I've played it out in my head thousands of times, and the scene always goes something like this: Girl (that would be me) falls for boy. By some chance, girl finds herself on a date with said boy. And then, that conversation comes up. You know the conversation –- the one where you both put your metaphorical relationship cards on the table, where you lay everything out for the other person to see. All in the name of full disclosure.
But what if you don’t have a past to disclose when it comes to love? Not the sort of past most of your peers have, anyway? How do you tell someone they're your first? As in first everything -– first kiss, first date, first boyfriend, first, well, time. And how do you even begin to figure out how your physical disability plays into all of this?
My name is Melissa, and I’ll just say it, err, type it: I’ve never been on a date. I’ve never been kissed. I’ve never had a boyfriend. And, at 31, I’m a virgin.
Go ahead, make your pop culture jokes about a certain Drew Barrymore movie and a 40-year-old virgin. It’s OK. I’ve heard them before. Got it out of your system? Good.
I’m fully comfortable with the virgin part of the equation. I’ve always been shy about sex, and there’s never been anything casual about it for me. Whether I’m having dinner in a bustling restaurant or sitting in a quiet, dark movie theater, the conversations, between males and females alike, circle back to sex and love like a revolving door: who’s having it, who’s (frustratingly) not having it, how they’re having it, where they’re having it, where they wish they could be having it and who they fantasize about in the wee hours of the night. No topic is too blush-inducing, at least to most people.
During a particularly slow night at my job as a copy editor in college a few years ago, one of my hormonally charged colleagues somehow got on the topic of how she stole a some "items" at her recent gynecology appointment. This didn’t seem to faze anyone else within earshot as they all erupted into laughter and began telling their own “This one time…” tales.
Me, I just tried to blend my fake laughter seemingly into their genuine chuckles. I pretended I’d done it a thousand times, so they, my experienced peers, wouldn't know I was inexperienced.
And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. A lot of pretending. There are very few people in my life who know that I’ve never been on a date or even been kissed (and yes, I’m aware of the irony as I’m writing this…).
It's not like I intended for things to unfold like this, at least not when it came to my first date and my first kiss. It just sort of happened…or, didn’t happen, depending on how you look at it.
Stephen was the first boy that ever broke my heart, though he never knew it.
I was 13 when I spotted Stephen. He was your average 14-year-old gawky high school freshman. Our parents had been friends for awhile, and one night after a dinner of pizza from the local parlor, it all clicked. After they left that warm July night, I wrote in my diary, "Stephen is a major babe."
It's one thing to divulge your feelings to a white-paper journal that won't talk back, won't reject you and won't cause you to regret your decision the next morning. It's quite another to tell someone you think you might, possibly, could be in love with them, laying your heart on the line. I chose the former and kept my mouth shut -– for some 13 years to be exact.
Our families were good friends, and frankly, it’s not as easy as you’d think to say, “Oh, by the way. I’ve been in love with you for more than a decade,” with even the slightest hint of nonchalance in your voice.
Besides, how could he fall in love with a girl in a wheelchair? How could he ever find me one ounce of attractive? How could he ever get past my disability -– past my wheelchair, past my deformed hands, feet and legs?
My good friend, Claire, bless her little logical heart, turned out to be the voice of reason in my storm of swirling questions. She’d come over for pizza one Friday night, and as we usually do, ended up talking late into the night about our favorite topic: How our post-college life didn’t seem to measure up to the fantastical images we’d seen in movies and on TV. We somehow found our way to the subject of our romantic prospects.
She told me how she’d been playing Facebook footsie with a guy from our high school for months, but sadly, the relationship had never moved beyond e-flirting. Being a bit tipsy from the sugar in the strawberry shortcake and caffeine in the Mountain Dew, I told Claire the Story of Stephen, to which I like to think she reacted like this: “Wow, you had feelings for him since junior high?”
“Yes,” I replied sheepishly.
“And you never told him how you felt?” (her voice lowers here as if she’s afraid he’ll will sneak up on us and blow this long-held secret).
“Nope. Everything just seemed so awkward; plus, I never had the courage.”
We both just sat there for a minute. Awkward as can be.
A few years later, I found myself at a crossroads with Stephen, thanks, ironically, to my blog. I casually mentioned him a few times, and as it turned out, he read my blog. And just like that, my cover had been blown. No drawn-out conversation. No putting my heart to paper in some passionate letter.
He suggested we hang out and see where things went. This is exactly what I wanted…right?
And that’s when I froze, or, if you want to be really honest, I chickened out. I had created this fantasy in my head for the past 13 years, and the moment I had a chance to see if that fantasy could turn into something -– my first date even –- I recoiled.
Who was I to ask him to accept my normal as his normal, I wondered? Who am I to ask any man, disabled or not, to take on my world? Because, really, like it or not, things are going to be different in our relationship. Maybe my wheelchair won’t fit in his car. Maybe I’ll be in the hospital on our anniversary.
And just like that, I backed my way out of what I was trying to do. after I built up the courage to do it. For the longest time, I thought my disability would keep me from finding love, but it was my own fear that stopped me from seeing where things would go with Stephen.
But I want the world to see a different kind of woman –- a woman who, although she may be a bit behind her peers, is looking forward to those "firsts," whenever that first date and first kiss should come.
And I haven't ruled Stephen entirely.