Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Data Points - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Data Points.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


Nora: OK, so, Teresa, will you introduce yourself and tell us your name?

Teresa: Hi, I'm Teresa Nguyen.

Nora: And where are you, where are you calling in from?

Teresa: I am calling in from Denver, Colorado.

Nora: Ugh gorgeous, gorgeous. We love it there. 

Teresa: Yeah.

Nora: So we're both in Mountain Standard Time, and I like to start my conversations talking about two things: time zones or the weather. And I think for us, we get to talk about both because, you know, we're both in the same time zone. That's a cool thing. 

I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” a podcast about time zones. And weather. A podcast about all the hard things in life, and how it really feels to go through them. Things like love. To paraphrase the Bible, which I have skimmed, love is… weird, and cool and sometimes really terrible. We’re lucky if we find it.

But before we find love, we think about love. We dream about love. We fantasize about what love is and what it will be like to find it.

Teresa: In high school, I think I fantasized about relationships as much as any other teenager, and I also grew up in a very, you know, structured Catholic family. And so I pictured myself and really wanted and desired a partner, a husband, who would be committed to me and just do all the things together: Have a family. Build kind of a powerful, professional kind of future together, as well. And really know me, know me. I am a pretty guarded person. And so that was kind of the ultimate dream, was somebody who really understood me intimately and saw the pieces that people probably wouldn't pick up on if they just had met me. 

Teresa was really smart, really studious. And like a lot of millennial women, she had certain media that impacted how she imagined her future relationships.

Teresa: My favorite movie in high school and still now is “Legally Blonde.”

[Audio clip from the movie, “Legally Blonde.”] 

Teresa: So that kind of encompassed everything, right? Like a strong female that found the love of her life while kind of pursuing this professional dream that she had. 

But Teresa didn’t spend her time in high school giggling with her girlfriends over these relationship fantasies. She kept them to herself. 

Teresa: It was hard for me to admit that — one, to myself, but two, to my peers and family and the people in my life. I think the first kind of challenge for me was that I was really taught growing up to not need another person, you know? To really try to be this individual who really didn't need humans to be happy or to contribute to future happiness. So that was a strong message from just everybody in my life. And I think that stemmed from my disability. I was born with osteogenesis imperfecta. It’s a mouthful. Most folks call it OI. And it causes my bones to be brittle. And I'm pretty little for a human adult being. I'm three foot three. I use a power wheelchair. And you know what that really looks like in my day to day is that I just have to be really cautious of the things that I do to avoid bone fracture. And so a lot of the message growing up was to be as independent as I could and do as much as I could without relying on the help of others. And another kind of part inside of me that made it challenging for me to admit that I wanted a relationship, that I wanted love in high school, was I wasn't sure if that was going to happen for me. And so it felt silly wanting something that I have not seen represented in the community. I had not seen many people with disabilities date. I had not seen many stories of that. I definitely don't see it in the media. And I wasn't really exposed to that. And so to me, it was kind of this silly fantasy that I had, and it wasn't really worth sharing, because I wasn't sure how I was going to make that happen. 

That kind of representation wasn’t just missing from her own experience. It was missing from the imaginations of the people around her. Even people who LOVED Teresa didn’t seem to think that the kind of relationship she wanted for herself was even possible. One time, in high school, Teresa told a friend that she had a crush on one of the boys in their friend group. And instead of leaning in and saying, “Ooooooh!” which is the proper response, her friend did essentially the opposite…

Teresa: I remember my girlfriend telling me that that was cute and that that was lovely, and that she hoped that I would find somebody like me in the future. It was a very dismissive and trying-to-support-your-friend-in-an-awkward-teenager-y-way of saying, “I don't know if that's going to happen for you.”

Nora: Did you internalize that kind of feedback?

Teresa: I believe so, yes, because I already… you know, my own beliefs believed that. And then having kind of a community feedback, the external feedback, definitely. I'm a data person. I work in public health. I love science. I've loved science all of my life. So that was another data point for me of just things that contributed to this theory I had that, you know, I might not find what I really, really wanted.

So Teresa keeps that desire to herself. She focuses on being the academic all-star that people know her as, and she looks forward to college. College is a fresh start, and even though Teresa is just as focused on her academics as she’s ever been, she does meet someone. 

