until that point I could walk a little but I always used elevators and I sort of grabbed hold of the walls and furniture so that I didn’t fall.
But as soon as I started High School I felt different from my peers. I didn’t know anyone else who used a wheelchair, so the fact that I stood-out from the crowd made me really self-conscious. I was lonely, alienated and my relationships became strained because I wanted the impossible: I wanted to get rid of my wheelchair and be the same as everyone else. But of course, that could never happen.
I did have a few school friends but I never had a girlfriend, and was left out of all the usual teen dating etiquette. No girl ever wrote on my locker.
I felt unattractive and thought I had nothing to offer a girl, so I shut myself down. If ever a member of my family asked why I wasn’t dating, I would use the excuse that I was too busy for all that.
2. Where did you get the idea to seek assistance from a dating coach, and why did you choose that route?
I had tried online dating – the likes of ‘OK Cupid’ and ‘Plenty of Fish’. I was really thorough with my research and looked up what I should and shouldn’t be doing. I was enthusiastic and did everything right according to my research. I was, on paper, a catch. Or so I thought. I was a grade-A student, a high-achiever academically, I had a great job at Microsoft. But it just wasn’t working out for me and that made me feel hopeless. I think my downfall was the fact that I tried to hide my disability from my online dating profiles. I never showed pictures of my wheelchair and never mentioned it. I basically listed my achievements but failed to inject any personality or humour. Had I done this I think I would have been met with a more emotional response. Any response.
I look back now and cringe, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Ultimately it led me to search online forums which is where I found the guy who would become my dating coach. I was 23 at the time and he was doing a workshop called, “Conversation Secrets”. It was then that I decided to get his advice.
2. You say a turning point for you was being told, by your dating coach, that you will never blend in but that’s okay; rather you should make yourself stand-out from the crowd. Why did this realisation have such an impact on you, and why do you feel disabled people should aim to stand-out rather than fit in?
Yeah, that really did make an impression on me. I learnt that if you don’t like something you should change it. And, if you can’t change it, you should change your opinion of it. It’s true, disabled people are memorable because of their disability. It does make us stand out. But that isn’t a negative thing.
I do think disabled people should embrace their individuality and dress to grab positive attention. People are going to look at you anyway. By nature, humans are curious and we all check each other out – disabled or not. So, make people look at you and remember you for the right reasons. Make them remember your outfit or your style. If you put the effort into your self-image, you look good and feel good about yourself, people wont pity or feel sorry for you because they wont be focused on your disability.
I also learnt, from my dating coach, that being in a wheelchair gives me free rein to talk to any girl in the world. No one is going to slap, punch or snub a guy in a wheelchair, right? So effectively, I could approach any girl I like and just start talking because even if she’s with a guy, he’s unlikely to feel threatened by me. It’s all good practice!
4. You clearly pay a great deal of attention to your appearance – the signature bow tie, a pop of colour and an overall minimalist, classy aesthetic. How did you develop your personal sense of style and why do you feel this is so important?
I believe you attract what you project. So, if you want to attract a punky type of person, it’s probably a good idea to shape your image around that look. I now look completely different from how I used to. I changed how I dress and style myself according to the type of girls I’m attracted to. We all need to embrace our individuality, consider what we wear and how we wear it. If we don’t feel good about our own appearance, it affects our confidence.
5. Much emphasis is placed on sex, and for some disabled people this can be a cause for concern. How then would you coach someone whose disability prevents them from participating in the physical act of sex?
Okay, first of all, sex isn’t everything, it’s just a small part of what a relationship is. It’s more important to talk, flirt, connect and feel comfortable in each others company.
With regards to sex itself, I have clients explain their difficulties, circumstances and challenges to me. It’s all about individuality. Every disability is different therefore it’s important to consider everyone’s specific situation.
I have two main points:
Firstly, I ask what the client wants. Do they want someone to support them to participate in sex? Or do they want their partner to support them in the act? Either way, it’s essential to do your research and maybe find out from others with the same physical limitations how they approach sex.
Secondly, you’ve got to make it sound fun and exciting for your partner. Tell them what you want in a flirtatious way and make it sound hot and kinky rather than practical. Remember, you’re giving a gift to this person – to your partner. It’s a hugely intimate thing you’re asking and you’re entrusting your body to them.
