Can one find love, true love, after a spinal cord injury? Who will love me just as I am? I asked myself these questions for years. I was confident in many areas of my life. I conquered snow skiing, competed in “beauty” pageants (I was really after the scholarship money), and attended college. But love? Somehow that seemed unattainable.
I was in my early twenties and was satisfied with my life. I had a great career. I had a chic one-bedroom apartment in the suburb of Atlanta. I traveled. I had a core group of supporting friends. I was comfortable with who I had become and the direction my life was headed.
But in all honesty, there was a secret I kept hidden. I wanted a relationship. I wanted to find true love and marry. Possibly have children. I knew many kind-hearted men. I had close friends that were male. But it was a stretch to believe that there was a man that would love me (and my wheelchair). I think I’m not alone. All anyone wants, whether they are injured or not, is to be accepted and loved for the person they are.
I dated. Actually, I dated a lot!
Dating was fun. I felt comfortable with having “dating” relationships. But there was always a point in each relationship where I stalled. I pushed pause. And bailed. It was always at that moment when things turned serious.
You see, when I was dating, I could choose which areas of my injury I wanted to expose. I could easily hide uncomfortable areas like incontinence, loss of sensation, and the enormous time it took me to get dressed. But when I sensed the relationship moving toward intimacy, I always ended it.
The thought of being so vulnerable and transparent with my injury was fearful. What if the guy I was dating laughed? What if he said nothing and never called again? It seemed less painful for me to break off the relationship than to endure such rejection.
Until one day, when I was in a relationship and I was faced with that dreaded crossroad. He told me he was “falling in love with me”. How could this be? He didn’t know the complete story. My insecurities began to surface and I was convinced he would run if I shared EVERYTHING!
Early in the relationship he had demonstrated a sincere gesture. I was having dinner at his parent’s house. It was the first time I had met them. At some point in my visit, I asked where the bathroom was located (they had a two level house; oh how I hoped there was a bathroom on the main level). When my date showed me to the first-floor bathroom, I noticed what looked like “unfinished construction”. But after a second look, I realized what I was observing was a reconstructed bathroom door. Yes, that’s right; he cut into the sheetrock, took down the original door frame, and installed a wider door to accommodate my wheelchair.
I did not admit to him at the time how smitten I was. I couldn’t be that open. And looking back, I think this was the moment I fell in love. This gesture was considerably the best compliment anyone had ever given me. The wider door spoke volumes. He wanted me there--wheelchair and all. He desired me to return. It was a permanent “upgrade” to his parent’s house. He was thinking long-term. His “act of service” showed his compassion and sensitivity to my needs. Could he actually grasp and completely understand my injury? I discovered he did.
I took the risk and openly shared every detail of my injury with this unique man. He didn’t run. He didn’t frown. He embraced my disability, and all that came with it, and continued loving me.
After 16 years of marriage, I now find it confusing when people are surprised by husband's loyalty. Sure, I need a wheelchair, but my husband fell for the quirky girl sitting in the chair. Yes, he has to deal with things other men do not, but he loves me. And I love him. Every woman deserves to have love without condition.
He deserves no medals for loving me. It wasn’t out of pity that he was drawn to me. It was simply love. True love, loyalty, and marriage can rise above any physical limitations. I am grateful I never let my doubts get in the way of finding true love.
The best advice I can give anyone looking for love is to first love yourself. Don’t be shameful of any area in your life regarding your disability. It does not define you nor does it prevent you from finding love. Allow yourself to take the risk and be vulnerable. Yes, there will be heartbreak. That’s a natural part of the process in the search for a soul mate. Treat yourself like a prize. This is not an act, arrogance or entitlement, but that if you recognize you have value, others are more likely to treat you that way. Happily ever after can happen to you, even after spinal cord injury.