Teresa: In very Teresa fashion, we met in school. I went to college in Boulder, Colorado. So we met in chemistry class. I wasn't surprised at my crush or thinking that he was looking good. I always think, you know, a lot of people look good, so that wasn't surprising to me. But somehow, I had to kind of initiate a friendship conversation. And he was super kind and open and nerdy, was really academic. I think we spent a lot of time studying together, and that was really helpful in getting to know him in a really natural way. And really natural for me as well, having no experience in the area. And it was nerve wracking for me, is the emotion. I don't think I ever got rid of butterflies during that entire experience. 

This guy that I dated in college was obviously my first sexual kind of experience. And it really does kind of lay the foundation for how you experience future relationships and connections with people. Like I said, the entire time, I was so nervous, but, you know, there was this part of me that really wanted that experience badly. And I would say probably a little bit more recklessly than just being in love with a partner, it was more I wanted the experience of everything.

And it was lovely. He was so respectful. You know, my disability makes it different for people to, I think, imagine how that part of my life would go. The sexual part. I mentioned, I am three foot three, so I'm very short. And the average human guy is about six feet. So just logistically, you can imagine how different that was, and would be, to navigate. And it was just so normal and so... not fazing to him that those factors were present while we navigated that. So it was good, it was probably the best that any person, any woman could ask for as a first experience.

Nora: Love this boy. Love this boy. What should we call him? Like, what's a… what's a name that gets at his essence without revealing his name?

Teresa: Oh, goodness.

Nora: Like, is he a Mikey? Is he a Dylan? Is he like, a William?

Teresa: Let’s call him… yeah, I think William is perfect.

Nora: Okay let's call him William. We love this William. We love him. I always feel so lucky that like, that I have that in my, in my very first experiences. And every time somebody else does, I'm like, oh thank God. Oh, God, oh God, I love that. And all these experiences with William, what does it do for your sense of how relationships could be? This is a really good first dating experience!

Teresa: Yeah, it was a good first dating experience. And that shifted my narrative inside of my head a little bit of how my future could look, right? With the right guy. Because ultimately I knew he still wasn't the right guy for me, even in all those good experiences. And it shifted my internal narrative to, “OK, there are human men out there that are not going to be too impacted by the differences that I have in my life,” whether that would be looks or just how my life looked in general.

We’ll be right back.

We’re back, and Teresa has found her first romantic partner in college — a kind, sweet, cute, respectful guy we’re calling William. 

And even though he’s great, finding him has given her another important data point: that William is not the only fish in the sea. 

Teresa: We didn't date that long. I think it was like six months max, if I can remember way back in the day of college. And how did I do it? It was not good, Nora, it was not good. It was very immature. And I regret the way in which I did it, which was ultimately just ignore him. I couldn't confront him at all. I couldn't confront him about why it wasn't going to work out and, you know, we went to college together, so, of course he was going to run into people I knew, and they had to tell him why I wasn't answering his phone calls or text messages or... I think emails, too. I don't remember. But it wasn't the best thing I've ever done, that's for sure.

Nora: I mean, may the Lord have mercy on all of us for the ways we've broken up with people when we were young. Like Jeyca’s, you know, she's sitting here quietly. She got dumped by a text message on Christmas. So, you know, everyone makes mistakes. We were young. 

Jeyca: I sure did. I sure did. It was, it was really bad.

Teresa: I know. I just didn't want to be that person doing that.

William, if you’re out there, Teresa is sorry. But after William, life went on. And Teresa had more on her mind than just romance. 

Teresa: You know, I finished college. I was super grateful and proud of myself for achieving that milestone. Again with the whole disability narrative, there's… I didn't see a lot of that growing up. So just that felt amazing to me. And I knew I wanted to work in health and science, but I didn't know in what. And so I took a couple of years off, and I did random things. You know, I had a job that allowed me to have some time to travel the world. I did a lot of that with some very good friends and then also some strangers. And that was amazing. I widened my world, right? Of who people were and kind of shattered those stereotypes that I had of people in my head. I think that was kind of the phase of my life where I really intentionally became prideful as a person with a disability. And, you know, what that meant was I hung out with more disabled people. I got to know them. And that main thing that I was like, so resistant to for so long was that pride within my own identity as a disabled woman. I just didn't have that. And again, I think that's just something a young person goes through until they're ready. But in kind of spending time with my friends in the disabled community and doing this some of the advocacy things that happened within my community of school and health care and policy work, it was so cool to see adults who had disabilities around me who were just so not fazed by their life and how it looked to every other person in society. They were just so, you know, badass. I don't even know if I could say that on the podcast.

