“When we first started talking online, I struggled with telling him about my leg amputation,” writes Carolyn McKinzie in our new feature on amputee relationships, “The Dating Game.” McKinzie is the “she-said” voice in the article—and the “he-said” voice, Paul Bernier, acknowledges in his half of the piece: “She was not what I was looking for. . . . I was looking for someone with two legs.”
You can’t blame her for feeling a bit shy—but can you also understand where he’s coming from? We won’t spoil the article in case you haven’t read it (you’ll find it in the January/February issue of Amplitude), but the takeaway is that limb loss is exactly like a gazillion other factors in a relationship: It can come between two people if you don’t address it with honesty and a spirit of partnership.
That makes finding the right companion especially key for amputees in the dating market. When we went searching for success stories, we didn’t have to look very hard. Three of our favorite amputees on YouTube have recent videos in which they and their able-bodied spouses discuss how limb-loss did not come between them. The partners’ voices are prominent in all three videos, offering some examples of what healthy partnership looks like from both perspectives.
We’ve presented a few “she-said, he-said” excerpt below, but all of these videos are well worth watching in full.
Neo Kirchbaby, “Telling Him I Do Not Have Legs: His Response”
The setup: Neo, a bilateral above-knee amputee, was wearing prosthetics under long pants the first few times she met her future husband, Glenn. She assumed he didn’t know her limb status and agonized over how (or even whether) to make the Big Reveal.
She said: “To be honest, I was really nervous to tell him, because in this society you never know how another person is going to respond. A lot of people will not date someone without legs. . . . . One time on New Year’s Eve, I just put it out there that I lost my legs. I didn’t tell him the extent of it. I just wanted to kind of make an introduction, because I didn’t want to keep it to myself.”
He said: “And I already knew that [she] had lost [her] legs. This was a New Year’s Eve party, and we probably talked for three or four hours, so we got to know each other really well. But the week prior was the first time I met Neo, and a mutual friend of ours kind of turned to me when we were alone and said, ‘Did you know Neo doesn’t have legs?’ And I was like, ‘How can you not have legs and walk around? How do you even do that?’ So I knew right off the bat that she walked on prosthetics, but I didn’t know the extent [of her limb loss].”
She said: “And I didn’t know he knew. He was so good at hiding it! . . . . My nephew asked, ‘Have you told him that you don’t have legs?’ And I said no. And then my nephew said, ‘Are you going to keep it a secret?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I’m not going to tell him, because if I tell him, he may leave.’ . . . You have no idea how nervous I was, thinking how if he finds out, he’s going to leave. But thankfully he did not leave me. Thank you for not leaving me.”
Sian Lord, “Why He Didn’t Leave Me After My Leg Amputation”
The setup: Sian and her then-boyfriend (now husband), William, had been dating for just over a year when she lost her left leg in an accident in Manhattan. He received the news while on vacation in the Mediterranean and immediately raced across the Atlantic to lend moral support.
He said: “Before I met Sian, I was in a horrible relationship. So meeting Sian and being with her for a year was absolutely a breath of fresh air. And I’d been through a lot anyway, through medical things and what not. I went through my things years before I met Sian, and I didn’t have the support behind me to get me through it. So I knew that when she had her accident, I knew she needed somebody. . . . I was in the military for 8 years, and you become accustomed to seeing peers who’ve lost legs and been injured. So to see Sian missing a leg just wasn’t a big deal to me. It didn’t make any difference to me at all.”
She said: “It wasn’t even like we had a conversation about it. We basically —”
He said: “No, we did. [Before I flew over], you said something along the lines of like, ‘You don’t have to come here. I understand if you don’t want to come.’”
She said: “Oh my god, I don’t even remember that. Obviously that period I don’t remember an awful lot. But I remember when you came into the hospital room. You hugged me straightaway, and I was lying down.”
He said: “And then we had a little cry.”
She said: “And that was it, wasn’t it? I don’t think we really sat down and had that heart to heart kind of conversation. It was like we just carried on as normal. What we’ve kept throughout the whole thing is our sense of humor. We don’t take things too seriously.”
Footless Jo: “Married to an Amputee! Husband Tells All”
The setup: Although Jo had both legs when she married Brian, she’d had multiple surgeries on her right leg and more than a decade of chronic pain. Rather than continue to struggle, she chose amputation a few years into their marriage.
She said: “How do you think you would have responded if we met and I was missing a leg—versus, I conned you into marrying me and then chopped it off?”
He said: “I still would have gone out with you. . . . Anyone who’s in a relationship tends to ask themselves these hypothetical questions. Like, ‘If I lost a leg and I had to go through major surgery for years, would they still stick around?’ Well, I’m still here. So I’ve accrued a lot of points for when something happens someday to me.”
She said: “I’ve gotta stick around.”
He said: “I’m gonna cash in.”
She said: “How has [my] disability affected you? How has your life changed since the surgery, good or bad?”
He said: “It hasn’t really affected me too much. Ever since I’ve known Jordan, she’s had a lot of surgeries. We’ve gone through recovering from a lot of surgeries since we’ve been together. . . . I think all of our fights that we’ve had—major fights—have been about housework. I usually work 8 to 10 hour days. I’m always studying for exams—I’m going through the CFA program, and it’s three years of studying. When I was studying, Jordan always kind of took care of housework. When she was recovering [from surgery], that all shifted to me. All the times I nearly broke were times when I was behind on studying, I had a stressful week at work, the house was a disaster, the dog tracked in mud . . . If I had to name one frustrating thing, that would be it. It’s not her fault, it’s just that there are only so many hours in the day.”