Five years after Ali’s shallow water diving accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down with limited hand mobility, she went on a dating experiment (read more in part one). Healing from major surgery for a pressure sore, preparing for her 11th surgery from her injury, navigating life with a catheter and desperately wanting to experience romantic connection, Ali decided to approach dating with vulnerability, sexuality, and experimentation.
“I certainly did not approach dating as many do because I was in an experimentation phase of my life,” admits Ali. “When something didn’t work, I would try a new strategy, keep experimenting, and make sure to maintain some type of humor. Dating is supposed to be fun, even when it doesn’t always work out.”
Ali had rules around talking to men online and meeting them, wanting to make sure they could accept her as a woman and not be fearful of her wheelchair. She kept notes on the men she dated and an excel sheet to track her dates. Within a week of talking with a man online, she had a strict policy to meet them in person. “They seemed to be okay at first with the wheelchair when we were chatting online, but the moment they saw me -- oh that moment -- there is a look and a feeling you just get. You could tell that they were utterly overwhelmed (by my being in a wheelchair) and not quite sure why they had agreed to go on a date with me,” recalls Ali.
On Ali’s first in person date, the fireman she’d been chatting with online stood her up. After waiting for him for over an hour, with an injured ego and feeling defeated, she reached out to the man. “I told him you can’t just stand a woman up! It’s rude.” The man was apologetic and honest that her wheelchair was difficult for him to accept.
“Dating is being vulnerable. My wheelchair is a part of me and always will be. I didn’t want a man who would act weird around me, but I didn’t want to be stood up again!”
Ali didn’t let this first negative experience stop her, going on over 15 dates over five months and progressing to her next stage: Underwear Dates.
“After I got the hang of having drinks with men, I decided I really wanted to experience having sex. I created something called Underwear Dates.”
On the third date, Ali started asking the men to come up to her apartment. She had her caregiver lay her out in beautiful lingerie, so the men were not overwhelmed with having to having to undress her with her catheter. “I wanted to just be in the sexy part of things,” says Ali. “They would have to do the work, but I could have sex just like anyone else.”
“I had some really weird guys enter my boudoir, but it made for a great story! I recall this one younger guy who was an artist and after we had had sex, he simply left my room and didn’t say a word. I was very confused. He then proceeded to come back an hour later with his drawing materials and drew me completely naked in my bed. He was too young for me, but he did leave me with a beautiful keepsake after our sexual endeavor.”
Ali thought through the preparation – “there is a lot that goes into preparation for having sex as a quadriplegic. It wasn’t all just fun lingerie and getting thrown around in bed. I had to meticulously prep prior to each date. I had to think about my bladder, bowel, and my body. I certainly did not want to have a full bladder or bowel and end up having an accident.”
“I wanted to make sure I had the most enjoyable experience possible without feeling more self-conscious,” says Ali.
While this is not recommended by a doctor, Ali often dehydrated herself before dates. She has a supra-pubic catheter and leg bag and would detach the leg bag and tape the catheter onto the side of her stomach. Her bowel issues were also a concern. “I’m giggling about the fact that I have to worry about these things, but this is the reality we have to deal with, whether we like it or not!” said Ali. Her solution was to reduce her food intake and not take the risk, rather be able to enjoy having sex and letting her body be maneuvered in different positions.
“I was in my early 30s when I started dating, and now as I approach 40, if I had to do it all over again, I would probably be a little bit more open about some of the challenges I deal with earlier on,” admits Ali.
Ali’s dating experiment did end in marriage! Ali and Aaron got married May 18, 2019. Ali wrote about her experiences on Facebook and readers related. She was real and vulnerable. She was approaching dating differently and talking about topics of importance. Her posts turned into a blog (Quirky Quad Diaries) and a podcast (Shower Talk with Ali). Her goal: to show women with disabilities that a love life is possible even in a wheelchair.
“Not everyone is cut out to date a person with a disability. I think it takes a very special type of human to see beyond a physical or mental disability and really see the person. Finding this person can take time, more time than many might be willing to give. However, dating really is a numbers game and you have to keep pushing the boundaries of what is uncomfortable to find that great partner.”