By Carolyn McKinzie and Paul Bernier
She’s a blue-eyed amputee who plays the guitar, likes to write, and works with other amputees as a nurse consultant. He’s a guitar player too, with an appetite for hiking and a thriving carpentry and construction business. He’s never dated anyone with limb loss before. Can they make it work?
by Carolyn McKinzie
Paul and I had our first date in August 2018. Right away it seemed that we had a lot in common. We both played guitar, liked to write, and had a similar sense of humor. He was smart, witty, intelligent, and a great conversationalist.
When we first started talking online, I struggled with telling him about my leg amputation. How and where do I slip that into a conversation? Although I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, I did want him to know up front in case he had a problem with it. For me, it’s easier to tell someone online so they have the opportunity to duck out without having to speak the words I feared the most: “I don’t want to be with someone who is disabled.”
I had been an amputee for 17 years, so it wasn’t new for me. I wanted to assure him that I wasn’t some frail thing that couldn’t do anything for myself or make him think I was looking for someone to take care of me. I’m proud that I have been on my own for many years and don’t need someone to support me financially, physically, or emotionally. I just wanted someone to love. But at the same time, I wanted him to know what I had been through and how emotionally damaging it had been. My worst scars were in my heart and mind, not so much my leg.
When he picked me up, we went to a lounge for a beer. It wasn’t awkward or strange or difficult. There was no silence and no struggling to find something to discuss. The conversation flowed easily. We later decided to just drive around to talk and share. I then asked him to take me to his house so he could play guitar for me, and he agreed. I felt completely safe with him. He was respectful, and, like a true gentleman, he opened the car door for me each time we got in the car.
Our emotional connection eventually became physical, and it was intense in every aspect. But with intimacy comes the visual of my missing leg. Fortunately, he didn’t seem bothered by it. Maybe this could be the real thing.
I then lost 45 pounds from December through February, and my prosthesis no longer fit correctly. As a result, I needed a new prosthetic socket to adjust for the weight loss. During that time, walking and doing the basics was difficult and painful. Throughout the process of getting the new socket, I was often unable to do the things Paul and I both like doing, such as hiking, dancing, and sightseeing. This is the part of my disability I can’t prepare people for. It’s not a one-and- done thing; it’s ongoing and will be for the rest of my life.
Early in the summer, Paul started to seem distant, so I asked him one night what the problem was. I was unprepared for the answer.
“I feel like you lied to me the first time we talked on the phone,” he said. “You told me you don’t let your leg slow you down, but we can’t do anything because of that!”
My stomach was in my throat. I thought I might throw up. I said that I hadn’t planned on losing 45 pounds and screwing up my leg. I told him I couldn’t believe how shallow he was being and that I was shocked and disappointed by that. I wanted to tell him that those were the words that set disabled people back, that hurt the most. But I didn’t say it. I felt that I had grossly misjudged his character, and this was the first time I was seeing it. He had had a few beers that evening, so I tried to convince myself it was the beer talking. But the painful reality was that he was already thinking and feeling those words long before he said them.
We quietly went to bed, but I didn’t sleep much. At 5 a.m., I got up and drove home.
He called at 9 a.m. I didn’t know if I should answer, but I did. He asked me what time I left and why. I confessed that I felt it was best if I wasn’t there when he woke up for fear of what I might say. He had to work that morning, so I told him to call me later if he wanted to. It was a long, horrible day. I threw up several times. I was devastated at what he had said. But he did call later and asked if he could come over. Figuring he was coming to break up with me, I said sure.
When he came through the door that evening, he had a bouquet of flowers. He hugged me and asked if I could forgive him. I didn’t tell him what kind of day I had because of the power of his words. I told him he was forgiven, and things continued on. I really feel like he understood at that point. He told me that he was sorry and that he wasn’t going to let my amputation stop him from being with me because he loves me. I know that he now has a better understanding of what life is like for me physically and that he accepts me as I am.
by Paul Bernier
I met Carrie through a dating website. She was not what I was looking for. I was looking for someone younger than me. She’s two years older. I was looking for someone “slender” or “athletic and toned.” She had a few extra pounds. I was looking for someone with two legs.
One night, I checked the site to see my matches for the day, and there she was. “Pretty lady,” I thought. Beautiful blue eyes. I read everything she had to say about herself—and honestly, I can’t remember a word of it.
What struck me about Carrie was that she was definitely interested. Under “who’s viewed you,” she seemed to pop up every few days. I went through her pictures again, and one in particular caught my eye. It was her holding a guitar. Being a guitar player myself, I decided to start a conversation.
“I like this picture of you,” I wrote. “Do you play often?”
We messaged back and forth for a few days, mostly chatting about music and our experiences with the mate-seeking process. She gave me her number so that we could text each other, and after about a week, it was time for a phone conversation.
I had consumed what I considered the perfect amount of liquid courage when I dialed her number. I was nervous, but her voice put me at ease. It seems like I dominated the conversation for a long time. Maybe it was the nerves. Maybe it was the beer. Maybe I was just trying to sell myself. At some point, Carrie started to tell me more about herself, her accident, and losing her leg.