Nora: You can say that. Yeah!

Teresa: Yeah! They were just amazing people. They got shit done all the time. Led amazing initiatives. Had families. Did things like traveling, that I had so wanted to do. And so it just shifted my idea of who a disabled person was into who they can be. And pretty much that's anything that they want to be, they can be. And I think that was pretty limited for me before that. I thought a person with a disability could fall into a box, many boxes of just doing the things that were acceptable for somebody with a disability, you know? Have a really low-key job, not take risks. You know, just kind of live in status quo. 

Teresa is inspired, and empowered, and she goes back to school, on her way to get a masters in public health. 

Teresa: I really wanted to improve the health care systems for specific populations that were not well-served by the country. And so vulnerable populations included, in my ideal career, the disability community, the immigrant community — my parents are immigrants from Vietnam — just non-English speakers, I think was often a community that was left out of a lot of health care initiatives that I got to observe. And so that helped shape my focus, which essentially was community-based health. And that's what I wanted to do, was really work on a systems and policy change for vulnerable populations. 

And that is where she meets the guy we are going to call Nick.

Teresa: I met Nick in class.

Nora: Teresa, I love it!

Teresa: I know. It's so nerdy, Nora. Goodness, like, could I be more creative?

Nora: Do you see those Tik Toks at all, where it's like the people doing like main character, stuff like “me, in class, hoping a boy will notice me.” That was a hundred percent me. Never once met a boy in class. And I was desperately trying, just FYI. Desperately putting out the vibe. No vibe received. 

Teresa: Well we should have been friends in school, because that was apparently where all of all of the exciting things happened for me. We were in class. And what made him stand out? This is going to sound terrible. But the way he looked. Let me just paint you an idea of who I am and who my friends know me to be, which is this kind of bougie princess girl. Super girly, super clean, probably is too materialistic for her own good. And he was all of the opposite things, all of it, you know? He had that like, hippie look, long hair. That was not on the list of things that I looked for in my future partner. He had long hair. His clothes didn't match. He did not care how he came off in class, which was a little ditsy, probably.

I was already like, what is up with this guy? Like, what is happening here? And to make matters even more intriguing, he pulled out like, this purple carrot and was like, “Have you ever seen a purple carrot before? I got this from the community garden that I worked out this morning,” and just started eating it in class during a lecture. And it was just so weird. But again, intriguing. Intriguing to me. Weird, Nora, I know. 

But weird in a good way. Like, she wanted to talk to him about purple carrots and community gardens. Teresa and Nick shared a group of friends, and they ended up spending a lot of time together.

Teresa: And so he was always there when I went out with some friends and we just kind of got to know each other as friends in these hangouts at the bars or, I don't even know, a basketball game that we went to. I am not a basketball game kind of girl, but I hung out with a lot of guys, and so I guess that was the best we could do. And so he and I talked a lot during these events, and we got to know each other. And I really liked how he intentionally tried to connect with a lot of different people, and not in that annoying small talk, shallow way that you do. I’m almost always bored of people, so it wasn't in that matter. It was very intentional. He was a really good listener. And so that's when I started liking him more than just, you know, this carrot guy.

It’s not just carrots that are flying, there are SPARKS flying, and the feeling seems to be mutual. Teresa has been afraid that her disability would make it harder to find the kind of  romantic relationship she’s always wanted. But for Nick, Teresa’s disability doesn’t seem to be an issue. And it’s not that he’s ignoring it, it’s that he’s just comfortable with it. 

