Yes, I can still have sex. I only say that because it seems to be the most pressing question on the minds of men considering me (or any other woman in a wheelchair) as a potential romantic partner. With regular women, men can just skip straight to figuring out how to simply get to the sex part. With me, it’s like I need to give a demonstration with an anatomically correct Barbie doll before we can move past appetizers.
But first I actually need to get to the date. These days it seems like I spend more time abroad than I do at home, and when I’m home I become a bit of a workaholic hermit. I have plenty of awesome friends whose company I enjoy, but I’ve become lazy in my middle age and getting all dressed and made up for a night out isn’t as appealing as it used to be. I have plenty of opportunities to attend professional networking events and maybe meet a handsome fellow entrepreneur, but they’re always so early. So, enter the somewhat necessary nightmare that is online dating.
You’re still a cutie!!! I’m sure plenty of guys still flirt with you and hit on you! This is an actual opening line that a man sent me on one of the online dating applications I use. I know, it’s awful. What’s even worse is he probably thought he was being nice when he wrote it. I’ve had online suitors send me first messages that include medical advice, jokes about flat tires, promises to lovingly carry me everywhere, and even solicitations for a dominant-submissive relationship. If you don’t know what that means, you probably don’t want to. Or, you can just watch Fifty Shades of Grey and imagine Anastasia Steele in a wheelchair.
Welcome to my dating life! To be perfectly honest, dating in the year 2018 sucks for all women, regardless of our physical condition. I’m a 43 year-old divorcée and I deal with the same garbage as a 23 year-old millennial fresh out of college. I hate the fact I’m familiar with terms like ghosting, benching, and hoovering. I hate even more that I now have to understand the subtleties involved in text communication (or lack thereof) when you’re trying to get to know someone you want to date. It seems like dating was so much easier in my 20s before I got married.
Despite having some inkling of what was waiting for me, I didn’t wait long after my divorce to dive into the dating pool. My ex-husband and I fell out of love long before the papers were signed, and I had lost faith in my ability to feel anything remotely related to physical attraction. I had never been intimate with anyone other than my ex-husband since my diagnosis, so I wasn’t sure what dating as a full-time wheelchair user would be like. I just knew that I couldn’t continue the way things had been for me as a woman.
I moved across the country from Arizona to Florida after my divorce, so it was a fresh start in many ways. I knew I wasn’t ready to get into a relationship. However, I was ready to get laid. That may sound crude, I know. But I had just come out of a situation where I hadn’t had a real intimate connection with a man in years. Towards the end of my marriage, I had actually said to myself that if I never had sex again, I would be okay. I couldn’t walk anymore, and although I knew that “everything worked” (I told you), my self-confidence in the sexy department was shot. I seriously needed to get back on the horse—no pun intended.
The decision to date online should NOT be taken lightly. The statistics aren’t promising. Over 40 percent of Americans have used an online dating service at some point, and 66 percent of them have gone on a date with someone they matched with. However, only 20 percent end up in a committed relationship and only 17 percent lead to marriages. If that’s what you’re looking for, then why even bother?
Well, everyone has their own reasons for using an online dating service, and some reasons are more common than others. Many people are tired of the bar and club scene (me). Others want to meet people outside of their social circles that they wouldn’t come across otherwise (me). Some people are very busy with work or other things, and don’t have the time to go out and meet potential dates in a more traditional fashion (me). I have some pretty amazing friends, but my next boyfriend won’t be coming from my existing social circles. I travel quite often, so online dating allows me to get to know someone from anywhere before I (hopefully) meet him in person.
As a full-time wheelchair user, online dating gives men the opportunity to get to know me better before automatically writing me off in person once they get a glimpse of my chair. To be fair, this doesn’t always happen. However, most of my power chairs are bigger than me, so they’re hard to ignore. I think I’m attractive enough to earn a smile or two in public, but more often than not, I’m greeted with looks of curiosity—and yes, sometimes pity. No matter how nice I look on a Saturday night, it’s really hard to compete for attention from men with women who are walking around me in short dresses and high heels.
