Since we began the support group WAGS of SCI, we have gotten hundreds of emails from men around the world living with paralysis who are also single – and don’t believe they can find love again post spinal cord injury.
These men are scared to get out there – intimidated by the thought of a woman who may not be able to see past the chair. They’re worried that they may be a burden, or that a woman they are interested in pursuing won’t reciprocate their feelings because of their disability. They’re weary; their self-esteem isn’t what it used to be. The list goes on and on as to what we have heard when these beautiful souls confide in us. “Will I ever meet someone who loves me for me?” “What will she say when she finds out I’m paralyzed?”
We also get emails of hope – from men who say our group’s social media pages allow them to dream about when they too will meet the love of their lives. We always reply back with similar messages each time – ones of high expectations for them and anticipation that they too will one day (when the timing is right) meet their very own Mrs. Right.
Their response is always the same after they read our messages back to them: “How do you know this? Most of your WAGS of SCI couples met pre- injury.” They go on to assume that because there are couples featured on our pages that did in fact meet before their partners spinal cord injury, that they were forced or obligated to stay with their partners after their injury. Not only that, they believe this is the norm.
They’re always surprised when we enlighten them on the facts that only we have learned by running this group: that 70%+ of the WAGS of SCI met their partners POST injury. We inform them that the majority of the emails we receive from women who are new to this lifestyle, are dating their partners who have already sustained a spinal cord injury, and want tools and information to help them on their journeys.
They’re always shocked. Mind blown.
But Why? Is the dating world still so backward that it’s so hard to believe that disabled men deserve love (and should receive love)? This is one of the things we have strived to change by running this group since day one – the way our relationships are seen by the world. We know that not only are we ourselves intensely proud of our relationships, but we strive to show them off to society as PROUD #QuadWives and #ParaWives. We have the proof in the form of thousands of women around the world that can and DO see past the wheelchair and the disability. And are fine with the challenges that go along with it.
Why you ask? After years of leading and growing this network of women with my partner Elena Pauly, I can truly say I can provide a new narrative on dating (or marrying) someone with a disability, and provide commonalities that I have learned over the years that these women (and myself) all believe are concrete reasons as to why dating (or marrying) a guy in a chair is truly one of the best things ever. They’ve found someone they truly love, who has made them realize that that connection and their soul is all that really matters at the end of the day.
In today’s day and age, social commentary surrounding disability is beginning to slowly change for the better. No longer is our community shunned or excluded as frequently, and inclusion is becoming a top priority worldwide. Acceptance is booming; minds are changing; new attitudes are running the show. Now is the perfect time for the backward thinking (that still does exist, unfortunately) to be left in the dust, and for people to see others for who they are, not for what they may seem to be by their appearance. It’s time for a change to be made – permanently.
Below are some meaningful conclusions I have come to know by being surrounded by strong, powerful and resilient WAGS of SCI over the years. I am not saying that these relationship characteristics are accurate for everyone, but I am saying that these are what I myself and the majority of the amazing women I have connected with similarly feel about their relationships with their partners.
A Mind Blowing…Mental Connection
We women are always searching for the kind of connection that goes deeper than the physical. The kind of connection that surpasses the physical. We want someone who places more of an emphasis on communication, and takes more of an interest in WHO we are as individuals and as a couple. Let’s face it – men with spinal cord injuries have lost part of their physical bodies. They cannot rely as much on their appearance, or on their traditional “manly” physical prowess and power as much (or at all) depending on the level of injury. We have found that because of this, these men rely more on their communication skills, their personalities, their humour and wit. They take more interest in using their brain power in their relationship dynamics, and rely on words more than physical action. This, in turn, creates the foundation for amazing things to happen in a relationship: more time is spent communicating and growing mentally and emotionally. When everything is taken away from you physically, what else do you rely on? The connection that can happen between two people because of this can be extraordinary, as most experts would agree that good communication is the key to any successful relationship. I know first hand that a lot of the relationships I know suffer from lack of proper communication, but I feel lucky to have a partner who excels at it.
