I was 8 years old when a tear in my brainstem left me in a wheelchair, unable to speak, partially paralyzed.
It took me emergency brain surgery and then years of therapy to learn to talk and walk again.
Today I am very lucky. I have my own consulting company, but I walk with a limp and have no mobility in my left hand. I never found love either. I’m in my 30s and have never had a boyfriend.
I didn’t have my first kiss as a teenager. I had my first kiss in my late 20s with a guy I met after a college basketball game. He never asked me out on a dinner date, but he did invite me over to his house for a few make-out sessions before it fizzled out and I never heard from him again. I’ve been on every dating app possible. I have a crush on the office. I once went for happy hour drinks with a guy I worked with and liked. And he told me all about the woman he started dating.
Guys always seem to want to hang out with me and talk to me. But none of these men ever try to get me out of the friend zone.
It’s hard not to take it personally. How often do we see people without disabilities dating people with disabilities on TV or in movies? In the media? Or in real life? Does a limp really make that much of a difference when it comes to finding someone attractive?
It wasn’t until I moved from Washington, DC to Los Angeles – from a place where politics dominates to a place where creative people write to get to know themselves better – that I found an answer.
It all started when I hired an intimacy coach, because apparently that’s what they do in LA
I met her through a yoga studio in Santa Monica. My first email to her was, “I’ve never dated anyone; can you help? I think it must be because of my physical handicap.”
I shared my result with her.
I wanted to be someone’s girlfriend.
And while that still hasn’t happened, in a way, I’ve achieved a much more important outcome — realizing that my disability didn’t even hinder my intimacy with men.
It was like I responding emotionally to having a disability that got in the way.
Throughout my life I have told hundreds of people about my brain injury. Usually people respond to me with the usual sympathy – “Oh, I’m so sorry” – or embarrassed silence.
Recently, however, something has changed. Something in me has changed.
A friend and I were finishing dinner at Cecconi’s on Melrose when my friend struck up a conversation with a cute guy as they were standing near the valet. One thing led to another, and soon we were escorting the cutie – and his cutie friend – up the street to a drink at Catch LA. Eventually the issue of my disability came up (I don’t mind sharing) and all the work it took to overcome it. When I was done, I expected the usual reactions.
However, to my surprise, the man next to me exclaimed loudly, “Wow!” and asked, with sincere admiration in his voice, “How did you do that!?”
After digesting my shock at his question, I had to come up with an answer quickly. Nobody had ever asked me that before. I took a breath and replied, “Well, I just made myself ‘alpha’ and relearned myself to live.”
The words were barely out of my mouth when I realized what I had said. Those words held so much more power for me than for him. (In fact, the conversation had continued.)
But it was the first time I verbalized the core of why I struggled with intimate relationships — I was stuck in an energy pattern in my body.
Through my work with the intimacy coach, I had studied my ability to navigate between the stereotypical masculine and feminine energies (and I would argue that we need to transcend the calling). Some call it our Alpha and Omega energies.
From this vantage point, I could see that my childhood was a lesson in how to “alpha up” to protect yourself from the hurts of the world. From the taunt of a high school friend who predicted I’d never get married because “nobody marries anyone with a disability,” to the heartbreak of watching all my friends get married when I just craved kisses I hardened, I ‘d alpha’d up, because otherwise the pain of being constantly single and having a physical disability would have overwhelmed me.
But Los Angeles has become a place where I’ve learned to stop this pain from overwhelming me.
Through my inner healing, I find ways to soften, to open up, to make room for the possibility of letting someone in. The opposite of “alpha-ing”.
This process was not pretty or easy. I cried so many tears over a guy from San Diego. I had met him a few years ago when he was in DC when I was still living there. When I finally worked up the courage to tell him I liked him, I got the “I think you’re great, but I just want to be a friend” line. So we stayed friends, and when I moved to the West Coast we started eating out. Every week. This is it, I said to myself. It’s finally happening. So I prepared to tell him: I wanted more. I wanted an intimate relationship with him. And then he told me that he had started dating someone else.
As terrifying as this experience was, I took it as a positive sign. It showed my growth. I had been vulnerable enough to express a desire I had never expressed before—that I wanted someone else to have access to my body.
Will there be times in the future where I need to do Alpha-Up to complete a challenge? Absolutely. But I believe all this “preparing for the worst” has had a historic price. It prevented me from allowing anyone to influence me to the core.
And I’m not going back to that.
Examples of non-disabled people dating disabled people like me are generally few and far between in our culture. (When was the last time you saw a TV show or movie about a disabled woman who had a real sex life?) But now that I’ve found the voice I’ve hidden for so many decades, I’m going to use this narrative to change.
The author is the LA-based founder of CultureSmart, a consulting firm that helps startups create a workplace culture that embraces inclusion. You can find her on Instagram at @ecgoodson and on Medium.com.
LA Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the LA area, and we want to hear your real story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. The submission guidelines can be found here. Past columns can be found here.
https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2022-02-27/la-affairs-dating-in-los-angles-when-you-are-disabled I am a disabled woman. And I’ve never had a real date.