Online dating: first impressions and safety

shannyShannon Tebb is the Toronto-based dating and relationship expert, matchmaker and life coach behind Shanny in the City. She has been interviewed by publications including the CBC, Huffington Post Canada and Metro. Tebb took part in a Q&A with Torontobraininjuryblog to address the benefits and pitfalls of online dating.

BIST: Is online dating a good way for people who are shy or lacking in self confidence to meet people?

Tebb: Online dating allows people to write their story through a bio and picture. For someone suffering from a brain injury, online dating might be a better option than attending social events such as speed dating, because they can search through profiles in the comfort of their own home.

For those that may be shy, online dating can be the best route. They have the opportunity to write a successful bio and have the option to correct errors. With face-to-face interaction, they only have one opportunity to leave a lasting impression. Individuals can fumble their words, get nervous and not handle the interaction well. Through online dating, they get the chance to respond to messages on your time.

BIST: Once someone is ready to try online dating, what can they do to ensure they are making a good impression with potential mates?

Tebb: A person who is ready to online date must be aware of the pros and cons. They may not get a lot of personal messages, which can affect their confidence. It can also be a lengthly process and very time consuming looking through all the profiles. On the other hand, it’s an opportunity to brush up on their decision-making skills by having various profiles to choose from. Seeing a range of singles online can generate excitement and give hope for the future as they can identify with other singles that are experiencing difficulty meeting others.

In order to put their best foot forward they have to practice honesty throughout the entire process. They should write an honest bio, showcase their personality and positive qualities and include updated photos. . If they are having difficulty describing the person they are, a close friend/family member can help add to their bio.

BIST: Do you think someone who has an acquired brain injury needs to list that on their profile? When would be the right time to share that with someone?

Tebb: Someone with ABI does not have to include that in their bio as it is very personal. Most people will either email or chat before they meet in public so it can be determined then if it’s worth telling their date. If the interaction is a positive one, and the person feels that a possible relationship can develop then they will know when the time is right. Telling someone you have an ABI demonstrates that you have built a level of trust and comfort.

I’d say that by the third date, this should be something that is discussed, before things progress further.

BIST: What steps can people take to stay safe while online dating?

Tebb: In order to avoid getting into a dangerous situation, people should source out a second opinion about someone they have met online if they are unsure. To be safe, they should not give out personal information such as their last name, address, and place of employment early on.

Always agree to meet in a public place and let a friend know where you are going as well as the time and who you are meeting. Block and report anyone that is sending inappropriate messages to your email inbox. Listen to your inner gut and if something doesn’t feel right, then stop the correspondence.

Having an ABI should not limit your chance of finding love. Test out what works for you whether it’s online dating, being set up by a matchmaker or another option.

BIST: Thank you.

Intimacy tips for people with a TBI

Julia Mecklenburg
Julia Mecklenburg

By Julia Mecklenburg 

Intimacy is such an important aspect of the human experience. Intimacy can improve self-esteem and confidence, help a person feel respected, wanted, and loved and further develop communication between partners. After a traumatic brain injury (TBI) it may be difficult to be intimate with your partner. Hopefully you have progressed in your rehabilitation to the point where you are ready to start being intimate with your significant other. Here are some tips for resuming sexual activity after your TBI:

  • Talk about your expectations, fears, and feelings. Communication is key.
  • Arrange a non-distracting environment.
    • If the partner with the TBI has a difficult time focusing, turn off the lights, music, and any other distractions to ensure that the partner has the best chance to focus.
  • Take it easy, and try not to put too much pressure on yourselves.
  • Focus on pleasure, rather than technique.
    • After someone experiences a TBI, they may not be able to do the same things they used to. Be patient and try to figure out what works for both partners now.
  • Intimacy doesn’t have to mean sex. It can simply be touching or just being with your partner.
  • Minimize fatigue/tiredness.
    • Decide what time of day/night works best. The significant other with the TBI may get very tired in the afternoon but typically has energy in the morning, so scheduling intimacy around their levels of energy may work well.
  • Concentrate on boosting the romance in your relationship.
    • Maintaining a loving relationship doesn’t just have to be about intimacy at home. Don’t forget to show how you care for your partner during the day. Sending a quick loving text or calling them over lunch just to tell them how much you care can make all the difference.

Julia Mecklenburg has been working with people with disabilities for the past 10 years. She earned her undergraduate degree in social work from Colorado State University and later received her master’s degree in social work from University of Denver with a focus in community and leadership. Julia has had an interest in promoting intimacy and positive relationships among people with disabilities ever since she earned her master’s degree. Julia has been working at Rocky Mountain Human Services for five years and with their Brain Injury Support program for the past year and a half. She thoroughly enjoys doing outreach in the community for this program as well as orientations with new clients.