Teresa: So I use a power wheelchair. It helps me move around one hundred percent independently. But my power wheelchair is very big, and it does not fit in most cars that people drive. It fits in my car, but that's a different story. And so when I go out with my friends or even family, I use a manual wheelchair, which is a [lightweight, foldable] wheelchair you push with your arms. And I'm not really that strong. I can do it. It takes me, like, 12 times slower than the average person who can just push my wheelchair. And so I am super self-conscious when I have to use that chair. But the trade off is that I get to hang out with people and spend time with people that I love. And so I use it — not very comfortably, but I do. 

And I just remember that was probably the breakthrough moment of when my disability was, like, confronted between he and I. I think we were going to a friend's house for dinner, and he was pushing me and I was, I don't know, getting annoyed at something. And he just, again, like, very fearlessly called out that discomfort that I was feeling about being in that wheelchair, that specific wheelchair, and he asked me what the discomfort was and what could he do to make me feel more comfortable. 

And then before I could answer, he knew the answer, which was, you know, “You're not one hundred percent independent in this chair. Like, I can tell that that's what bothers you. And no one else notices the level of independence that you have in each chair. So I hope you know that. And it doesn't matter. And it really doesn't matter if I help you. Like, I want to. And I don't see it as a thing. Like, you're making it a thing.” And so every other person in my life, family or friends or anyone — teachers — have always a little bit tiptoed around my disability, especially talking about it. Right? Like, we could have the deepest relationship ever but still really not talk about disability and about how it affects me. And so the fact that I've experienced a lot of tiptoeing and then just this guy is calling it out, like, I have no time to prepare for my reaction, which I really wanted to come off super unfazed and whatever, strong, I thought was just very admirable.

What Teresa imagined in her teenage years was a person who would know her and see her. And here’s Nick, doing just that.

Teresa: And yeah, I mean maybe those other people did get me, but we never talked about it. It was never brought up. And so the combination of just confronting the internal kind of dialogue I had inside of my head and also being understanding of it, or just knowing that that's kind of a human trait that many people feel, felt really good, and it felt like he was somebody who could understand me in all ways.

I have, always, a lot of thoughts and emotions, but I never talk about them. And he just created a lot of moments where that was not as scary, or I didn't feel judged, and I really liked that. I don't know if many people live with this intention of always improving yourself and then helping others improve. And I think he had that. And I just really liked that. I liked that he just had the same kind of ideals and values about life as me. We both really cared about people in our lives and the joy that they had. So in this context, it was our friends. We knew a lot of friends within school that came to the U.S. from other countries just to study for masters. And that was a really hard transition for our friends to make, to really get integrated into the United States. And we really both felt this care and this need to kind of create joy, joyful moments, activities for a lot of our peers who did not feel like they belonged. And I just love that he didn't care that he was weird. I loved it.

We’re going to take a quick break.

And we’re back.

Teresa is in grad school, and she’s met Nick — this weird and wonderful guy who really sees her and gets her and likes her. And if you’re like, wait, so are they together? Great question! Because it IS very confusing. Not just for you as a listener, but for Teresa, too.  

Teresa: So Nick and I dated off and on for like four years. And throughout the entire time, what caused a lot of the breakups, getting back together, whatever, was his noncommittal stance that he took in our relationship. He could never say why beyond, “I can't commit to one person. And I want to try, but I can't.” I never knew beyond that from his own words why that was the case, but I have my own takeaways about it, which has to deal with a lot of our physical aspect of our relationship, and it has a lot to do with just… other factors as well. 

I have explained before the physical intimacy kind of dynamic that I have with my partners, which, again, is not the traditional physical intimacy that a guy and a girl experience. It just means it's different. And challenging at first. Requires a lot of creativity. I, you know, mentioned I have brittle bones. So it has to be safe. But, you know, like to me, sex is sex and pleasure is pleasure. We had a lot of moments during physical intimacy where he was extremely desiring it, and then would change his mind about our entire relationship dynamic after we would be intimate. And again, this happened a lot. So that was a very confusing aspect of my life because data girl over here, and science and facts girl, assumed that one time of saying, “I don't enjoy this,” was enough. And to me, that was like, “OK, then we won't do it, and we're going to not be together.” And this cycle of desire and... emotional intimacy kept repeating itself — often initiated by Nick. And that was very confusing for me, because how did his actions convey that he was noncommittal and that he did not enjoy physical intimacy with me? It was just very confusing.

