Like many individuals, 32-year-old Oh Boon Keng hopes to one day be able to find a life partner. But this simple dream proved to be less straightforward due to his disability. Born with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), Boon Keng often found himself wondering if he is able to love, especially when he knows that his condition is likely to deteriorate over the years. In this candid sharing, the former APB Foundation Scholar takes us through his highs and lows as he navigates his love journey.
Can I love?
I’ve been troubled by this conundrum for the past 15 years. The answer to it seems so simple for most people, but not for me, as a person with muscular dystrophy – it has never been plain sailing.
When I first charged into the arena of love, I was so confident that my disability meant nothing. Like everything else in my life, I thought that, despite my disability, I could be as ‘normal’ as any abled person (with just a bit of adaptation and some minor changes). I went headstrong into many crushes early on, but came out feeling defeated with each failure I suffered from the confessions I made. Obviously, my ego was bruised. I felt so discouraged by the fact that I couldn’t find the love I wanted. I blamed it entirely on my disability — because of my DMD, nothing went well in my love journey!
There was a glimmer of hope when I came close to going steady with one of the girls I knew. Our relationship developed so well that I was sure that we shared a mutual affection. So I made a confession and succeeded, initially… Alas, she changed her mind later on and we went our separate ways. But the repercussions were painful — we became ‘strangers’ who felt awkward seeing each other. Although we eventually overcame that barrier of awkwardness, the scar in my psyche could not be erased.
With every confession of love I made thereafter, I was afraid that it would end with the same awkwardness. However, the race against time and my deteriorating condition gave me the strength to make a last-ditch effort to find love. Although nothing materialised from the effort, I learnt a lot about myself and other things in life from my crushes during my polytechnic years. It was also the time when I found out that there was someone else (other than my family) who loves me unconditionally — God.
Just when I thought it was ‘game over’ for me, I was given the best chance of my life. I met someone with whom I could talk about everything under the sun. I felt as if she’s the one I had been waiting for all my life; perhaps the experiences from all my failures were preparing me for her. My confidence was at an all-time high and I made brilliant plans to win her heart. I had never ever felt so empowered before in my life — everything went exactly how I wanted in developing the relationship with her. But perhaps I became overconfident, thinking that I had everything under my control. . . impatiently, I pushed her into confirming our relationship status publicly when she wasn’t ready.
We unofficially broke up, and my heart broke. It took me a long time to navigate through this ‘heartship’. I did many things that I regretted doing during this period. It was a time when we both saw the uglier side of each other, especially mine… my stubbornness, my clinginess, my impulsivity, and more.
It reached a point where I found myself hurting her emotionally. Thankfully, I came to my senses and put a stop to the hurt I was causing her and myself. With a clearer thinking after the storm subsided, I could better appreciate the goodness of the relationship and the many things I learnt from it. Most importantly, I had a masterclass on the art of letting go.
Life became a lot happier after I learnt to let go when the situation called for it. No longer was I easily overwhelmed by jealousy or envy like before. I used to feel envious even of random couples I came across on the streets when I saw them being affectionate to each other. I felt that life was so unfair to me in depriving me of an equal chance to love romantically, all because of my disability. Why is it so difficult for me to find the love I want? Why doesn’t love come knocking on my door like for many others?
However, I now realise that I’m not alone in this challenging pursuit of love. Everyone has his or her own set of struggles in his or her journey. Undergoing hardships and making sacrifices are all part of the journeys of love.
Despite the setbacks, I thoroughly enjoyed this journey. From the joy of succeeding in conveying my feelings to the girl of my dreams to enjoying a simple chat over coffee, these are just some of the many precious memories I treasure. I’ve also had plenty of invaluable lessons to learn from and grow wiser with. I would choose to continue this journey of love if not for my poorer health and stamina. Though the door to romantic love isn’t entirely closed to me, I know that there’s a season to everything. Without the health and stamina that I previously had, I’m no longer able to meticulously plan every step of asking somebody out. For now, I choose to channel my energy into other meaningful things, instead of romantic love.
Being able to share my journey has been a very meaningful experience for me. It felt cathartic to have finally found a way to articulate most of the thoughts and feelings that had been bottled up inside me. I wish to encourage everyone, regardless of your disabilities, to find the courage to share your innermost thoughts and feelings when the circumstances call for it. Don’t just let your failures discourage you from pursuing love, but learn and mature from these experiences. Look past your own flaws and inadequacies when you find yourself doubting whether you’re ‘good enough’.
Be bold in embarking on this journey of love… just like I did!
This article was adapted with Boon Keng’s permission from his book, Can I Love? (Singapore: Pagesetters Services, 2021). To find out more about the book, please click here.
Cover photo credit: Oh Boon Keng