Dear Sara: I’m in Seattle and dating here is brutal. I’m 41, educated, funny, fairly attractive, and kind/courteous. I’m looking for the real thing. Here’s the problem: I was almost killed in a car wreck two years ago and my ankles and feet were crushed, every single bone, as well as others in my legs and arm. I will always walk with at least one forearm cane, and probably will have two. In a culture where texts aren’t returned because of a wrong shade of lipstick, what can I do? I have to wear flats that are fairly clunky and can’t go on long walks on the beach. I should be happy to be alive and healing slowly. That should be enough, but it isn’t. Should I just give up that part of my life altogether and focus on healing and working until I die? That seems pretty bleak and lonely to me and I have quite a bit to offer: I’m loving, empathetic, a good listener, enjoy trying new things, affectionate, honest, generous with my time without being needy, and more. I worry that no man will want an almost 42-year-old woman who is just getting back into the job market and, baring scientific miracles, will be hobbled on at least one leg. Question 2: Is it foolish to be realistic, look at the odds, try and make a happy life for myself, but assume that romance is out for me? — K
Dear K: It’s true. The dating market can be brutal and people can have crazy demands. But the good news is, those people probably won’t be contacting you.
Most of us get to hide the ways in which we’re damaged, at least for a time. You don’t have that luxury. It will be very clear to all who meet you that you have experienced great difficulty and your life will continue to be challenged in certain respects.
So you might take inspiration from this Elle magazine piece about a 43-year-old single mother who is partly paralyzed on the right side of her body and posts dating profile pictures that show her with either her walker or her cane: “I make those pictures front and center. I’ve even named what kind of disability I have in some ads. Has it stopped me from getting responses? Hell no.”
If you put those arm canes right in your profile picture, you will no doubt reduce the number of people who respond. But the good news is, those who do respond will be the ones who can see past your condition. So instead of seeing it as a disadvantage in terms of sheer numbers, think of it as an advantage in terms of identifying the enlightened souls who know that there is more to a person than the way she walks, and that there are more important things than the ability to wear cute shoes or hike down a beach.
Since you won’t be wasting time on the people who can’t see past the arm canes, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on your healing and rebuilding your post-accident life.
I understand the temptation to give up—I felt it many times during my dating years. But the thing is, I doubt that you could ever really give up. That’s what I discovered, anyway. For me, it felt the way comedian Margaret Cho once described trying to stay skinny—“like holding a basketball underwater.” I could tell myself I was giving up on my search for love. I could try and push those feelings of longing down, but they’d invariably pop back up again.
So I learned to live with the longing. I accepted that it was there, allowed myself to feel it, and tried not to worry about it too much. That turned out to be easier than trying to push the feelings away.
I also learned that you can do both—you can be open to love without pinning all your happiness on finding a partner. It’s not a matter of trying versus giving up. It’s not “I must work, work, work to find a partner and keep myself in emotional limbo until I get there,” nor is it “I must forget the whole thing and satisfy myself with my dogs and my book club.” It’s possible to enjoy your solo life and keep your eyes open for someone nice. It’s possible to look for that special person without letting that search define you.
As you well understand, life is unpredictable and full of surprises. We can’t control everything that happens to us. But we can commit every day to building lives that are as rich and meaningful as possible, with or without a partner. We can remain open to exciting possibilities for the future while also appreciating all that we have in the present.