By far the hardest part about growing up with a limb difference is not the stares or the snide remarks, not the learning curve that comes with going about your daily routine, or even the haters that are out there…the hardest part by far is dating and becoming comfortable with yourself in the dating realm. This is the blog post that has haunted me for the past two years but I knew at some point I had to talk about it and be vulnerable because it is very important to talk about.
Think back to elementary school, middle school and high school, think about how big dating was and having crushes and puppy love and all of the emotions that coincide with it. Now throw a curveball in there…You are missing half of each hand, you barely take your hands out of your pockets as it is, unless you are playing sports. You feel like it is an elephant in the room every time a girl simply glances your way…
That was me for about 90% of my K-12 career. Don’t get me wrong, I was and still am a very outgoing person. I will never turn down an opportunity to act like an idiot to make someone laugh and I never feared letting my voice be heard, but what I did fear was the unknown when it came to girls. I would think to myself,” is this girl just talking to me because she feels sorry for me? Does this girl really like me for who I am and all that I am? What do her friends think of me?” A lot of these thoughts were precluded by words said and actions made. I can recall asking probably 2 dozen girls out between middle school and my junior year of high school and they all denied me.
During my sophomore year of high school I was at a friend’s house after practice and he was on the phone talking to a girl that I liked at the time (pre texting era) and I asked him to ask her if she knew who I was.
He proceeded to ask her, “Hey do you know who Mike Alt is?”
She responded, “You mean no hands?”
…I was crushed. I was known for something that I couldn’t control. I let my hands define me.
Eventually I got over it and it added a layer to my skin. I eventually got to the point around my senior year that enough was enough and that I had to thicken my skin even more and stop thinking and caring about everyone’s perception of me. It was tough, but I realized that my perception of myself was directly reflected in others perception of me. If I went up to a girl with complete confidence and owned my hands then the outcome usually had much better odds than when I approached a girl subdued and worrisome of judgment that didn’t exist.
I took this new found confidence and went to every dance my senior year. I took my outgoingness to a new level and met my prom date at one of the dances I went to earlier in the year. When I graduated from high school I dated a lot because I had a new swagger about me. I saw the benefits of having confidence and that led to girls being interested in me, it was a good feeling. However something was still missing… I went on numerous dates between age 18 and 24 and yet nothing stuck. My hands were still at the forefront in my mind at every date. I would think, “I wonder if she knows about my hands? I haven’t talked to her about my hands, I wonder if she cares?” That elephant in the room creeped out of the shadows yet again to remind me that this new found swagger wasn’t the solution, but merely a stepping stone in the process.
The next step I had to take was by far the hardest. It was openly talking about my hands from day one of meeting them, letting everything out on the table and then being ok with what came next. With some girls I went on a date with I could tell that it wasn’t something they felt completely comfortable with and others it opened up a whole new avenue of dialogue.
Looking back now I know that I put way too much pressure on myself to find the perfect girl that was going to accept me and be everything I ever dreamed of and when dates failed, I was crushed. I didn’t realize that it was all a learning process, but more importantly a growing process. Trust me; I am no expert on dating. I have gone on many dates but never had a lot of experience with relationships. I have had three girlfriends in my 25 years and the common denominator with all of them was that they accepted me for who I am.
The first two that I dated were not for a very extensive period of time for one reason or another, but I am proud to say that I did find the women last year that completely accepts me for all my quirks and loves me for who I am. That girl that I searched for, for all those years was there, but it just took time to find each other and I can say that I am the happiest I have been in all of my life and she is amazing in every way… Alright enough with all of the cute gooshy stuff!
The best advice I can give to all of the kids and teens stepping into the dating world or those who are already there, is to accept and love yourself for who you are. As cliché as that sounds, it’s true. No person will ever be able to accept and love you if you haven’t taken the time to appreciate yourself and be able to communicate that to them. Talking about it from the first time I met someone or the first date was honestly the best course of action because I could read their body language right away. To get to that point you have to be comfortable enough in your own skin and your story to talk freely about it to anyone and everyone. Understand that there might be some people out there who aren’t comfortable with dating someone with a limb difference and you might get turned down. You might get turned down for another trait that you have, it’s all a part of life and the trials and tribulations that people go through in the dating realm; Don’t overthink everything!
Always, always, always own it! You are beautiful and as long as you know that, others will see it too!
Can’t is Not an Excuse