I Told My Tinder Matches About My Disability — & Got The Worst Reaction

I decided to join Tinder for the same reason lots of women do: I didn’t want the commitment of a serious relationship, and I was curious about what kind of men were out there. I thought, at the very least, it would be fun. Nothing could have prepared me for the barrage of offensive, ignorant, hurtful men I encountered.

Maybe I went into my Tinder experience a little too optimistic and confident. I have a career, a good education, an outgoing personality, and I love to travel. But I definitely wasn’t the average woman on the swiping app: At the age of five, a car accident injured my spinal cord and paralyzed me from the hips down, and I’ve been in a wheelchair ever since. My Tinder photos generally concealed my chair, since I knew it might leave me vulnerable to ignorant comments. And honestly, I preferred not to mention my disability or make it obvious from the start, because to me and those who know me well, it’s largely inconsequential to who I am. Thanks to my fairly resilient nature, I otherwise live a normal life, and have moved myself across the country twice.

Since my matches didn’t know about my wheelchair, I knew I’d have to explicitly tell them at some point, so I tried a few different tactics. Sometimes, I would tell them after a few minutes of messaging; other times, I would wait a week or so, until I was sure the guy was someone I would go out with. I eventually tried making it obvious in my profile picture. But none of these strategies made a difference: The end result, more often than not, was terrible.

Even if I had great messaging chemistry with a guy, I would instantly go from being the “sexy redhead” he’s planning to go out with to the “girl in a wheelchair" — and that chair would define me.

During the small amount of time that my photos included my wheelchair, I got some pretty typical dumb reactions: “Will you give me a ride…in your vag?” “So I assume you’re not looking to fuck.” After about 10 more comments like that, I took down the photos of me in my chair.

I would go from being the "sexy redhead" he's planning to go out with to the "girl in a wheelchair."

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This opened me up to normal Tinder messaging banter again, but I always wanted these guys to know as soon as possible so that I wouldn’t feel like I was lying by omission. The responses, however, just became increasingly insulting. One guy I told responded, “So why are you on here? Shouldn’t you be dating someone in a wheelchair?” I was unbelievably offended — until it happened again. And again. The men on Tinder apparently thought this was an okay thing to say to a woman.

And it only got worse. One guy was cool at first, and asked me more about myself and the nature of my injury before quickly changing the conversation to, “So wait, does that mean you can’t feel anal? That would be awesome.” I promptly deleted the man. (While I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have many sexual limitations, it certainly wasn’t the time nor place to ask me about that.)
I know it might seem crazy that I wanted to continue pushing forward with my Tinder dating experiment, but I thought I was just having a bit of bad luck. After all, plenty of women have Tinder horror stories, whether or not they’re in a wheelchair.

Unfortunately, that turned out to be wishful thinking.

I was excited when I matched with a doctor who I thought seemed open-minded in our messages, yet he ended up having the harshest reaction. When I gave him a quick head’s up that I was excited about our date, but I thought he should know I’m a paraplegic, his reaction was simply, “Gross, no,” before he deleted me.

It bugged the hell out of me and made me so angry that this guy, who had just been telling me I was cool and gorgeous, was now telling me I was “gross.” How someone gets around shouldn’t impact how attractive they seem. My disability isn’t who I am, nor does it impact who I hang out with or the majority of my activities.

Still, his rejection was a major blow to my self-esteem. I started to look at myself differently: Should I just give up on trying to find someone? Should I not even be in the dating world if I’m not the perfect female specimen? I quickly answered those doubts: No.

I started to look at myself differently: Should I not even be in the dating world if I’m not the perfect female specimen?

There was nothing wrong with me. There was something wrong with the ignorant asses who didn’t know that a woman in a wheelchair is no better or worse than any other woman. I finally realised that dwelling on these awful Tinder encounters would be an utter waste of time.

I decided to stay on Tinder a bit longer to see where it went. After a year on the app, I was about to pull the plug once and for all before I matched with a cute engineer, who had a great beard and a love of beer. It took a month of messaging for me to even agree to a date, and when I told him about the wheelchair and asked if it would be a problem, he said the most romantic thing I could have hoped to hear on Tinder at that point: “Why would it? It shouldn’t influence my decision on whether or not I want to be with you.”

After a few dates, we were exclusive. I ultimately ended the relationship since we weren’t a great fit for each other — I like to travel, and he likes to stay close to his small-town home. But he was a breath of fresh air that made me see how wonderful some people can be.

I have no desire to go back to swipe dating — I get enough weird comments from strangers on the streets of New York City. But I’m glad I did it. I walked away from the experience with a stronger sense of myself and an unwillingness to apologise for who I am. A few months into it, I was embarrassed by the chair and thought I’d be lucky if someone would deal with my disability. But by the end, I was reminded that a real man would be lucky — and proud —to be with me, chair or no chair.
PHOTO: KRISTEN PARISI
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This month, we're sharing steamy personal stories, exploring ways to have even better sex, and wading through the complicated dynamics that follow us into the bedroom. Here's to a very happy February. Check out more right here.
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