As I approach my 26th birthday, and realize I have now used a wheelchair for twenty of those years, I can’t help but reflect on all my relationship encounters with the opposite sex. The excitement of meeting someone new, and the far too often letdown of the never-returned-text or the pass-over at the bar. With each interaction, I question whether dating would be different, if I wasn’t in a wheelchair.
In college, I chalked all the rejections and friend zoning by guys up to immaturity and the “college mentality.” To dull the sting, I would remind myself that it would get better once I graduated. I naively thought male maturity would flip a switch the moment they received their diploma. That they would suddenly be attracted to me, look past my disability and give me as much attention as all of my friends. I was wrong.
I’m no longer that 21-year-old girl who could take a second SoCo lime shot and pretend her disability didn’t exist. Dating is exhausting for anyone, and throwing a wheelchair into the mix does not self-confidence make. At bars, a little part of me dies every time a girl stumbles into me, confused by what’s blocking her way, only to realize it’s me down there in my chair. I think the look of surprise on her face is always the most painful part. Or the guy who wants to give me a high five. WHY would you want to high five me? Really? My first thought is always, “You wouldn’t high five any other girl in this bar. Would you high five me if I wasn’t in a wheelchair?”
Start online dating to increase my number of potential guys? Sure, why not. I quickly realized that including photos with the mere suggestion of my wheelchair was lethal. So began my photo cropping mastery. I was terrified to tell the first guy I agreed to go on a date with from Tinder that I used a wheelchair. I wasn’t going to wait until he met me to surprise him with the news. That would have not only made him uncomfortable, I’m sure, but I didn’t want the anxiety of wondering what would happen when he first saw me either. Each time I would tell a guy I used a wheelchair, my heart would skip a beat and I would begin to stress, wondering whether he would respond, and what he would say. Surprisingly, all but one guy who asked me out was okay with meeting up with me, yet only one of the dates led to another. I can’t help but wonder, “Would they have asked me out again if I wasn’t in a wheelchair?”
I experience many of the same dating, hook-up and not-quite-dating situations as my friends, but there lies an additional barrier for me as well. For someone who exudes a confident exterior, I’m always questioning whether the guy I’m talking to is being genuine, or if he would treat another girl differently.
I hope that one day I do find a guy who is accepting of me, and who doesn’t just view me as a friend. But for now, I’ll be asking myself, “Would you date me if I wasn’t in a wheelchair?”