What you need to know before you date me

By Rachel Patel, Echo magazine

Pictured: Finn Schulz. Photos by Mikaela Helane.

Editor’s note: This article is from the Communication Department’s award-winning Echo magazine.

Ah, “love.” It’s in every song on every album of your favorite band, it’s what the rising and falling action revolves around in the movies you adore.

But love in real life? That’s a whole different story. Maybe you’re casually dating and figuring out what works for you, or settling down and trying to find something real. Or maybe you’re just recovering from a bad breakup. I spoke to seven people with unique backstories to learn what love means to them, to get their advice for navigating the dating scene.

Dating me is a little chaotic — “I go all over the place and my brain works in color,” says Ethan Mundt, a Chicago drag performer who goes by the name Utica Queen (named after his tiny hometown of 276 people in Utica, Minnesota).

Mundt was a fan favorite in Season 13 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” — and his dating life has been a search to find balance ever since. 

“I’ve had wonderful people that I’ve taken along the journey, but after the show, the dynamic drastically changed,” Mundt says. “I went from a podunk farm town, and then suddenly, everyone knows my name — and that’s definitely a little bit of an adjustment. I went from being a wallflower who just does art, and now I’m a wallflower that everyone wants to add to their bouquet.”

Pictured: Mahlia Schneck. Photos by Mikaela Helane.

Dating me means you’ll have to be extra flirty — “I am so hyper aware of my own behaviors that it’s actually detrimental to me sometimes, because it makes it hard for me to be present, and it keeps me from taking risks and taking chances,” Columbia College Chicago journalism student Hayden Mears says.

Growing up with autism and attention deficiency, social cues like flirting can go over his head. In a relationship, he says, clear communication is a must. 

“People on the spectrum are so different from person to person,” he says. “I hate it when somebody thinks they know about autism and thinks they can predict me.”

Dating me is like dating a golden retriever — Columbia College Chicago journalism student Kamy Smelser made a rule for herself: No kissing until she tells the person, “I love you.”

As a Christian, she’s very intentional about who she chooses to date and be vulnerable with. She looks for partners who make the “outcast” feel welcome. She’s reserved in conversations and social settings, and craves a sense of being invited.

Comparing herself to a golden retriever, Smelser says she gets emotionally attached to people quickly and wants to enjoy the fun, small parts of a relationship, like holding hands.

Dating me is an adaptive experience — “I have albinism. it’s the condition that causes my visual impairment,” queer photographer Finn Schulz says. 

Schulz wasn’t born blind, but his vision deteriorated throughout high school up to now. However, even though he’s now classified as legally blind, he can see details in the world through photography that he wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

“Even before I was public about gender and sexuality, there were still a lot of people who were uncomfortable about interacting with me just simply because of my vision,” he says. 

Schulz describes his and his partner’s now six-year-long relationship as unique, originally having met at a camp for the visually impaired. Their relationship is a process of learning and adapting to each other’s needs, he says.

Pictured: Hayden Mears. Photos by Mikaela Helane.

Dating me is hard if you’re clingy — Columbia photojournalism student Bianca Kreusel describes herself as individualistic, saying she prioritizes her personal needs, school, work and friends over a relationship.

For Kreusel, who has never dated before, living in a society that is so pro-romance makes her almost feel a sense of FOMO. Many people don’t understand her because of her aversion to physical touch, she says.

“I feel like I’m not good enough, I’m never going to get a boyfriend or girlfriend because I am not part of this culture,” says Kreusel, who is on the autism spectrum. “It makes me feel like an outcast almost because I have never experienced these types of things before, so it really just almost makes me feel ashamed of myself and how I’ve gone about college socially.”

Although she isn’t actively searching for a relationship, Kreusel wouldn’t turn down the opportunity if it were to present itself.

Dating me is an adventure — Lover of high heels and all things spontaneous, Mahlia Schneck, a double-amputee, says she’s extremely athletic and always itching to try something new.

However, when it comes to dating, Schneck isn’t as confident to dive in head-first.

“I just get nervous going on dates and stuff like that because with having prosthetics comes a few other difficulties like, ‘Are they OK with it? Will they be able to accommodate my walking pace?’” she says. “It’s mostly just the physical aspect of it. I do things that are different from others.”

Schneck encourages people who are curious about her prosthetics to just ask her about them rather than stare.

Dating me is a rollercoaster — University of California, Santa Barbara, sophomore Fatima Suarez has borderline personality disorder, and her relationships have been constant ups and downs. The disorder causes her to hide her authentic self from others, she says, in fear that she’ll scare them away.

“If you date me, you need to know how to calm me down and how to be a good listener. It can be a little too much for some people to deal with sometimes,” she says.

She likes knowing that dating her might help future partners feel their own emotions without shame or guilt.

You can read the entire 2022 issue of Echo, as well as previous issues, on our website.