When she finished her story, there was an awkward silence on my end of the phone. In the seconds before I could utter some words (which felt like an eternity), my brain ran the gamut from “That wasn’t in her profile!” to “What am I getting myself into?” to “Say something, Stupid, without saying something stupid!”
We agreed to go out the following weekend for a few drinks and then take a long walk. She told me her prosthesis didn’t slow her down, but when I picked her up, after two steps down the left side of the porch stairs, I noticed she was struggling. “I’m more comfortable on the right side,” she said. “Okay,” I thought. “No harm in having a few beers and a little conversation, but this is probably going nowhere.”
Once we were in the car, everything felt right, and by the time we arrived at a local pub, I knew to offer her my left hand as we walked to the door. We had a great conversation, and the more she talked the more I found her interesting and likable. From there, we agreed to roam the back roads and talk some more. Before long, it began to seem like we were two old friends getting reacquainted.
We continued to see each other a couple of times a week. I enjoyed her company, but I was constantly struggling with the idea of dating someone with a disability. I was afraid she would hold me back from doing the things I enjoy doing, like going out dancing or taking long walks. I would often think about ending the relationship, but when we were together, I found that I was perfectly content in sitting down with her with the guitars or a deck of cards. Long drives became a favorite pastime, and talking for hours about everything or nothing came easy. Some of our best times together have been Sunday mornings sipping coffee and doing crossword puzzles. I find her intellect very attractive.
We’ve been together over two years now, and the fears and doubts I once had have faded away. It’s been a growing experience for me. It’s been an adjustment, a compromise, and a lesson in patience. Honestly, at times it’s been a pain—just like any other relationship.
Carrie’s leg will always be an issue to some extent, and that’s okay. She loves me in spite of my imperfections, and I love her. Some of the problems she had with her prosthesis when we first met have been resolved. And yes, we have gone out dancing and have taken long walks—with frequent breaks.
I was looking for someone loving, caring, giving, supportive, honest, intelligent, funny, independent, respectful, willing to accept me as I am, and who would make me want to be a better person. She’s everything I was looking for.
The Dating Game—or The Dating Nightmare, as some might call it—can definitely be tough.
Does this outfit look good? Is my skin clear tonight? Will we click? And as an amputee, you will likely have many other questions, including “When should I mention my amputation?” and “How will my date react to seeing my residual limb?”
Born missing part of her right arm, Kelsey Hartman, 23, is all too familiar with the dating nightmare.
“I would date you if you had two hands,” boys would sometimes tell her in middle school. And, even worse, she found out that one boy was calling her “Nubs” behind her back.
“After that, I started to get really insecure,” she says.
Even though she was a member of the popular cheer team, she began thinking, “All the boys are seeing my hand, and they’re thinking, ‘Ew!’”
While other people’s opinions and behaviors are largely out of our control, amputees can focus on the following tips to gain a few advantages in the dating game.
1. Know amputee dating history. The vast majority of amputees who want a romantic relationship after their amputation find one, according to my experience with thousands of amputees. That means the odds are heavily on your side. Hartman, for example, finally started dating a boy in high school who—she was shocked to learn—was fine with her missing arm. Then, in 2018, while in college, she started dating a nonamputee she met at a barbecue nearly a year before, and they’ve been together for more than two years now. She attributes much of the difference between her middle school, high school, and college experiences to maturity that comes with age.
2. Get out and meet people—or be willing to try online dating sites. Amputees have found partners both ways. It’s highly unlikely, however, that you will find someone without making any effort to meet others.
3. Let prospective dates know from the beginning that you are an amputee. Finding out early if your limb difference is a deal-breaker could save you and your prospective partner a lot of wasted time and heartache.
4. Practice good communication. Being honest about how amputation affects your life will help ensure that your prospective partner is ready for whatever comes up and doesn’t later feel misled. Many people will be more upset that you misled them than by what you misled them about.
5. Project confidence. Easier said than done, right? Still, confidence is attractive. So even if you need to get help through counseling or a support group to overcome low self-esteem or body-image issues, do whatever it takes.
6. Know that your amputation is just one aspect of who you are. Make sure that the other parts of your life (your attitude, hygiene, manners, clinginess, jealousy, etc.) won’t turn off a potential partner.
7. Realize that your prospective partner may not be interested in you—and vice versa—for reasons unrelated to your amputation. Maybe you have different relationship goals or different religious or political views. Sometimes people just don’t fit each other.
8. Lighten up a bit. Humor, like confidence, is attractive to many people. After being run over by a train and losing both her legs, Mandy Horvath famously received widespread media attention when her Tinder profile, which used humor to introduce her limb loss, attracted lots of positive responses.
9. Don’t let other people’s negative reactions to your amputation affect your body image, self-esteem, or confidence. Just because some people are not interested in you, it doesn’t mean that no one will be.
“There are great people out there,” Hartman says, “and if someone doesn’t accept you because of a disability, then they’re not the right person. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s them.”