Brain injury and intimacy: A gay perspective

G. Ian Bowles was 37 and living in Little Rock, Arkansas in 2001 when his vehicle hydroplaned during a thunderstorm. He slammed sideways into a bridge support and was in coma for six weeks. When he woke up six weeks later, he says he was first confused about where he was, then unsure if his orientation had changed. Was he still gay or had the brain injury somehow altered him? This is his story of life after brain injury and how he and his partner Tim maintained their relationship.

Brain injuries can be extremely difficult for family relationships, especially with regards to spouses or partners. It is one thing when accidents happen and a sibling or child changes in the emotional or cognitive realm. But when that happens to a spouse, it can be devastating. A relationship once built on experience and memory potentially loses much of  its foundation. Commitment and long-term love are suddenly much more important than reciprocated affection and immediate enjoyment.

Such concerns can be even more pronounced if the injured person is gay.

My accident happened in the American South, in Arkansas, where I had moved a year prior. When I woke from my six-week coma, one of the first questions that I was asked was where I thought I was. The last place I remembered was being at school, in Pennsylvania, which turned out to be two years earlier. When they started trying to convince me of my location, I thought it was a joke. When they didn’t give up, I thought it was a conspiracy. I remembered that I had been starting to “come out” before the accident. As a gay man, why would I move to Arkansas, of all places? Then snatches of memory started coming back, including the memories of the gay community in the state and my partner. Slowly it dawned on me that they were telling the truth.

Ian Bowles with partner Tim.

When I was first told about my accident and brain injury, I wondered if there had been any effect on my orientation.

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Dating, Romance and Sexuality Post-ABI

Dating and relationships are complicated for just about everyone. A brain injury can add one more level of complexity. Indeed, it can seem overwhelming at times, but there are several things a person can do to help navigate through. On Monday February 27, 2012, at 6 p.m., BIST Social Worker Michelle Ratcliff will lead a workshop at the Northern District Library for people living with the effects of an acquired brain injury (ABI), along with their families and friends. The topic of the night, and her article for Torontobraininjuryblog, is Dating, Romance and Sexuality Post-ABI. 

Michelle Ratcliff

Entering into a new relationship or holding onto a previous relationship after a brain injury can be a complicated path to navigate. All brain injuries are unique, as are all relationships.  This means that starting, maintaining and ending romantic relationships will be different for everyone. People often feel overwhelmed when trying to reenter into this area of their lives.

When looking to find love with another person, it is important to start by figuring out what you want from the relationship. Some people might be looking to go on dates without a lot of commitment. Other people are hoping to settle down with someone soon.

Another important thing to remember is that relationships may be different in a number of ways after a brain injury. Depending on the injury, communication styles, emotional needs and physical considerations can alter the way a person dates and maintains a relationship, but this doesn’t mean relationships aren’t possible. Just like knowing what you want in a relationship, it is important to think about how your needs might have changed since the injury. Asking for input, advice and observations from trusted people in your life about ways to adapt and adjust may also help you to figure this part out. Understanding this aspect may not happen immediately; often people need to adjust to life post-ABI before reexamining dating and relationship needs.

One of the hardest things can be finding a date. People meet their partners in a number of ways. Some people meet through friends. Some people bump into a fantastic person in a store, at a concert, in a restaurant or on the subway. Other people try online dating. These methods aren’t for everyone, so it important to to know what you feel comfortable trying.

It’s also key to be safe when entering into new relationships. Meeting new people in public places, not giving out personal information or loaning money, and feeling comfortable to say no if you feel uncomfortable, is essential when dating.

For some, finding a new relationship isn’t the issue. Many ABI survivors were in relationships at the time of their injury. However, an injury can mean major changes to the relationship, for both the survivor and the partner. Both people will have to adjust to the changes after a brain injury, which can be a stressful period.  Maintaining a relationship is often dependant on communication. Being able to talk with your partner about your feelings, needs and wants while listening to your partner’s feelings, needs and wants is an essential part of being in a relationship. Part of communicating well with your partner may involve conversations about your injury. How to tell the person about your injury and talking about how your injury impacts the relationship can be difficult talks to start, but starting slow, providing small amounts of information at a time and planning ahead about when, where and how you want to talk to your partner can help to reduce anxiety.

