Her sister's boyfriend tells her the truth...
Our daughter, Ella, became a paraplegic a little less than two years ago, but it wasn’t until just recently that she asked the question I’ve been not-so-secretly dreading — “Will boys still like me, or will they not want to date me because of the chair?”
She asked it while nervously chewing on her upper lip and fighting back tears. I looked into her serious brown eyes and almost immediately said the first platitude that rushed to mind, “The right boy won’t care …” The look on her face told me how inadequate that answer was.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time this past year thinking about the boys she will date and the man she will marry. I know from experience that it doesn’t matter what the right boy will someday think when the wrong boy is breaking your heart. I also know that even the “right guy” may have to justify his decision to love our girl to the well-meaning family members who will “hate to see him burden himself.” It’s the maybe-someday that I dread coming and tear up just to think about her having to prove herself to be un-burdensome.
I asked her for some time to think about it and then reached out to people I know in the Adaptive community looking for answers. Guiding a girl through the minefield of puberty and teenage years toward womanhood is already hard. I’m completely unprepared for the added challenge of paraplegia. I’ve never known anyone who was in a wheelchair before this happened, so I have no frame of reference from which to draw. I’m walking blind through all of this.
Most of the people I asked said the same words I’d already rejected: “Being a teenager sucks. People can be cruel. The right boy won’t care …” They reminded me of how pretty, smart and incredible she is and mentioned her resiliency as a way of dealing with the inevitable rejection.
While it might have been true, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t how I wanted to frame it to her: “People suck and are going to be awful, but some day some great guy will see how amazing you are …”
And then I got help from the most unexpected place: my eldest daughter’s boyfriend.
Jack spent his summer in Morocco as part of his ROTC training and was still there when he IMd me a question about a possible souvenir for my daughter. On a hunch, I asked him Ella’s question: “Will boys still like me?” His blunt answer, given in the earthy language of a solider, betrayed a wisdom way beyond his 20 years.
“Tell her that there will be guys who won’t date her because of the chair. Of course there will be,” he began, “but it won’t be because they don’t think she’s fun or smart or beautiful, or even because they’re not interested in her. They won’t ask her out because they’re afraid of what their friends will say.” See, guys can be totally chicken when it comes to looking different from their friends. We give each other crap when we do something weird, and … I mean let’s be honest here … dating the chick in a wheelchair is weird. The only difference for her is that she’s gonna have just as many people like her, but few will be brave enough to say so. Guys are wusses — and a**holes. They only like to go out with girls that other people will approve of. Meaning that in a few years, the guy she goes out with is going to already meet a higher standard because he didn’t care she was in a chair. The chair will eliminate jacka**es and will hopefully bring to light really solid guys.But … I mean all couples bear each other’s stuff. Everyone has to deal with sh**. It’s just part of life.
But tell her that if boys don’t ask her out, it’s because they’re pansies, and she’s too good to date a wuss.
And so I let her read what he’d written a couple of times, and she nodded at the end of it. “It makes sense,” she said, “that they would be too scared of what people would think … and that it’s not really about me. I mean, if they can’t look past the chair … ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Heaven help me, this is going to be an interesting ride.
Rebecca Frechblogs at Shoved to Them, where this piece first appeared.