When I was strolling along the Art Deco streets of South Beach with my boyfriend this past month while on vacation in Miami I stumbled across one of my old stomping grounds … A beat up Irish pub called the Playwright where I would love to dance and get into trouble. I couldn’t resist popping in for memory sake when a flashback hit me of an experience I had with a gorgeous man in a wheelchair.
I must have been 24 years or so when I was out late one night and I spotted this beautiful man sitting at a table with his friends. I’ve always been the type of person to go up to random people and start talking to them. I walked over to the table, took a seat, and decided to strike up a conversation with the group. They happened to be from Australia and I have always been a sucker for Australian accents.
I was attracted to this one guy in particular and we started flirting. It wasn’t until about 10 minutes into the conversation when I realized he wasn’t sitting in a chair at all, but a wheelchair. I was not very familiar with spinal cord injury at this point in my life, but it looked like he was paralyzed from the waist down as his upper extremities worked perfectly. At first I was hesitant because, being at a bar late night after all, the intention when meeting folks at that time of the evening is generally sexual in nature.
He was funny, smart, charming, handsome, and really charismatic. As the night rolled on we started to get closer and before I knew it I asked if I could sit on his lap and we were making out like high school teenagers. I took a break to run to the restroom where my girlfriends followed me. Some of my girlfriends asked me what I was doing. I responded I was making out with a cute guy. They proceeded to point out that he was in a wheelchair and to make sure that I wasn’t taking advantage of the guy. I admit I had to stop and think if I was, but in my mind I was just making out with a guy who happened to be in a wheelchair.
Of course the wheels in my head started turning and I thought what if I bring this guy home? Can he even have sex? How would that work? What was I thinking? Should I go through this? The list of questions running through my mind was endless. I headed back out to the table and proceeded to sit on his lap to continue our make out session. All I could think was that he was a great kisser and I was having a fabulous time. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I probably should not have sat on his lap because when I think of people sitting on my lap, and the pain it can cause me my head spins.
As the night started wind down we all left the bar and he asked me if I wanted to come back to his hotel room. Honestly, I wasn’t quite done with my night, so I declined, but in the back of my head I was simply too nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and I was embarrassed to ask for fear of offending him.
Thinking back to this experience I find it very unique with respect to the fact that I was able to have an intimate experience, while not sex, with a guy in a wheelchair before I became wheelchair-bound. I don’t think most people in a wheelchair can say that.
Over the next week I started chatting with my boyfriend about my experience as he is presently writing an article of what it was like to start dating a girl in a wheelchair. While I cannot relate to being in a relationship with someone in a wheelchair I can tell you what it was like, from my experience, and try to convey what I was thinking, and feeling at the time.
When I first started online dating in a wheelchair I could only imagine the questions running through many of my gentlemen callers’ minds with respect to what it would be like to be with me. I figured all the standard questions would apply such as how do we have sex, how do I get out of my wheelchair, undress, move my paralyzed body, etc. I completely forgot about my experience with a guy in a wheelchair when I was 24.
Please keep in mind I am generalizing at the moment, but when you are in a bar late night and looking to hook up with a person, are online dating looking for love, a fun time, etc. the defining line between any kind of relationship and friendship is sex. If you don’t add sex into the mix, for the most part, then you are friends. A sexual experience, whether that be intercourse, kissing, oral sex or anything in between is physical intimate contact. While there are a rare few relationships that share mental intimacy and not physical intimacy, I am speaking specifically to physical intimacy. With that said, there has to be that initial spark or attraction that makes you want to get naked with somebody, kiss them, stroke the hair, or perhaps something more kinky 😉
When you meet someone who is different due to a physical disability or mental disability I think it is only natural to be nervous or question how your experience with this person will be different. I was personally pretty nervous with thinking about if I took this experience beyond kissing this guy how on earth would that work in the bedroom? I also had a slight feeling of embarrassment, not being embarrassed with him, but embarrassed by myself for even thinking that I might be taking advantage of him. For God sake he was just in a wheelchair, that’s all! I’m sure if I was online dating and getting to know someone for a longer period of time many questions would’ve been answered, but this was a random guy in a bar. I’m quite certain he was not very keen to divulge his bowel and bladder habits, sex positions, and logistics of how to get naked with me after meeting me for just a few hours.
However, this may not be politically correct, but I do understand the hesitation a majority of able-bodied people have when thinking about diving into any kind of relationship with someone in a wheelchair. It is new, different, maybe scary for them, and that is okay. New and different can be overwhelming whether that’s dating someone in a wheelchair, starting a new career, starting a family, moving to a different country, etc.
I often chat with many of my fellow quadriplegics about the immense challenges of dating and the many doubts they feel with respect to if an able-bodied person will be able to see past the wheelchair. Oftentimes I think we divulge too much information about our spinal cord injury care before getting to even know the person. It is a delicate balance. Think about it this way… Regardless if you are in a wheelchair you’re not going to tell a guy or girl you just met how often you shave your legs, how often you poop, if you snore, that you get dandruff occasionally, etc. 🙂 I think the same applies to spinal cord injury. While it is definitely more involved to date someone in a wheelchair I think it needs to be a slow process to introduce someone to the in’s and out’s of life with spinal cord injury.
In my particular case, I was always acutely upfront about being open to any questions guys may have about my injury and I would do my best to answer them. I found I had to make people feel more comfortable with my injury the first few dates. Some folks strongly argue against this point because they do not feel they should have to make someone else feel comfortable with their injury. To this I would respond, well, yes, I understand where you’re coming from, but it seems to be the way of the world. I can’t recall a time in human history when acceptance of anything different happened quickly. When you are different it can take someone a while to understand that. I think so many people, wheelchair-bound or not, push people away before they give them a chance to understand their eccentricities.
The only spinal cord aspect I would alert them to would be my catheter leg bag because I would need them to eventually empty it for me if we went out all day. This was slightly nerve-racking, but for the most part it worked out because I approached it with a sense of humor and sassiness. Actually, I would tell them I pee easier than a guy… All they needed to do was open little clip, empty the pee into a cup, and dump it in a bush. They didn’t even have to pull my pants down 🙂
I truly believe you attract the type of person in your life for where you are in your life.
Let me explain …
If you are hurting, in pain, depressed or desperate to find someone to help take care of you then you are going to attract that type of person in your life. It’s all about energy in my opinion. Look at me, I did not date for five years because for many years I was unhappy with myself and I barely wanted to hang out with myself let alone my friends, and certainly not a potential romantic partner. I think I became a hermit and I just forgot about sex, and relationships altogether. It took me a very long time and there is no right amount of years to jump back into the game after such a traumatic event as breaking your neck.
When I broke my neck I looked at it as a piece of me died that day. It took me a very long time to learn that it was okay to mourn that part of me that would no longer be. I had to go through all the stages of grief, which I didn’t even know I was going through at the time. The corny cliché “time heals all,” still holds true for me anyway.
I would be remiss to say that this process can be messy, miserable, and quite painful. However, one of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes “When you are in hell, just keep going,” still rings true for me today.
My experience with this wonderful guy who happened to be in a wheelchair further taught to have more patience with those who are unfamiliar & uncomfortable with the world of spinal cord injury. Education, kindness, and communication are key to me to helping folks understand the world that I live in.