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I Won’t Lower My Dating Standards Because I Use a Wheelchair

A very good male (and platonic) friend of mine recently tried to describe my taste in men to someone. “She likes ‘em pretty,” he said. I got reflective after he said that; he wasn’t wrong. My whole life I’ve

been attracted to stereotypically handsome Chris Evans / Chris Hemsworth / Ryan Reynolds lookalikes. Luckily, when I was dating (and still walking) prior to getting married in 2004, I generally had no trouble getting them to like me, either.

Fast-forward to late 2017. I’ve had multiple sclerosis for 13 years, and I’ve been using a power wheelchair full-time for almost four years. I got divorced in 2015 and I’ve had two children, so I’m not what I used to be in my younger single days. I’ve obviously aged and acquired a few wrinkles here and there, but I’m consistently told I look much younger than my 43 years. I’m still very thin, can pull off skinny jeans, and can still wear high heels. In other words, compared to some of my female peers, I think I’ve still “got it.”

Now I introduce to you… the 800-pound gorilla room disguised as a mobility device. No matter how sexy I dress, how well I apply my makeup, or how charming or amusing I am, most men (and people in general) will always see my chair first. And when they do, a flurry of thoughts will race through their heads at lightning speed. These will range from Yeah… no, to Can she still have sex?, to This is way too awkward  / difficult / weird.

Not every man is like that, and I have had a few positive experiences with “pretty” men since my divorce. However, dating in 2017 is excruciating as it is, and even more so when you’re a wheelchair user. I use a couple of online dating platforms, and although I usually get at least a dozen messages a day from users, rarely do any of them evolve into a decent conversation. Even when they do, the men disappear when I suggest meeting in person. Most are poorly written from users I don’t find physically attractive, and some are downright misogynistic and incredibly offensive. The worst ones are from the men who think they’re doing me a favor, as if I couldn’t do better because I can’t walk.

It’s been a really long time since I’ve dated anyone in a meaningful way, and I miss it. I’m a very busy person, I travel a ton, and I’m happy living alone. But even I can admit that no matter how happy you are with your life or how OK you are with being single, it can still get lonely. This has often made me question my choices in both online dating and my social life. Should I lower my standards for physical chemistry? Why would they want me when they can have a walking version? Can I still afford to be picky and go for the “pretty” ones?

The truth is, I can’t afford not to. I’ve been on so many dates where I look at the very pleasant man sitting across from me and try to convince myself that I can grow to be physically attracted to him. I tell myself that if I just spent more time with him and got to know him better, the chemistry would emerge. But I know better. I spent two months letting a friend-of-a-friend chase me through texts and phone calls before I finally agreed to meet him in person, and from the first hug during our greeting, the tingle factor was off the charts. Too bad he turned out to be a class-A jerk later on, but at least the experience reminded of what I was looking for. I can’t deny who I am, what I like, or what I want in a romantic partner.

I’m not opposed at all to meeting someone who doesn’t fit my “type,” and this has actually gone swimmingly in the past — usually because we were friends first, they’re incredibly charming, and we just mentally connect in a very special way. However, let’s call dating in 2017 what it is: a game based on physical first impressions, usually in the form of a profile picture you make a swiping decision on in a split-second. Because of this new reality, I know that addition of my power chair to these photos, despite the honesty, will hurt my chances of meeting someone who can probably have his pick of the walking-in-heels litter. I know this sounds hypocritical, but few people swipe right because someone looks like they might have a great personality.

But I refuse to lower my standards for a romantic partner just because I can no longer walk or use a power wheelchair. I refuse to settle for mediocre and thank my lucky stars that any man will still give me the time of day as his charity case. I refuse to think less of myself as a woman or potential girlfriend just because some men might do that when they see my chair. I also refuse to stop believing the right guy for me is out there — “pretty” or not.

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Photo by contributor.