Resilience and Compassion
Men who have sustained spinal cord injuries have been through a lot (a whole lot). They grieve the loss of their independence, and persevere through terrible circumstances, medical complications and emotional ups and downs most of us can’t even imagine. What this does to someone’s mental state can either make them or break them. The men who are able to take the toll this injury has on them and turn it into emotional intelligence, strength and adaptability have something that most men (who have not gone through a life-changing injury) do not have: resilience. This characteristic is not only attractive in a long term partner, but is something that is extremely admirable. Another trait that is not easily found? Compassion. The compassion these men have for others like them, or people who experience other hardships in life is so amazing it brings us to tears. We, in turn, learn more compassion just by being with them. These are the men we can learn a whole heck of a lot from, on a daily basis. How can you not absolutely adore someone you’re learning these powerful lessons from every single day?
Life Changing Daily Lessons
Living this life for over five years now with my husband, I can honestly say that the amount of lessons I have learned in such a short period of time is astounding. Most women I have spoken to in our group can 1000% agree: the invaluable opportunities for growth you are presented with on a daily basis is rewardable beyond words. We quickly learn more tolerance, patience, true strength, adaptability, how to love through the worst of times, how to love through the best of times, vulnerability, and trust. We learn what matters and what doesn’t very quickly, and we learn who is worthy of our time and who isn’t just as fast. These women (and myself) WANT to learn and grow – we want to be the best versions of ourselves that we can, and living this life forces you to peel back the layers of who you thought you were, while propelling you quickly into who you want to be – while testing you at every turn. The right woman embraces this with her whole heart.
The Silly Things That Matter
We have discussed these things many times on our group pages – the silly, fun and ridiculous (but awesome) perks of being in a relationship with someone in a wheelchair. Here are some of the highlights:
- Great parking every single time
- Lap rides when you’re late for the party or your feet are too sore to walk home
- Prime seats at movies, sports events and concerts; 2 for 1 tickets if we are lucky!
- Being spoiled for no reason at all: these men appreciate the women in their lives wholeheartedly
- No waiting in line
- VIP treatment when things don’t go as planned
- The “workouts” that come from helping him physically
- Learning new things around the house you never thought you could do (aka carpentry and mechanics)
- Tax breaks
There are way more, you’ll just have to tune into our pages to see!
The Closeness That Comes From Real Vulnerability
Being truly vulnerable is something that is so beautiful. It is hard to find with a partner, but once you do, it is the ultimate experience in closeness. When I was dating my husband before he was injured, I always would give him a hard time about how he would never be fully vulnerable with me. He would always reply back “But I’m a guy! We don’t do that!”, like he was being strong by not being vulnerable. After his injury, that suddenly changed. He trusted me with everything, and I became empowered in that. I, along with a lot of the women who are in our group, have learned that the true vulnerability that comes between us and our partners is astounding after an SCI. As his caregiver and lover, he has to trust you with his life sometimes (or a lot of the time); he relies on you to help him with his health, wellness, physical tasks and protection. Among other things. The bond that creates between two people that have this level of vulnerability and trust is anything but weak – its powerful and admirable. You feel empowered by being his caregiver, he feels empowered knowing you’re there for him when he needs it.
Sure there are downsides to living this life (as there are in any relationship), but, I can say that the upsides listed above keep us going as a team. Together, we have learned to be able to get through pretty much anything this injury (and life) throws at us, and for that, I am grateful.
So, if you have a disability, or are a woman who is considering dating someone in a wheelchair – know this: It really IS what’s inside that counts. Give love a chance, and love who you love with all your heart. Show off your love, and help to change people’s minds. Who knows, you may have more of an impact on those around you – and yourself – than you think.
Most people with spinal cord injuries were given a second chance at living, and if you can find one who has everything that comes along with living (and growing) after this injury, while still coming out thriving – you’ve found a keeper.
source: Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation
by Reeve Staff