Love My Disability Tinder

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Three weeks ago, I was in a deep depression. I had transitioned from an independent life as a practicing attorney living all over the world to becoming chronically ill and forced to return to North Carolina in a suburb, where I quickly became isolated. Between being sick too frequently to litigate to changing my profession to one, in which I work from home, I never got the opportunity to meet people and make friends. I was not only incapable of socializing, which for an extrovert is torture. But, worse, as an intellectual, it was devastating and mind-numbing to have no one, with whom you can have an intelligent conversation or debate.

My friend in Florida called me one day during one of these dark days to see how I was doing. I told her that health-wise I was feeling just fine. It was the depression from continual isolation that was getting to me. She suggested that I go onto Tinder to try to meet new people. I, summarily, dismissed her.




“Oh no.  I am NOT looking to date. I’ve given up entirely on that idea, even more so on a dating website or application.”

The lifetime of absolute dating disasters was enough to last me five lifetimes, and I had given up on dating.

She corrected me. “No, no. Make a profile on Tinder and be clear that you aren’t looking for hook-ups or relationships, just in meeting new people and friends.”  She insisted that Tinder was no longer a hook-up site and was a means in which people can simply meet new people.

I was so desperate to meet someone with half a brain and did things like, oh I don’t know…read…that I relented with trepidation.

But as began creating my profile, I reflected on the few disastrous times I tried online dating, and all the anxiety flooded back. I immediately recalled the first time I attempted on-line dating in 2006 when I was 26 and yearned to meet that persistent goal of finding love, have a relationship and maybe one day get married and have children. My first conundrum was: how do I address my disability? Do I put it definitively in a picture or do I discuss it in my profile? The anxiety of this alone was enough to make me crazy.

I concluded that, likely, men don’t even read profiles and just look at pictures. So, I submitted three pictures of me where my chair wasn’t entirely visible, as no one took pictures of me and my entire chair, but rather a close up of my face and upper body. The back of my chair and joystick were certainly visible. But I knew men. They would look at two things: my face and my chest and never notice what, upon which I was sitting. So the last picture I added was the only picture I had of myself in the entire chair. It was taken when I modeled for a wheelchair manufacturer, which depicted me performing the lotus pose on the cliffs of San Diego.

I had to wait for the website administrators to approve my pictures, but my profile was instantly approved. Within a few minutes, someone started chatting with me. He was an investment banker on Wall Street, and I was working as a lawyer in the financial district. He was smart, cute enough and seemed funny. We chatted for a bit before I had to head to bed before a long day in court the following day. When I returned home the following day, less than 24 hours after signing up to the site, I opened my email and was overwhelmed by the 500 messages I received from 500 different men.

There had to be something wrong. I scrolled and scrolled until I saw an email from the site congratulating me on my pictures being approved. The mystery deepened. I opened the email, and they approved every picture but the one and only shot entirely depicting me in the chair. The mystery was solved, but panic quickly ensued.

Do I respond to all 500 men explaining what happened and my situation? Or do I just avoid all this drama and just run away from this site as fast as possible? I fled. Right before doing so, I informed the guy I was chatting with that the site wasn’t for me and I was signing off. He asked if he could at least keep in touch through email and maybe we could meet up for drinks after work one day. I gave him my email but with great anxiety.

He and I exchanged emails and chats back and forth for a few days, and he kept telling me how perfect he thought I was and how desperate he was to meet me and firmed up a meeting. I felt very uneasy about this knowing he likely never noticed the type of chair surrounding my upper body. So I emailed him a couple days before the scheduled date explaining what happened with the site not authorizing the photo and that I was disabled. I told him I understood if he wanted to cancel, but if he didn’t, I would gladly meet him for drinks.

He responded within a few hours that he was no longer interested.

In a matter of hours, I transformed from the perfect girl he was dying to see to someone that he couldn’t even handle having drinks with simply due to something beyond my control. He walked right through me. It made me conclude that my disability made me simply undesirable no matter how perfect I was; no matter how pretty, smart, successful or funny I was. I wrote off dating sites forevermore.

I didn’t date for a couple years, and my best friend nagged me about dating at equivalent rates of my grandmother. He insisted I join this other site. I was firm that I’d rather be water boarded. But again, I relented. The nagging became worse than water boarding. At least in water boarding, one can hold her breath. I’d die of oxygen deprivation if I held my breath throughout the incessant nagging. Apparently, at 28, I was nearly an old maid.

So this time I made a profile where I disclosed my disability in my profile. I also added photos that included as much of my chair as I possessed, but I still had none of me in the entire chair. Once again, I was quickly flooded with messages from every single, and probably some married, Jewish men in the tristate area. The anxiety set in again as the next battle began.

I sifted through the mounds of incompatible men, and the first one I found, who had potential, I responded to. We hit it off straight away and after a few chats and a short call, we set up a time to meet. The day before we were to meet, he texted me that he thought we should go to a comedy club. Ordinarily, this would be a great suggestion, but in NYC, an accessible comedy club is an anomaly.

I said, “sure. Just make sure it’s accessible.” He responded “to what? Your train?”