Nora: Right. We literally just did it. So you riddle me that.

If you’ve felt like somebody’s option, and not their first choice, you know how disorienting it is. And that feeling is compounded by Teresa’s disability, by all of those data points that she’s received her entire life that have told her, “This kind of relationship just isn’t for you.” 

And it’s also compounded by the fact that when Nick is ON, he’s so ON. He’s magnetic and dynamic and SO PRESENT. And when he’s not, he’s NOT. To Teresa, it feels like Nick cycles between caring for her, having fun with her, being intimate with her, and then pulling away. 

Teresa: Rational me, like, logical me would be like out, you know, peace out. I never have friends like that. I don't have people like that in my life. I just don't have that. And so to me, I justified this by telling myself that just like every other aspect of my life as a woman with a disability like this, it's just going to look different. And this is what different is, in this context. And we just have to work through it, and he has to process what he has to process, and then somehow we'll get there, which is ridiculous.

It’s ridiculous. She knows it is. But knowing something is different than changing the behavior. It’s very, very different. It’s hard to disentangle yourself emotionally, and Teresa still has it in the back of her mind that this kind of relationship is a reach for her anyway, given her disability… it’s a lot.

And when Nick moves to England, Teresa assumes that the distance between them will create distance between them, maybe bring some clarity to the relationship. 

Teresa: That time for me was confusing, because we still connected over the phone or over email a lot. And I wasn't sure why, but I entertained it, because I was in love with him. So I just went with it. And I was processing it all in this time that I had away from him. I was trying to process it. And it just was very confusing. And, you know physically, he was away for years, but I didn't feel like he was away or out of my life for those years, you know? When we take a little break from each other, I always am convinced that we are going to just be really good friends, and we can do it, and boundaries will still be there. And of course, that didn't happen. He came home, and we just fell back into the same pattern of spending a lot of time together, a lot, again. It was me going to dinner at his family's house. Him doing the same. You know, him staying over at my place. Doing everything together. 

While Nick was gone, Teresa dated a little bit, but nothing serious. In the back of her mind — and sometimes in the front — there was always Nick. Nick, spending his time with her and then telling her he can’t commit.

Teresa: And I remember one time he came home to visit. And I had just had surgery. Which was new again, like, he never saw me that vulnerable, right? And so it was very scary for me to share that with him, and he was visiting — not just me, he was just visiting. But when we spent time together we would revisit, like, you know, what is happening? Are we together, are we not together? What does he want? And again, he called out, like, my vulnerability or the fear of the vulnerability at that time, and we just shared a lot. And again, I was not afraid to be, you know, that one hundred percent person with him, and he took away from that visit that we could see being with me forever. Wrote me this very long letter about the possibility of marriage and what that means to him and why that trip solidified his desire for that with me.

Marriage. He sees marriage in their future. Teresa gets the letter when Nick is already at the airport, flying back to England. And that word — marriage — almost undoes all of these years of him telling her he couldn’t possibly commit to one person, try as he might.  And eventually, Nick comes back to the states for good. And to make up for all the lost time, he and Teresa decide to take a road trip together.

Teresa: The initial hope was to, again, spend that solo time together, that we had not had for years. In the midst of our time, our relationship, we had a lot of opinions from friends, from family about what not to do, what to do. And so we wanted to kind of get away from that noise and kind of redefine what we wanted together. My hope was that I would just come away with a clear picture of either we're together or we are not together, but it would be very clear after this trip. I have this tendency — I do it to everybody… friends, family, him — of just kind of... pointing out a thousand disclaimers of like how different it will be when I'm out of my element of accessibility. So I was like, “Oh my gosh, OK, we're going to be camping and road tripping, like, are you sure? You know, I will need help.”

Teresa reminds Nick of all the things he already knows: that she can’t help set up a campsite, or pitch a tent. Is he SURE he wants to go on a camping road trip? But yeah, Nick’s sure. Just like he was when he told her to let him help her as he pushed her wheelchair, he’s FINE taking on the more physical work of camping while she tackles the food, the navigation, the emotional duties. And their trip lives up to the expectations. It’s amazing. 