I don’t think I was fully prepared for how weird shit was about to get. With the free online dating services, the first week can become a deluge of likes and messages, particularly if you’re a straight woman looking for a straight man. I can only speak to my own experiences with online dating, and yours may very well be different than mine. The vast majority of initial messages I get from men on the sites I use are perfectly benign.
For context, I do have plenty of profile photos that clearly show me in my scooter or power wheelchair. I also clearly mention that I can’t walk due to having MS. A lot of messages just say Hi or Hey there, without much effort or thought put in by the sender. Others will contain compliments or kind words, and many are a jumble of absolutely horrible spelling, grammar, and no punctuation whatsoever.
It sometimes seems like there’s no way a woman can win when deciding what to do with a message. I simply delete messages from men I don’t find attractive or interesting, thinking that they’ll understand I wasn’t interested by my lack of response. However, I sometimes get second messages from these users who are often more than mildly annoyed that I didn’t respond. If I continue to just delete them, I may get an angry third message. I used to try kindness by saying I didn’t think we would be compatible, which opens the door to the man asking why. I’ve given up on trying to be polite, so now I just respond directly and honestly by telling them I just didn’t find them attractive. So far, this is working.
The next option is to be kind and polite and respond with a gentle let-down to all my messages. First, this takes more time than I’m willing to invest in the online dating adventure, so I don’t do it anymore. Second, some men will take any response—even if it’s a clear (but polite) rejection—as interest. These are conversations I’m trying to end kindly, not initiate, so responding wasn’t a good option. Then there’s the third option.
I’d like to think I’m a nice person who usually errs on the side of politeness. But something happens when you’re a divorced mom in your 40s—you stop caring about a lot of things, including offending a perfect stranger. When I kept getting initial messages from online dating app users that were ableist, condescending, misogynistic, or downright insulting, I did the only reasonable thing. I had a few drinks with my best friend and we started replying in kind. Here’s how some of it went.
User: Want to have my baby? Me: Why are you trying to give it away?!?
User: Hello. I have a nice cock (pictures). Me: I’m sorry, I don’t like chickens. They make me nervous.
User: I have to say that you are absolutely gorgeous. I get the sense that you would do well with a strong, dominant man; someone who can unlock and guide your submissive side in a relationship. Me: Christian Grey? OMG, is that you???
User: Are you into very hung, dominant, and kinky men? Me: Unless you’re talking about picture frames, genetic traits, or hair texture, then I have no idea WTF you saw in my profile that would give you the impression those were my male characteristics of choice.
User: Submissive? Me: DON’T EVER MESSAGE ME AGAIN UNLESS I GIVE YOU PERMISSION!!!
User: Hey there :). Happy Friday!!! Xbxbxvbbzbzzbzzbzbzbzbzbbbbzz Me: Soooo, either you couldn’t think of anything else to say to meet the minimum character requirement…or you swallowed a bee.
User: You seem to be open to new ideas like myself. I do have some special kinks. Me: Special kinks? They make flat irons for that.
User: If a fat guy grabs you and puts you in a bag, don’t freak out. I told Santa I wanted you for Christmas. Me: Then it’s a good thing I don’t believe in Santa Claus.
User: you very pretty Me: You Tarzan, me not Jane.
Then there are the messages I get that leave me completely speechless. If you know me at all, you know this is a difficult thing to accomplish.
I totally want to get a chair now so we can make them hot rods and race. Maybe we’ll start our own gang :).
My only thought about the wheelchair was “I wonder if she would be up for attaching a little trailer to the back so I could ride and be lazy on dates…” Is that bad?
I just felt compelled to say hi to you. I saw your chair and it made me think of my mom. She had MS. She passed away last year after a long struggle with it.
You’re a beautiful woman! I saw that damn chair and it brought tears to my eyes.
Any chance we could get together for a cuppa coffee and I would say a run, but how about a push?
