By Antara Telang
Six years ago, at the age of 18, I met with a weird sort of accident. In Mumbai’s infamous rain, a branch from a peepal tree fell on me. My left leg broke clean into two parts, while my right foot and ankle were crushed beyond repair. Many painful hours later, I was told that my right foot would have to be amputated.
The first few weeks passed in a haze. My doctors and friends assured me that I’d live a ‘completely normal’ life, and that I had nothing to worry about. They weren’t completely right. When I was still in hospital, I overheard someone talking behind a curtain in hushed tones. They were whispering, “Poor thing. Who will marry her now? How long will her family take care of her, after all?” I laughed it off, thinking this was just a stray trip to Regressive Central.
But as time went by, these whispers started following me around more and more. The breaking point for me came around a year and a half after my accident, when a boy I liked told me I’d “be better off moving to places like the UK or France,” where people could be more open minded about my “condition”. At that age, it was hard enough to deal with the new label of being ‘handicapped’ (no, I don’t need you to give me your hand every 30 seconds, thank you very much), but being thought of as ‘undateable’ was even scarier.
In an attempt to protect myself, I closed myself off from potential romantic endeavours completely, until a year later, when I joined Tinder as a funny thing to do while out drinking with my friends. Having heard all the horror stories about meeting men online, I never imagined that I’d really talk to my matches, let alone meet them on dates. But I got my first match. We got talking, and he seemed like a nice guy. We decided to meet for filter coffee at King’s Circle. In our conversations leading up to this point, I hadn’t mentioned my leg at all (and very consciously so).
The night before we were supposed to meet, I mustered up some courage and sent him a message telling him about it, adding that I’d totally understand if he felt uncomfortable and wanted to call off the date. He read my message immediately, and seemed to be typing forever before he replied, “I know, I’ve Googled you Why would I be uncomfortable with it?”
There have been few moments where I’ve been more relieved. He knew! He’d bothered to Google me! He didn’t care! One would almost expect a posse of background dancers and musicians to drop from the heavens behind me, and the whole thing to turn into a Bollywood extravaganza. The coffee date was nice, but more than the date itself, merely going on it gave me a big shot in the arm. Maybe I wasn’t so undateable after all. I went back home and started swiping with a vengeance, determined to make up for two years worth of lost dating time.
As I spoke to more and more people, it got easier to tell them about my leg. I tried introducing the information at different parts of the conversation with each new guy, in the hope that I’d figure out the best (i.e. least awkward) way to bring it up. I gave points for the best amputee jokes. I pretended to be a keynote speaker who is welcoming audience questions. I got bored and gave them the facts straight up. And I always left a window open for them to leave in peace if they were uncomfortable with it, as some inevitably were.
A sci-fi enthusiast became intensely excited at the possibility that he could be be flirting with a cyborg. I had a handful of boys throw words like “brave” and “inspirational” at me. However, most of my Tinder experiences were similar to those that nondisabled women have.
One of the guys I met – a banker – was a self-confessed Excel addict who made spreadsheets about the women he met on Tinder, categorising them under “cute’, ‘nice to talk to’, ‘want to have sex with’, and ‘potential girlfriend’. He casually slipped into conversation that I’d fall under the ‘cute’ category… whatever that was supposed to mean. Another one – with whom I’d had a nice conversation, but didn’t really want to take things forward with in the romantic sense, – asked me if I was a “serial friend-zoner”. A third exclaimed to me very seriously, ‘So you must be great at drawing!’ when I told him I’d taken up Arts in college.
It sounds weird, but the more guys I spoke to on Tinder, the more I realised that most people didn’t really care about the fact that I was an amputee. My obvious good looks, sparkling wit, and amazing sense of modesty (cough cough) were clearly enough. I started putting myself out there more, and it got a lot easier to ignore the hateful comments that came my way, because now I actually had proof to the contrary.
Many dates down the line, I must admit that not every guy I met I was on Tinder was a knight with a shining iPhone cover, but dating was still good fun. One of the guys I met on Tinder ended up becoming one of my closest friends. Another still likes all my posts on Facebook. One of them (unsuccessfully) tried to have his ‘one last fling’ pre-marriage hookup with me. A couple of others check in every now and then to see if I’m single and ready to… you know.
I was on Tinder for a year and a half before I left, after having gotten into a relationship with someone I met offline. I don’t think I’ll go back, but I’d like to shout out to all you Tinder matches (yes, even that guy who said, ‘It’s just one foot right? All the rest is there na?’) for helping me realise that I’m pretty darn fabulous.
Image by Upasana Agarwal. First published on SexualityandDisability.org.