Teresa: We did like, the four corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. That was super fun. We just saw a lot of great things, Grand Canyon, Moab, Canyonlands. All of that. We saw some friends on the trip, too. I remember this moment where we were visiting a friend and she had two little kids and she needed a break for one minute. And so we were watching the kids — and it was not watching, it was like playing with the kids. And after we left that, he said to me, “I could see our life looking like this. I could see us having kids, and you working because you can't not work, and me taking care of the kids in the house. And I like it.”

Nora: How did that feel?

Teresa: It felt like I was just so close to this, like, dream of mine of having a partner who I was in love with, who loved me, who knew all of me, who liked living our lives together. I felt like I was so close. It felt reassuring, but I was very nervous because that was a pretty committal statement that he made, and he's not committal. Ultimately, it felt really good, and it really confirmed this weird belief I had in him.

It seems like it helped Nick confirm that belief, too. Because after that road trip, he changes his mind about the whole commitment thing and tells Teresa…

Teresa: OK, let's commit, let's be partners. Like let's be in a relationship. No one else, just us. And he is very close with his family, so he tells them everything. 

Teresa is also close with Nick’s family. In the four years that they’ve been on and off, she’s spent a lot of time with them. She’s been to their home, been out to dinner with them. She knows them, and cares about them, and they’ve always, always loved her. 

So, how did they take the news that their son was finally ready to settle down with this brilliant, accomplished woman? 

Not well!

Teresa: His family basically shared with him that they didn't think it was a good idea, because he would end up breaking my heart, as he already had multiple times. And then their message changed to actually, I might break Nick's heart by having a disability and possibly dying before Nick. 


Teresa: The information is, of course, relayed to me by Nick. His parents have never, never acted that way towards me. When we had spent time together, when I spend time with his parents together, it is so positive and I feel very welcomed, accepted. I thought, oh, my gosh, because Nick is a mixture of so many different identities and backgrounds, I thought, oh, my gosh, these people are very open, from what their traditional cultures say about a partner and about me as a partner for their son. I have talked to his mom after this, and it's like it never happened. 

I believe probably many people have this narrative inside of them about how they would look or fit into their partners’ families, right? Like, disabled or not, I think everybody thinks about it. I think about it from the lens of a woman with a disability. I'm like, “Gosh, I wonder when the day comes of me meeting my partner's parents and family, like, what they must think of this very non-traditional or non-represented model of a relationship, where the woman is in a wheelchair, and so she's probably perceived as this like... less of a caretaker for her partner than the average woman without a disability.” So I had that narrative always in my head. Like it will take a really strong, awesome family to just not... play by those rules. And his parents’ conclusion proved me right. And so yeah, I think betrayal is a really good word. It was very hurtful, you know? That people in society — and I imagine a lot of people in society — have these internal biases and dialogues about what a traditional person needs to be. And then beyond that, what a traditional partner needs to be. And when they're confronted by something else that's different than that internal bias, I guess I'm mostly shocked at how us humans can't get over and try to challenge that internal bias that they're confronted with when they have to deal with it head on. How weak we are, ultimately, to really have to surrender to that internal bias. 

Our internal biases are so much harder to see and to take action on than the physical aspects of disability and accessibility. It’s so easy to just simplify those down to whether or not someone can get into a building, or watch your TV show, or read your podcast when they can’t hear. And we do now have transcripts of all episodes when they come out, but we didn’t always.

But there’s also an interpersonal level to accessibility, which is what Teresa is experiencing now. Which is that no amount of getting to know her, and like her, and love her could override everything that probably a lot of us assume about what a relationship should look like, and whether an interabled relationship like theirs is worth the risk.

Teresa: I think it is so gross. I mean, it really comes down to the number of years. People can live really long years and be terrible people. I mean, is that the trade off? You just pick a terrible partner because they might live longer? That’s the tradeoff?

Because I know from experience that even a person who looks very healthy can die before you, and that the heartbreak of losing him to brain cancer does not diminish the absolute joy and privilege of loving him. People told me not to marry Aaron! They told me, “Ughhh, you’re going to have to take care of him!” And isn’t that the point? That we take care of one another? Aren’t there many, many ways to care for a person in a relationship that have nothing to do with your physical ability? There are lots of partners who can support you physically and don’t. Plenty of partners who are physically VERY PRESENT and emotionally void. Plenty of terrible people live forever and plenty of people die out of nowhere, and why is the physical caretaking somehow more important than the emotional stuff? 

