Jen Arnold and Bill Klein, stars of the TLC reality show The Little Couple.
Becky didn’t date much in high school — she has achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism, and she says she was afraid she’d make people uncomfortable if she flirted with them. She had a crush on one boy for seven years, but never acted on it. Things changed when she got to college and started going to events hosted by the organization Little People of America (LPA): she started getting a lot more attention from men who were also little people. Becky, who’s now 28 and prefers that her last name not be used, says: “My whole life I was saying, I’ll date whoever I connect with, but it happens that my two relationships have been with little people.” She says that’s probably because they’ve faced common obstacles — but dating other little people has brought challenges of its own.
Little people are probably just as likely to marry or have long-term relationships as average-sized people, says Leah Smith, vice president of public relations for LPA. However, it may take them longer. They may have to deal with prejudice from average-sized people — Smith says lots of her female friends have been told by men, “If you weren’t little I would date you.” And if they want to date other little people, they have to navigate dating in a community that’s small and spread out — and can have a big gender imbalance.
Smith says about one in every 30,000 people is born with some condition that leads to small stature. So even if you grew up in a big city, there may be only two or three other little people in your age group — and since families who have children with dwarfism often connect, “the likelihood is you grew up with them, and they’re like a brother. It doesn’t mean you can’t date, but it’s harder.”
Because of this, a lot of relationships between little people start out long-distance. That’s how things are right now for Becky and her boyfriend of a little over a year. They met at an LPA convention, and though they talk every night, they’ve only spent about three weeks together in person. Becky says they’ll give it another year before one of them relocates so they can be together — she and her last boyfriend, who she also met at a convention, moved in together more quickly, and it put a lot of pressure on the relationship. He couldn’t find a job in the area, and he didn’t get along with her friends; they ended up breaking up.
Attendees at a 2010 Little People of America convention in Nashville.
Becky says some average-sized people think LPA conventions are “a big orgy,” maybe because they’ve seen little people in porn. Actually, she says, even if they do go with dating or hooking up in mind, straight women can have trouble meeting men. The conventions are often overwhelmingly female, so it’s “a bunch of girls chasing after one guy.” If you look like you’re getting somewhere with a guy, “you get glares.”
There don’t appear to be more female little people than male in the country at large, so those active in LPA aren’t entirely sure why there aren’t more men in their midst. Kara Ayers, a blogger and therapist who has written about the experience of parenting as a little person, says she thinks girls who are little people may be more open to going to conventions and talking with other little people from a young age. She and her husband both have the bone condition osteogenesis imperfecta, which affects their height, but growing up, he felt “too cool” for conventions: “He’s glad his parents took him but he wasn’t the one asking to go.” She says adult men, too, may have less interest in being part of a community of little people.
Jim Kay, who is 75 and LPA’s historian, thinks the unwillingness of men to go to conventions is a symptom of a bigger problem: “Girls today, whether they’re little or average, are much more knowledgeable, much more assertive, and many of them will make the first move,” and guys aren’t keeping up. He thinks men who are little are “following the example of the average-sized guys, not going to places where they have to deal with an assertive woman.”
Of course, there are other places to meet besides conventions. A number of dating sites purport to cater specifically to little people, but Smith says a lot of little people are wary of them — women especially worry that they might be populated with fetishists who only want to date them because of their size.
Julie Genovese wrote the memoir Nothing Short of Joy about learning to live with the condition spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, which affects her height.
Smith also says dating average-sized people in general used to be looked down on in LPA, but now it’s much more common — she estimates that about half of little people end up with average-sized partners. Julie Genovese, author of the memoir Nothing Short of Joy, is one — she met her husband at a holistic health fair where they were both volunteering. She was initially worried he wouldn’t like her because he was average-sized, but he gave her his phone number, came over for dinner, and they’ve been together ever since. She says she had to get over her fears of being unlovable to be with him, but he had his own issues to deal with too, like a divorce and a child lost at birth.
Genovese and her husband have two sons now, both average-sized. She remembers another child asking her younger son, incredulously, “is that your mother?” Her son replied calmly, “oh yeah, she’s a dwarf.” Genovese was proud of the way he said it, like it was just another piece of information. She thinks her sons learn something important from her small stature: “it’s a good thing for them to see someone so different who’s also so ‘normal.’”
Becky hopes to have children one day too. If she has a child with another person with achondroplasia, that child will have a 25% risk of double-dominant syndrome — two copies of the achondroplasia gene, almost always fatal within the first year. She says some couples with achondroplasia choose adoption for this reason, but “it’s also a blessing as a little person to have a little person child because you know exactly what to do.” For her part, she sees benefits to having a biological child: “I want to set an example for the younger generation,” she said, “and I think creating it is one way of doing that.”