6. You have talked candidly about sex and your own personal experiences. Why do you feel it is important to share this in order to help others?
Yeah I think it’s helpful for me to talk about my own experiences with my clients. It enables us to relate to each other. I’ve been through the same struggles myself and so I can identify in a way that an able-bodied dating coach couldn’t.
I offer advice that is sometimes unconventional. For example, I tell people it’s okay to feel like shit when you get rejected or things don’t go to plan. But you’ve then got to keep going, get out there and try again. All experience is beneficial.
7. It’s fair to say your target demographic is men. Why is this? Do you think men struggle more than women with confidence and making themselves attractive to others?
Obviously as a guy myself, I can relate more to men, although I have had more female clients recently. I have a wealth of dating and relationship experience that allows me to relate and identify with male clients especially.
There is definitely a gap for guys. They just don’t know how to get in the drivers seat. Women want them to take control but in order to get their guy to that place, they themselves have to take control. So a lot of the time I’m trying to help guys take charge.
8. Can you please explain your working methods?
As a dating coach I help people build their skills to make themselves more attractive to others. It’s not just about sex and dating, but also forming meaningful relationships and friendships, too.
For the most part I communicate with clients through video calls and we also Email in between. The length of time I spend with a client depends very much on what they want me to help with, and how hard they are willing to work to achieve their goal. I spent up to a year working with one particular guy who is actually able-bodied. He was incredibly reserved in social settings due to a lack of self confidence, and was looking for more than just a few pointers.
9. What is the one question you are asked most frequently, and what advice do you give in response?
Men want to know how to ask a girl out and how they can tell if she likes him. I tell them there’s no way to really know for sure if a girl likes you back. You’ve just got to rip off the band aid and go for it.
Women mostly ask how to find a guy who’s interested in more than just sex. My response is to learn to say no! Take your time and make a guy work for it. Don’t give it up on the first date as it leaves a bad impression. Inevitably the guy would assume you give it up to all guys just as easily, and that’s not what men want ultimately. We love the chase and value what we’ve worked hard for.
10. What are your top dating tips for those who are particularly nervous or lacking in confidence?
It’s okay and totally natural to be nervous. I still get nervous going on a date for the first time. It takes courage and courage leads to nervousness; everyone feels it. You’ve just got to do it. No matter what, you have to try. We all have to go through awkward stages and you will probably look back and cringe at yourself and your failed dates – I know I have. But again, that’s okay.
I also recommend bringing up your disability early on, but in a humorous way. Don’t try to hide it, but at the same time, don’t disclose everything in great detail. You don’t need to be 100% emotionally okay with your own disability. We’re all a little insecure about something. Just put your best foot/wheel forward so you can find the people who prioritise things other than their partners physical abilities. These people are a rare breed, so it will take work (and inevitable heartbreak) to find them.
In terms of date conversation: Pauses, I think, are actually a good, powerful thing. They can be sexual and flirtatious, allowing you to lock eyes and check each other out. I am consciously quiet for extended periods when I go on a date. During these pauses I look my date up and down and make it known that I’m checking her out. This lets her know I like her and will probably make her giggle and flirt in return.
Remember not to talk too much and don’t attempt to fill the silences. It can be exhausting as it’s impossible to process all that verbal information quickly.
Do ask questions, but not just typical introductory questions. Become interested in your date and respond to their answers. If they answer a question very briefly, realise that perhaps they don’t want to talk about that particular topic. Dig deeper into what they do want to talk about and tap into their interests.
11. Do you think there’s a limit to who you’re able to coach, and have you found any of your clients to be especially challenging?
Oh yeah absolutely. It’s all about motivation. If a client isn’t motivated or willing to do what it takes and work hard for it, they won’t get results. At the end of the day, they need to trust me and do what I tell them, no questions asked. I can’t do the hard work for them.
12. Where do you see your career taking you and what more do you hope to achieve?
I’m kind of happy where I am right now. I really just want to help more people.
I enjoy writing but mostly I love making videos, talking and being myself on camera. So, ideally I’d like to be more active on Youtube. There’s something about being recorded that’s more effective than someone reading something I have written. In a video, you’re hearing my voice, seeing my mannerisms and humour. You’re receiving the information exactly how I want you to. You just don’t get that through writing.
