Rob and I had been talking about Bumble for about a month. We met when he was looking for an apartment in New York. He was handsome, funny, and well educated, and he had Boston roots. He could do his job from almost anywhere, and he said he was only moving to New York because of that, and I liked that. We kept in touch.
After he arrived and moved to his new location, we switched from app messaging to texting, the crucial next step. In the first few days of the SMS we decided on restaurant recommendations in the East Village.
“Trust me,” he wrote. “I settled in as quickly as possible!” And finally, “Are we going to try one of these places early next week?”
“That would be fun!” I wrote.
And just like that, I was torn as to what to say next. I still don’t know when to bring this thing up – whether to bring it up at all. If I should wait until we meet to say something or if I shouldn’t say anything. Because maybe he already knew. But I couldn’t know if he already knew. I would have to ask.
That goes through my head when, as a young woman, I have one leg with apps. You would think my photos would give it away. When guys actually scrolled through all four. After a few years using these apps, I am still shocked at how many people miss this detail in my photos. Is “detail” the right word at all? Having a leg is definitely something, but is it bigger or smaller than a detail?
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I’m 25 years old and a third year medical student, but I’ve dealt with it in one way or another for most of my life. When I was 6 years old, my mother noticed that my right knee was suddenly bigger than my left. She thought it might be an infection, but no. It turned out to be an aggressive osteosarcoma (bone cancer) that resulted in months of chemotherapy and eventually an amputation of my right leg above the knee.
This is a story of my life, but it’s hardly my only story.
I decided I would be right with Rob. I was uncomfortable meeting without knowing if he knew about my prosthesis. At 8:32 pm I wrote in the middle of our SMS: “So that there are no surprises, you know that I have a prosthesis on one of my legs, right?”
Twenty minutes later there was still no answer. My next step was to open Bumble and then I saw that our chat history had been cleared, replaced with, “Rob finished chatting.”
I fiddled with my cell phone and wrote the first words that came to my mind: “That was really tough.”
“I’m sorry,” he wrote.
We never spoke again.
Did I cry Did it sting? Yes.
My dating app profiles are carefully curated with photos. My first and second just show my face. That matters a lot in the world of dating apps. My third is bolder: he shows me kneeling. A careful observer will notice my prosthesis. My fourth photo leaves no question unanswered: I am standing with the prosthesis on the display.
I never know how many photos a guy flipped through before we agree and start talking. I’ve heard that after a man has made a match, some people look more diligently through all of the woman’s photos. Maybe that explains why I agree with people who never start conversations or delete me within minutes.
I learned at a young age that my dating pool would be smaller as an amputee. In college, I loved going dancing with friends every weekend. Often times a man would start conversations on a dark, crowded dance floor and sometimes bring me something to drink. Then we went upstairs to a lighted room for a chat where he looked down and saw my legs under my skirt and found an excuse to wander away.
One guy who didn’t churn later told me our mutual friend gave him a heads up before introducing us and said, “You know she has a leg, right?”
I wasn’t asked to arrange parties. I couldn’t wear heels because of my prosthetic ankle. And I had to watch what I was drinking so I could safely walk up and down the stairs of house parties. Everything had to be planned in my head every time.
I have no plan on using dating apps to explain how I lost my leg. In fact, the last thing I want to do with a dating app is telling guys about how I lost my leg. Sometimes I say, “I had bone cancer as a young girl.” Keep it simple.
I’m shocked at the answers: “Oh damn it.” “I am so sorry.” “You have to be so strong.”
I don’t want to be seen as that strong on dating apps. I don’t want to talk about chemotherapy. I really have to be in the mood for it. When it comes to apps, I just want to know if we can go out for dinner or have a drink on Friday evening.
When I think of Rob I know I dodged a bullet, but I also wonder what would have happened if we’d met if I hadn’t mentioned my leg. Friends are quick to say it wasn’t meant for me, and they’re right. But could something good have come of us after we met? Maybe.
I doubt Rob has ever dated an amputee before. I imagine guys who don’t have amputees in their life have their own thoughts about what it’s like to be with someone. Many have preconceptions about women who look like me – they see us as potential friends, but not potential friends.
If I hadn’t mentioned the leg, Rob and I would have met for dinner. When I arrived, I might have surprised him with my limp when he was writing down my prosthesis. He might not have been interested in it then. But he would have had no choice but to talk to me, to deal with me as an actual person, at least for a while. And I hope that from that night on, when Rob saw other amputee women, he could no longer escape into unfounded misunderstandings and generalizations about who we are.
He would have a face that he could make. Maybe he would remember me and think about the night we met, and maybe he would think about how little it all meant then. Even if he later dropped things with me, it would have been valuable just to be able to humanize the abstraction. Aren’t there changes individually? After all, there have been a lot of Robs in my life.
Rob doesn’t know and never will know that as a medical student I walk around with a prosthesis over my knee 16 hours a day. He doesn’t know that I swim twice a week, that I’m part of an adaptive climbing group, that I ski on one leg and go dancing on the weekends.
He does not know that I am a summer camp counselor for young amputees or that I am planning limb loss education events nationwide. He doesn’t know that I don’t mind showing my prosthesis in public, that I take care of my body proactively and that I travel independently.
I haven’t mentioned my leg since that episode when talking about dating apps. I don’t feel like putting a warning sign on myself. I don’t want to spend my time thinking about how to make it easier for other people to meet. I don’t want that at all.
Recently I remembered another Rob I met years ago, an investment banker, whom I had a bit of a date with. On our second date we sat at Morgenstern and ate ice cream. He took one look at my leg, I took one look at him and he said, “You don’t have to tell me about it. That’s up to you.”
I kissed him that night. He called it off a few weeks later because he said I deserved it so much better – a typical line, I suppose, of the guy who tries but ultimately gets stuck.
But he was right. I deserve and deserve better.
Still, I fondly think back to that night to remind myself: I don’t owe my story to anyone. Feeling comfortable in my body will always be its responsibility, not mine. And when it comes to opening your heart beyond your fears and prejudices? This responsibility also belongs to him.