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Getting Back in the Dating Game
by Verna Noel Jones
Dating can be frustrating, even downright intimidating, especially for survivors living with the physical and emotional effects of stroke. But those who've braved the post-stroke dating game say that there's life after stroke when it comes to new relationships.
Ask Joe Garrity, a retired lawyer whose words were his trademark until aphasia robbed him of that important verbal skill after a stroke in 2003. The 56-year-old stroke survivor, from Centennial, CO, initially was afraid to meet women through friends and parties because he was embarrassed about his sometimes halting speech.
"I would get into a conversation and wonder if I could keep it going and wonder how I was doing," he recalls.
When the words wouldn't come out right, he'd recall "the old Joe Garrity," a well-spoken lawyer who made his living as a fast-talking attorney, and he would become frustrated. Eventually he found that the real problem was within.
"I realized that often I was speaking just fine," he says. "And if you forget about how you feel inside, the world will accept you."
On dates, he set about finding new ways to communicate. When he struggled to find the
perfect word, he found that the women would jump in with suggested words to help him.
"The old Joe would have gotten mad about someone walking onto my line. But then I realized that women always want to talk, and here's a great opportunity for them. Now when I have trouble finding the right word, I say, 'Yeah, if you have the right word, say it.' That gets me through my frustration and moves us forward with our talking."
But before starting a conversation, you first have to jump into the dating world. An aphasia support group can offer support and guidance towards that goal, says Dr. Robert C. Marshall, professor of communication disorders at the University of Kentucky, and a research consultant for the University of Michigan aphasia program.
Several years ago when Marshall was running an aphasia group, a gentleman in his early 60s said he'd like to meet someone. The group decided to brainstorm to find a way to help him.
As a group activity, the others helped the man write a personal ad that was placed in a newspaper. The ad brought back several responses from women, even when it clearly stated that he'd had a stroke. "To make a long story short, the man responded to
the women and ended up marrying one of them. It was a very happy ending and a good group activity," says Marshall.
Stroke survivors can find a local aphasia group through the National Aphasia Association. "With a support group, you can talk over your situation with someone who has knowledge of aphasia and stroke," says Marshall. "It's a great first step where
you can ask questions and air your concerns."
Joe Palumbo, 43, of Staten Island, N.Y., is another survivor who found dating difficult at first. Though his stroke in 2002 didn't affect his speech or his mind, it left him with right side paralysis and no use of his right arm. He walks with a cane.
"It took me about two years before I felt comfortable enough to try dating," he recalls. "I was embarrassed about how I walked. But one day I said to myself, 'I have to do what I have to do.'"
Palumbo found success meeting women through online dating services such as whispers4u. "I Googled disabled dating to fi nd the Web site. God bless Google. This way, I did meet a couple of women and have had some relationships recently
that worked out pretty good," he says.
The experience has given him the confidence to talk to women in everyday situations. When someone notices his limp and asks what's wrong, Palumbo takes the opening by talking about his stroke.
"I go into the whole kit and caboodle about what happened. And if it clicks, it clicks; if it doesn't, it doesn't."
While Joe Garrity doesn't meet women online, he does find email another good communication tool.
"Women know that if they want to date me, it's much easier for me to talk or get information by email. But while it's great for getting information, it isn't good at all for communicating emotion between people. The best thing for that is face-to-face or by telephone."
No matter what tools are used to get there, Palumbo's advice to stroke survivors who want to begin dating is simple: Be confident and go for it. "You have to live your life after a stroke. You can't hold back, as difficult as it is."
Garrity agrees. "Just go out there and do it and enjoy it, because it's a great world we're living in."
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