I feel like I was born to do the work I do. All of my personal struggles have been for a reason. I now have a sense of purpose and can make an impact in a way that I couldn’t if I were able-bodied. In that way, my disability is beneficial.
I’d like to thank Amin for taking the time to talk with me.
Please do connect with the Dating Coach on Wheels on social media:
This blog forms part of Trailblazers Dating Diaries, which looks to lift the lid on dating and relationships when having a disability.
I’m not at present in a relationship and that’s fine, that’s okay. I’ve never actively searched for a partner – dating sites in particular just aren’t for me. In fact, dating isn’t for me if I’m honest. Pretty socially awkward at the best of times, the whole dating thing feels far too daunting a prospect. It just seems so forced and unnatural. Of course it serves its purpose and is a means to an end. But knowing myself as I do I think I would just fail miserably!
A fairly solitary character, I like my own space, I like being able to do as I please, when I please. And I most definitely couldn’t bear to share my bed, it’s my haven!
As is the case for many with muscular dystrophy, much of my time is lost to frequent and prolonged bouts of respiratory illness and fatigue, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to dating or a cohabitative relationship.
I live with my parents in their home which is not exactly the dream for a 28 year-old woman. So privacy and finding time for myself is enough of an issue without adding another person to the mix.
Yes it’s the norm for those my age to be settled in relationships or even married, as most of my friends are. Perhaps my choice to remain single for the time being (and it is a choice) is selfish. But why not be selfish. This is my life and right now I’m content with things as they are. Relationships are hard work, they require you to compromise and invest your time and energy. At present, I’m just not willing to share myself with anyone.
This isn’t to say I’m not open to the possibility of meeting someone spontaneously, as I have found tends to be the best way. But if it doesn’t, I’m totally cool with that. I’ve learnt that life is not defined by your relationship status and you don’t need a partner to be happy. It doesn’t hurt to keep an eye out though, does it!
Last week Channel4 aired the final episode of its reality series The Undateables, a dating show for disabled people. For those who are unfamiliar, individuals with any disability are invited to appear on the show, now in its sixth season. With the help of dating agencies and personal introduction services, they take part in blind dates, speed dating and match-making in the hope of finding love.
Now, I’ve seen almost every episode since it premiered in 2012, and I have to say I am a fan and supporter. I appreciate and understand the controversy surrounding the show, particularly within the disabled community, although I personally disagree with much of the negative criticism. For this reason, as someone with a physical disability myself, I though it time to put forward my point of view.
Firstly, I’d like to point out that all participants have applied of their own free will. Following their appearances, all have reported a positive experience, even those who did not find love as a direct result of the show. Tammy from series 5 says, “I put myself forward for The Undateables. At no point during filming did I feel like I was being used for entertainment. It’s an entertaining show [but] we all just want to find someone who loves us for us.”
The program has been invaluable and life changing for many, leading to long term relationships, marriage and babies. Furthermore, despite the claims of some, disabled individuals have not been coupled exclusively with other disabled people. For example, Brent with tourettes married his able-bodied date Challis, and Steve with Crouzon syndrome married able-bodied Vicky whom he met on Twitter after the show gave him much needed confidence – he remains friends with his able-bodied date from the show. Then there’s Carolyne from the first series whose childhood sweetheart left her when she became paralysed following a spinal cord lesion. She later met Dean who is able-bodied. The couple had their first child together in 2014. These are just a few of the many success stories resulting from the show.
Some critics have called into question the editing, which it can be argued is an issue with any reality show. However, taking into consideration the accounts offered by the participants themselves, it would seem to me that great care has been taken to ensure fair and accurate representation. Again, personally I have no issue with the tone or editing and have never found it to be exploitative, patronising, sensationalist or insincere. Quite the opposite in fact, I feel The Undateables realistically and positively depicts a range of disabilities, thereby raising awareness and breaking down social barriers and stigma.
James, who has Asperger’s took part in the show last year. He told ITV’s This Morning, “It [the show] provides a lot of education on a wide range of things, not just conditions… The fact that people will tune in knowing they will learn a bit more, maybe take away the stigma, is a very positive thing. It paints a very positive picture of British audiences.”
