By Joe Roberts @joerobertsjourno
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Videographer / director: Marcus Hessenberg
Producer: Joe Roberts, Lizzie Wingham
Editor: Ian Phillips
Max Stainton, 28, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, met his fiancée Candy Parfitt, 29, three years ago when she became his PA at work, and they have since developed a unique bond.
The Londoners are to be married in September, and say that Candy’s dual-role as Max’s carer and partner has enriched both their lives, rather than hindered them.
Candy told Barcroft TV: “One of the concerns my family had was that caring for Max would be a big thing that would take away from my life and I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my dreams because I would be spending my time caring.
“But being his carer has allowed me to do lot of things that I never would have the opportunity to before and I don’t feel like it’s taking away from me.”
Max added: “At first we talked about whether or not it was right for her to help me as my girlfriend, but we quickly concluded it felt more natural than bringing a carer in.
“I think because we actually do everything together and we are always together and always communicating and sharing those experiences it ends up for a much stronger, more holistic relationship that actually can weather all.”
Although the couple have established a caring and rewarding relationship, bolstered by their shared experiences, they often face judgement from others.
Candy explained: “People have a lot of questions. I think the most invasive questions that people ask are about toileting and sex. Like, ‘How does he pee?’ and, ‘Can you do it?’
“Those are the kind of questions that I am like, ‘Mind your own business,’ but at the same time he pees the normal way and yes we can, so those are the answers – we are intimate.”
Because Max’s condition causes poor co-ordination, muscle weakness and tremors, he uses an electric wheelchair to get around outside and needs help with almost all daily tasks.
“He needs somebody to help him with everything,” said Candy. “From going to the toilet, getting dressed, eating food, cutting food up – pretty much everything.
“The things I do for Max just feel like they are an extension of things I do for myself. If somebody said to me when I was a teenager that my adult life would involve wiping someone’s bum multiple times a day I would be like, ‘Ohh gross,’ but I don’t even care – Max’s bum is my bum.”
Max, who works in finance, also requires help at his job, which led to his serendipitous meeting with his now-fiancée when she began working as his office PA.
“It started out professional,” said Candy. “Then I think the professionalism level just started to get lower and lower and the flirting would increase.
“Then at some point I actually stole his phone and I had to deliver it back to him at his house and I wrote a note on it and then he was like, ‘This is a very flirtatious note that she has written’.”
Max then asked Candy out and their professional relationship quickly developed into a personal one, with Candy more than willing to take on the role of PA, personal carer, and girlfriend.
Max said: “At first, I didn’t want Candy to care for me. You can’t just assume that someone is comfortable with doing all that right from the get go.”
Candy added: “Except I was. I was never like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this,’ it was just more about, ‘How do I do this?’”
So committed to her new relationship was Candy, that she even supported Max on his ambitious project to become the first disabled person to reach Mount Everest Base Camp on horseback – a feat they accomplished together in April 2018.
The pair were joined on their journey by a team of friends and family, with Max riding his horse ‘Rocky’ to base camp over eight days, and raising over £60,000 for Riding for the Disabled Association.
Now, having recently moved into a new home in North London together, the couple have established a loving and comfortable life for themselves, but they are acutely aware of wider society’s misconceptions about disabled people and inter-abled relationships.
Candy recalled a time she and Max were mistaken for brother and sister: “I was like, ‘No, boyfriend and girlfriend’ and the person was like, ‘What happened to him?’ and I was like, ‘Nothing, birth.’
“There was a guy who asked me how much Max pays me to be his girlfriend and it was one of those things where you know that someone has said something mean and then you don’t think of a comeback in time.
“I think there is that obstacle of actually having to say, ‘No, this is a relationship.’”
To combat this kind of prejudice and misjudgment, Max and Candy try to share their experiences together online, using their ‘Riding Everest’ pages to show that inter-abled couples are just like any other relationship.
Candy said: “When we were first together I tried to find other couples like us online and I couldn’t find anything. The word ‘inter-abled’ wasn’t around to my knowledge back then.”
Max added: “But since that first search this whole inter-abled community has completely exploded onto the scene and now we’ve found so many people like us.
“Being able to support young inter-abled relationships, they can come to us and we can help them out and even if they aren’t directly asking us, just showing that inter-abled relationships can work I think is incredibly powerful.”
When it comes to intimacy, the couple believe it is important for others to recognize that, beyond having to communicate more, their experiences aren’t much different to anyone else’s.
Candy said: “I remember asking Max early on, ‘How are we going to do this?’ because I didn’t know and I didn’t have experience with that and I think that we have to communicate in all aspects of our relationship.
“But also in sex we have had to communicate much more openly and sooner than a lot of people do just because that is the nature of disability, you have to plan things more.
“People’s intimate lives are whatever works for them. There is no one way to have sex, there is not one way to be intimate with someone. There are so many different ways people do that and for us it is actually fairly standard.”
Max added: “One of the misconceptions society has about disabled people is that they can’t have sex, and rather than enquiring about that they kind of push that person out and not consider them a viable person to have an intimate relationship with.
“Imagining a group of people as a non-sexualized, non-desirable group of people is also going to create them being less human and that is incredibly damaging.”
While the pair do have to confront this kind of judgement from time to time, none of these experiences have undermined their bond.
Max said: “I think the best thing is that we have fun together. We’re always laughing and being happy and listening to music that we love and making jokes that we find funny and watching silly YouTube videos and just being all nice and cozy together.