Being sexually intimate is another area to figure out. For some brain injury survivors, sexual needs, functions and abilities change. This can be a major life change for people, and a major consideration when re-entering the dating world. For those in relationships before injury, both partners may have to work together to renegotiate the sexual aspects they share. Communication is important. Talking to your partner is key.

Michelle Ratcliff, BIST Social Worker.

Visit Brain Injury Society of Toronto for more information about BIST’s community meeting on the theme: Relationships, Dating and Intimacy Post-ABI

Brain injury and youth sexuality: Q&A with Caron Gan

Along with colleagues from Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital in Toronto, Caron Gan, a registered marriage and family therapist, will host a workshop — Sexuality, Safety & Smarts on Feb. 21. The workshop will touch on topics such as meeting people, dating and healthy relationships, effects of brain injury on sexuality, safer sex and Internet and social media safety.

Gan spoke to BIST about some of those issues.

Caron Gan/Submitted

BIST: Have you run this type of event before? What is the usual turnout? Do people get embarrassed talking about the topic?

Gan: We offer this workshop every two years. This is the fourth time we have offered it. We usually get 30 – 40 participants.

This topic tends not to be embarrassing for the youth and young adults as discussions around friendships, dating, and relationships are typically of interest with this population. It tends to be more embarrassing for the parents than the youth.

BIST: For children and youth with an ABI, what are some of the common challenges and issues they face with sexuality?

Gan: Early sexual development or late sexual development can occur after an ABI. For example, an eight-year-old girl starting menstruation versus age 12 or 13. Their body may have developed prematurely — young gals getting breasts and menstruating much earlier — and emotionally they may not have caught up with way they feel physically. That can be quite distressing.

Sometimes there’s the other end as well, where 17 or 18-year-olds have very few of the characteristics, like body hair for example. That can be very embarrassing if they are in gym class.

A young person might have limited or incorrect knowledge around common physical and emotional changes that accompany puberty and adolescence. They may have missed out on sexual health education, or may not have fully grasped the material due to learning challenges. They may have trouble having friends and fitting in with peers. There may be issues with their body image, self esteem and peer acceptance. They may be vulnerable due to an ABI’s impact on social judgment and impulsivity. Their social and dating skills may not be well developed due to the ABI. They may be socially isolated. They may want to date but have limited life and sexual experience. They may have trouble explaining their ABI to others.

Their ability to control impulses may be more affected, so we may see more anger issues or people blurting things out when they shouldn’t be blurting them out. They may not recognize social boundaries and not know they are in somebody’s face, talking too close or touching people inappropriately. Their social skills may be a little bit off. They might say things that are kind of rude or offensive and make off-colour jokes.

To listen to a CBC radio piece on teens and sexuality, featuring Caron Gan, click here and then click each link to download the segment. You may need to convert the file to an Mp3 if you are using an Apple computer.

BIST: What do the friends of a person with an ABI need to know to help them help their friend?

Gan: I think it’s good to involve the friends in the education process early on so they do understand what’s going on and the changes in their friend and how best to support them. When they don’t understand that’s when there can be all kinds of judgments and misinterpretations.

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Monthly preview: BIST on love and intimacy

Sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, an increased heart rate.

Smiling, laughing, and sometimes, tears.

Being in love or feeling attracted to someone stirs up plenty of emotions — positive, negative and everything in between — that can be hard to navigate at the best of times.

A Couple sharing a moment at the park
Image: photostock /

For a person with an acquired brain injury, there are a host of other challenges thrown into the mix when it comes to dating and relationships.

Consider a few examples.

A young man, thanks to his ABI, lacks sexual inhibition and often makes inappropriate comments to complete strangers, such as fellow riders on the subway. A few people file complaints and now he has to explain himself to the authorities.

A woman married 12 years finds herself acting as a caregiver for her spouse who she feels “Is not the person I fell in love with.”

An eight-year-old girl with a brain injury hits puberty well ahead of other girls her age in a process known as precocious puberty, leaving her confused and embarrassed about the changes happening to her.

Throughout this month, Toronto brain injury blog will address these and other issues relating to Love and intimacy.

In our Question and Answer, Caron Gan, a registered marriage and family therapist at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, will offer insight into the issue of sexuality for youths aged 8 to 25.

Also this month, BIST member Ian Bowles shares his story of how he and his partner maintained their relationship after Ian’s ABI.

And BIST social worker Michelle Ratcliff provides advice for people with an ABI who are thinking about dating.

To read these articles and get other information from BIST, check out the sidebar of this page to subscribe to the blog via email or ‘Like’ us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Matthew Chung, BIST member and Editor of Toronto brain injury blog

Image: photostock /