Does a wheel ever go flat? Curious what you do about it. Do you call a taxi?
I was curious if you’d have any interest in having someone cook for you, clean, pamper, amuse you, whatever?
I have to say, you rock that chair, but you’re decades away from needing an actual rocking chair. Ha.
My god! You’re so sexy! I’ve never had sex with a woman that is living her life in a wheelchair.
You sexy wheeled motherfucker.
Let me lick you up, let me lick you down, turn baby and let me lick you all around.
By this point, I thought I had seen and heard and read it all. That is, until I got this gold medal-winning message from a user who disabled his account shortly afterwards.
Hey! This may sound like I’m fucking with you, but I’m not. I was recently diagnosed with a disease called cryoaudiovascularmalexia. It basically means I don’t get enough blood flow to my ears so they are slowly freezing, and they will soon fall off and it will spread to my inner ear and brain. There is no cure but there is one treatment. I need to warm my ears constantly to save them and the only material soft enough is the inner thigh of a pretty girl. So I need you to sit on my face, for medical reasons.
There’s something to be said for meeting people in person. A really annoying saying goes, You always find love when you’re not looking. I understand the spirit of that statement, but it has its limitations. Not looking in that sense means I’m out and going about my daily business and usual life and accidentally meet this amazing guy at a friend’s party, or at the supermarket, or at some charity event. Even if I was actively looking in the traditional sense, that most commonly means I’m at a nightclub, a crowded bar, or pub-hopping with my friends somewhere downtown.
When was the last time you remember seeing a person in a wheelchair at a nightclub, or picking their way through a crowded bar? How many wheelchair users have you met at a Super Bowl party in someone’s house that probably has at least one step to enter? In order for us to meet a member of the opposite sex in person, we actually have to go out, often with friends, and go to these places. Many of them are wheelchair accessible, but entirely inconvenient and impractical. Some of them are impossible to attend or get into. Some of us feel we have no place at any of them, and couldn’t possibly fathom the horror of dealing with the stares—or the pity.
I’m out with my friends at least three or four nights a week. As a chair user, I’ve been to nightclubs in Las Vegas, Dubai, and Orlando. Although I usually avoid the dance floor, I have a ton of fun dancing in my scooter seat. My friends can confirm that I have no trouble striking up a conversation with a man I find attractive or buying him the first drink, but that’s because I’ve always been like that. I’m very fortunate to be a confident person with high self-esteem (now), but I also have the attitude that if my power chair doesn’t bother me, it shouldn’t bother the man I’m interested in. I absolutely acknowledge that there are men who won’t entertain the notion of asking me out because my disability makes them uncomfortable. I also know there are plenty of men who would love to play Barbie and Ken with me, if you catch my drift.
Unfortunately, for all the women in wheelchairs I know who have very active and satisfying dating lives, there are many more who don’t. This isn’t for a lack of desire for love and companionship. It’s partly because there is a long list of physical, medical, psychological, emotional, and logistical reasons why many people with disabilities don’t have it easy when it comes to dating. But it’s also partly because of the larger societal view that people with disabilities would be too challenging to date, or would make poor sex partners, or wouldn’t be able to take part in many social activities. This may come as a shock, but many able-bodied people are too challenging to date because they’re rude or boring, suck in bed, or can’t be taken to group social activities because they act like children in public.
On the surface, it may seem difficult to simply take the disability part out of the dating equation. In my experience, it’s pretty clear that both women and men are dealing with the same bullshit when it comes to online dating, regardless of physical status. It is also my experience that men are capable of being intelligent comedians or ignorant jerks, and women can be classy professionals or batshit crazy; again, regardless of physical status. The only guarantee is that we’re never going to find love—or pick up an online stalker or two—if we never go out and never put ourselves out there for others to find. People with disabilities need and deserve love just like everyone else. Pass one of us up too quickly and you may very well be reminiscing for the rest of your life about the one who rolled away.