I KNEW IT! Men don’t read profiles, and he didn’t look that closely to the pictures. I so badly didn’t want to care if he was about to reject me, but every breath became a prayer. “No. Wheelchair accessible. I am in a wheelchair.” I awaited the awkward,

“wow you’re the perfect girl except for that whole chair thing. I’m out.” Instead, he said, “oh okay. Hmm. Well then let’s just get drinks.”

I re-read the message in case all the document review had made me temporarily insane, but I read it correctly.

The next day, an hour before we were meant to meet for drinks, as I was about to leave the office to quickly change out of my suit,

he called and said, “hey. I’m so sorry, but I can’t make it. My mom needs me to go grocery shopping for her.”

I mean, at least, he didn’t need to wash his hair, but the pain still ripped right through me.

That was it! No more online dating ever! And, life had just gotten too much. I had given up on dating altogether. Becoming an old maid was sounding better and better with every moment.

Three weeks ago though, I agreed to just use a dating app to make friends. The pressure was off. I had sworn off dating. I had no invested interest. I had zero expectations, except to maybe make a friend or two. And, by now, I finally had pictures of myself that depicted my entire chair from having professional photographs taken after I won Ms. Wheelchair NC. if someone didn’t want to be my friend because of my disability, I certainly didn’t want to be theirs.

The first great thing Tinder offered the other sites hadn’t was that only those who mutually liked each other could communicate. So, there was no sifting through a flooding of messages. To my surprise, I quickly made several matches. I could see maybe becoming friends with some of the men, but barely any of the men stuck out to me as men I could really mesh with until I viewed one.

He was a computer programmer at a major bank, aka a nerd like me, who liked debating with people (yeah, hi, I’m an attorney. I was paid to do that) and loved to do things like just go in and peruse bookstores. Wait someone else in this area considered bookstores like a second heaven? As an added benefit, he was adorable. I had to remind myself that I was just looking for a friend. And, yet, it was the fastest time I swiped right in my short time on tinder. But would he do the same with me? I didn’t even have to wait to find out. He had already liked me, and it was an immediate match.

Pretty quickly he messaged me at 11:45pm saying he was sure I was probably already asleep, but that he just wanted to say hi. Being the insomniac I am, I immediately responded, “ha! I wish! I’m an insomniac.” He said he wished he, too, was insomniac, as he could be so productive. No doubt he regrets that wish now because we hit it off so quickly that in only a few days, we were texting or speaking on the phone all day and all night. In little time, we were both insomniacs. Who I initially liked on Tinder, with whom to become friends, soon felt like more.

We originally scheduled a meeting a week out to go to a restaurant and to see Wonder Woman, both lovers of superhero movies. By the time we made it to the day of that “meeting,” we had seen each other already three times and decided to not only date but to do so exclusively.

The entire thing hit me out of left field. I had sworn off dating, and now, all I wanted was to spend every waking hour with this person.

As we left the theater that night, the Wonder Woman theme song “Human” played, and the lyrics were eerily relevant to the whirlwind I had just endured in the last three weeks, from giving up, making a friend and ultimately finding more:

“To be human is to love
Even when it gets too much
I’m not ready to give up.”

He doesn’t care about my disability. And I realized that from the beginning with everyone, including him, I didn’t care if they took issue with it either. Before, it would shatter me when a man would lose interest the moment he figured out I had a disability. I’ve since learned that I, too, am not interested in someone who is so willing to throw me to the side for my disability, a friend or a relationship. They don’t deserve me, and I don’t want to associate with such a shallow person. They would be the first type of person to run when things get hard with anyone, disabled or not.

So, if you’re like me, and you have written off dating and certainty online dating due to the anxiety that accompanies the disclosure of your disability, don’t. If a man rejects you for your disability, let that pain make you stronger. It’s not something we can change. So let your disability be your strength. We might be weak physically, but those men are weak in every other way. Move on to the next.

Someone will come along who cares for you as you are, and the rest will just be faded memories. I know it’s hard now. I’ve been there countless times. In time, it all works out. Just don’t give up.

Just follow the lyrics of the rest oAf the song that concluded our last date:

“I felt you walk right through me
You’re the thing that I invoke
My all persistent goal
Sent to make me crazy

And though it’s hard now
With time, it works out

To be human is to love
Even when it gets too much
I’m not ready to give up

All the tigers have been out
I don’t care, I hear them howl
I let them tear right through me
Can you help me not to care?
Every breath becomes a prayer
Take this pain from me

….

To be human is to love
Even when it gets too much
I’m not ready to give up

Doesn’t make it any easier to live with
And what’s the point of knowing it
If you can’t change it?

To be human is to love
Even when it gets too much
I’m not ready to give up
To be human is to love
Even when it gets too much
There’s no reason to give up

Don’t give up
Don’t give up”

Ariella Barker

Ariella Barker, Esq.received her BBA and JD from Emory University. She worked for many years representing the City of NY and Mayor Bloomberg in employment discrimination lawsuits. She was Ms. Wheelchair NC 2014.

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