And so much of this comes down to how we hear a story, how we experience it. Of course. And if any of us without physical disability looked real, real, deep… if we didn’t know Teresa through this interview, if we heard about this situation from the other side… would we be as upset? Or would we be like, well, hmmm, I guess I kinda get where they’re coming from?

Teresa: I think that's what's hard for people in general to understand about having a layer of disability on top of humanity in general. I think people see disability as very black and white, like it comes down to whether you can or can't get into a building, whether you can or can't do something, have an ability to walk, to talk, to...whatever. And this is, I think, why the like, mental health system is so complicated for people with disabilities. It's complicated for everybody, but there is further data showing the complexity within the disability community. Many people don't know that emotional, interpersonal side of a human with a disability. Like, they think whatever the disability is negates all of the other things that a human deals with.

It doesn’t. And by the way, at this point, the future of their relationship is still TBD. Teresa’s been told that Nick could see himself marrying her but that his family is against it. 

Teresa: We were talking on the phone one night, and I could just tell there was doubt creeping back in like, hardcore, because he didn't talk. That was one sign. And then when he did talk, he would just say a lot of, “I don't know, I don't know.” And I decided that I was over it, and I didn't want to be together. And that was that.

That was that. There is no on again. It is just fully off. At least as of when Teresa and I speak. 

Teresa: I think about... I want to say five months since we've talked. And longer since we've seen each other, because the pandemic. So it's not the longest we've ever gone without talking, but I feel more closure than I ever have felt.

It’s not just closure, but more data. 

Teresa: I think we hear this a lot from anyone coming out of a relationship, but that it really has taught me a lot about you know what I will tolerate, and what my standards need to be, are. It reshapes that partner, like, checklist. I don't have a checklist, but I'm just saying. It reshapes what you want in a partner. This one definitely has done all of that for me. And it goes beyond just, I think the normal, you know, “I want somebody who is committed. Who's not afraid of it, not doubtful about it. I want somebody who's super consistent in their actions and in their words.” But it also goes beyond that of: How are the people in my partner's lives going to be around me and around my people and around different people? How are they as humans, I guess. And back in the day when looking for a partner or whatever, dreaming up a partner, I didn't think about the surrounding people in my partner's life. So, yeah, I mean that's definitely added to my standards. 

And I think the biggest takeaway for me is... I've worked really hard on loving who I am and really like, owning my identity, all of it, to be affected and to have my internal narrative affected by one person and one experience. And so that kind of is my takeaway. It was an experience, it was a person, but it doesn't negate me owning who I am. And honoring all of the work and time that it took for me to get there. And then I think the last thing is just, like I explained, Nick and his like, hippie demeanor back in the day of when we first met. In the current days and times and society, I think there are many people who value awareness and acceptance and inclusion of different communities. Doesn't necessarily have to be the disability community, but the Black community, the LGBTQ community. People are learning about these communities. They want to know more, and they think they know. A lot of us think we know how inclusive we are and how intentional we're being. And I think until we become really intimately familiar with the community that we are trying to learn about or have less exposure to, until we're faced head on with having any kind of relationship, friendship, whatever connection to that community, it won't be until that moment where you really have to confront your internal biases. I don't know if reading about it or learning about it makes a dent until it shows up in your real life. And I think people think that they are protected from that confrontation. And when I say confrontation, I mean a confrontation of them rejecting their comfort level with that difference in people.

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I’m Nora McInerny. Our production team is Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Hannah Meacock Ross, Jordan Turgeon and Phyllis Fletcher. Thank you so much, Teresa, for sharing this with us. We are a production of American Public Media. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson. This was recorded in my closet um… and, ya know, recorded at McInerny Studios here in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. You cannot see the sun from where I record. That’s okay. The sun is, actually, it will burn ya. I don’t know if you guys know that. Sun, it will burn you. Sun, best seen from indoors. Okay, well bye!