The format itself is understandably a contentious issue: why is it not the norm for disabled people to participate in mainstream dating shows such as First Dates, also a product of Channel4, and ITV’s Take Me Out? Why must the disabled community be confined to a show exclusively for them? There is no definitive answer, though I would argue that it comes down to choice and demand.
As previously stated, those who partake make the choice to do so. Many have learning disabilities and are supported by family, friends and caregivers, as viewers will know. Therefore, to suggest they are being taken advantage of by producers, which some critics have, I feel implies that these people are not able to form rational decisions and make up their own minds. This is inaccurate and unjustified. Secondly, the show is now in its sixth year (as of Feb 2017), which proves there is continuing demand from both the viewing public and applicants eager to find love, friendship and companionship.
I have found that questions and accusations such as the aforementioned are often posed, more often than not by those with disabilities. This indicates to me that, in fact, it is not predominantly the able-bodied community who have issues with the show. Yes, you may hear the occasional, ‘bless them’, ‘aw, how sweet’ and ‘good for them’ from able-bodied viewers – how very dare they indeed! But to conclude that this is a form of ‘inspiration porn’ is in my opinion, vastly overstretching the mark. I take issue with the term ‘inspiration porn’, particularly in relation to The Undateables. Frankly, even if viewers are in some way inspired by the determination and go-getting attitude of those they see on the show, why is that so awful? Paralympians are equally as inspiring as Olympians. Yet there are some, particularly in the disabled community, who deem this to be ‘inspiration porn’. That is to say, people draw inspiration from disabled athletes solely due to their disability rather than their sporting achievement, as well as to feel better about their own lives. Personally, I think this is nonsense and insulting to both the able-bodied and disabled.
I cannot speak for the entire viewing public, obviously, but I have watched the show with friends and family over the years, and the feedback has always been one of support and genuine happiness for the love-seekers. Not one person I have spoken to has ever indulged in this so called ‘inspiration porn’ to, as critics say, feel better about themselves. This is the one accusation that frustrates me the most. I could go on and on with this point, but I fear I may lose you (assuming I haven’t already).
Okay, the title. Are Channel4 saying that we, the disabled are undateable? Put simply, no. Producers have themselves stated that the title is to challenge this common misconception within society. Furthermore, as viewers will know, during the opening sequence of each episode, the prefix clearly falls from the word ‘dateables’, thus indicating the contrary.
The show itself is proof that no one is undateable – an eye opener to many viewers who might have previously thought otherwise or have just never considered the fact that like them, we too want love. For one reason or another, there remains a section of society that has never encountered anyone with a disability. Through no fault of their own, they consequently may be ignorant to the needs, desires and feelings of disabled people. I think The Undateables is a great way to introduce this concept to such individuals. As James with Asperger’s says, the show is successfully removing stigma and raising awareness.
I have an older brother with complex learning disabilities, and so I’m able to draw from his perspective in addition to my own. He has expressed a keen interest to appear on The Undateables, and my family and I would be more than happy for him to do so. Neither of us feel alienated, uncomfortable, ridiculed or patronised by the show. Again, I do appreciate the criticism but for those who bother to watch it with an open mind, I believe you will find it to be well-meaning, sincere and sympathetic. Those involved have benefitted, it has given others in similar circumstances the confidence to look for love, and it has made society realise that we all have basic human needs and desires, and the right to pursue them.
It’s easy for viewers to criticise on social media, having watched only one or none of the episodes. But I implore you, ask the participants. Their response says it all, for me anyway. It seems to me the majority of negative critics haven’t actually seen the show and are therefore judging it superficially. It is certainly not a freak show and is not treated as such.
The dating agencies, often run by the parents or relatives of those with disabilities, aim to match clients based on common interests. Disabled people are not merely bundled with others with similar disabilities. To assume so says more about those who think this than anyone involved with The Undateables.
So finally, I urge the harsher critics out there to actually WATCH (preferably more than once!) before judging so narrow-mindedly.
Who knows if Channel4 will commission another series of the popular show. Based on viewing figures, I’m guessing it’s more than likely they will. If so, I’ll certainly be tuning in.