Finding a Partner

Finding a Partner

Finding the Right Mate

When I was asked to write an article for people with disabilities about sexuality and relationships for the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, Connecticut Chapter, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity for Cheryl and I to reflect on how we met. We wrote this on our tenth wedding anniversary. Happiness does not merely come from finding the right mate, it comes from being the right mate.

This is the beginning of a psalm that was read ten years ago on our wedding day. We believe in this whole heartedly. But at some point, if we want to have a life partner, we have to find that mate. No doubt, this is made more difficult for someone with a disability. It is, however, possible and likely.

Contrary to popular belief, there are people in this world who care for more than physical qualities when they are looking for an intimate connection. There are people who are attracted to a myriad of other qualities or virtues that have nothing to do with physical appearance or physical ability. These qualities include but are not limited to intelligence, personality, humor, deep reflective thought, creativity, kindness, goodness, integrity, and spirit.

I think one of the keys to finding a mate is that we must be open to love before we can identify these potential partners. We must also be open to looking beyond the narrowly defined imagination of the perfect partner we all conjure up. There are literally millions of single, able-bodied men and women who want a partner but have been unsuccessful in meeting that right person. Finding the right mate is not only a problem for people with disabilities.

This retrospective account begins in my second semester senior year and Cheryl’s second semester junior year. We will share insights into our frames of reference from shortly before we met until we got engaged and married. We hope some of you who have found that right partner will be able to identify with our story and others who are searching will be encouraged to continue.

Setting the Stage

Mitch: I was floundering, looking for an intimate sexual relationship with a woman. I had a number of close female friends, but none seemed to be interested in a sexual relationship. I also had a few sexual encounters, but none in the context of a continuing relationship. I hadn’t found requited love since prior to my injury. I was beginning to feel very isolated.

Cheryl: I was in a relationship for two years. I knew my current boyfriend wasn’t the right person for me but I had no one else. I was looking for a way out when I first got involved with Mitch. I originally had no expectation of a relationship, I just welcomed the honest and open communication between us.

Who Made the First Move?

Mitch: My father-in-law always asks Cheryl and me who made the first move. I think she did; she thinks I did. The truth is that there was a real mutual attraction. I first noticed Cheryl in a computer class called “Problem Solving and Decision Making.” I always parked my scooter outside the classroom and sat in the back of the row in the seat closest to the door. When I have a choice, I usually prefer to sit up front. Cheryl sat in the back of the room by choice.

Cheryl: I had met him once before his injury at a party. My roommate had a crush on his roommate and we were trying to get the scoop. It wasn’t until Mitch returned to school after his injury that I noticed him again because of his scooter. Now I was more curious as to who he was.

Mitch: I had mistakenly taken the course because I wanted more computer experience. It turns out that “Problem Solving and Decision Making” was a course that management information systems majors took to get a break from computers. Back then I thought of MIS majors as computer nerds. The teacher “recognized the fact” that the computer majors were deficit in their public speaking abilities so he required a verbal presentation as part of the class. I might have noticed Cheryl before the public speaking presentation, but that’s when my interest really peaked.

I would watch as each person timidly approached the front of the room and, with his or her head down, nervously rattled on. It amazed me how frightened they were and I noticed that no one even introduced themselves before they started talking. Until Cheryl. She seemed more confident than the rest. She was the first person to introduced herself to the class. “Cheryl Carpenter.” I doodled her name in my notebook. Hum, she’s pretty cute under those loose fitting boyish clothes she wears. I happened to be following her after class and noticed we lived in the same dorm. She went in the front door and down the steps.

I continued on as usual and went in the side door that had ground entrance through the laundry room. It happened that we both lived in the “Pit” of Dorm 10.

The Dorm Room Incident

Mitch: Our increasing awareness of each other happened pretty close to spring break. I had missed a class because of travel plans and needed to catch up. After the break, I walked diagonally across the hall to Cheryl’s suite to get the notes, a trip I would take often after this experience. Cheryl came to the door wearing an unflattering red velour housecoat. The housecoat didn’t help me see her as a potential sexual partner, but I had gone over there for the notes and she was a competent tutor. I was ready to leave but we got involved in conversation. We had mutual interests and I got the impression she was really “on the ball.”

Cheryl: Here was the guy in the scooter wanting to talk to me. I know he was just asking about the notes from class but we seemed to hit it off and have a good conversation.

The Cafeteria Incident

Mitch: I took my tray over to join a table occupied by a half-dozen girls I knew. They were about through and when I sat down, they all left.

Cheryl: I was in the cafeteria by myself and I hated to eat lunch alone. I saw Mitch sit down and all the girls at the table leave. I didn’t think both of us should eat alone so I went over and sat with him. It was another chance for us to talk.

The Date Incident

Mitch: While the question as to who made the first move has never been settled, it was me, as the male, who had the responsibility of initiating the first date. We were having a party at our suite, so I invited Cheryl and asked if she wanted to go out for dinner before hand. She said she wasn’t sure and would get back to me. I was a little put off because it seemed as she was sending me signals that she liked me and would welcome going out.

She hadn’t said no, however, so I waited a few days and asked her one more time. If she said no, it would be her loss I figured. I didn’t consider that my isolation would continue. She said yes.

Cheryl: It was a tough decision for me to say yes, not because Mitch had a disability, but because I was seeing someone else at the time. I saw Mitch as a way to end an old relationship and get on with my life. Mitch was graduating in less than two months so I assumed any relationship that developed would end there. Little did I know how much enjoyment I would get over the next six weeks.

The Bedroom Incident

Mitch: One of my biggest problems adjusting to my spinal cord injury was fecal incontinence. I was never able to establish a dependable bowel routine because of a pre-existing condition called Crohn’s disease. The first time I stayed over Cheryl’s I woke up in the middle of the night and lost control of my bowels.

I sat there in the dark, paralyzed with fear. I could feel my heart pounding through my chest. I didn’t know what to do. I thought this would be the end. I needed help, so I woke her up. She told me not to worry about it since she was used to helping her grandmother over the summer.

Cheryl: Shit happens. It was the middle of the night and I was tired. I remember thinking that he must feel worse about the situation than it seemed to me. I changed the sheets while he took a shower and we went back to sleep.

York Beach

Mitch: Graduation came and went. Now there were 200 miles between us. I drove from Connecticut to Maine to see her. After driving four hours straight with great anticipation, she wasn’t there when I arrived. When she walked in, she looked different than I remembered. She was wearing long cut-off jeans and was all sweaty from rushing home in the heat and humidity. After she washed up, we went down to the rocks and got reacquainted. It was there I fell in love.

Cheryl: He was early. I thought I would have time to walk into town to get the mail and get ready before he arrived. So much for my plans. I know I invited him and wanted to see him but I didn’t think he would come. Who was this guy that traveled all this way just to see me?

The Engagement

Mitch: I had made myself a promise a couple of years before I broke my neck that I would marry the first person I dated for six months. Summer was coming to an end; I had started work full-time and Cheryl was heading back to school for her senior year. Five months was close enough. I knew she was right for me because I felt totally accepted when I was with her. I was afraid if I lost her I might never find a love like this again.

Cheryl: We went to Le Chambord, a fancy French restaurant in Westport. He had already asked me my ring size, so I knew he was going to propose. I kind of felt from all indications I wanted to marry him. There was nothing telling me not to, however, I told him I think we should wait since five months seemed too quick for me.

He looked so disappointed and didn’t understand why. After discussing it further, I accepted the ring. I still had a year left in school and neither of us was in a rush to actually get married so we had plenty of time to see how it would work out. There were concerns from both of our parents because of his disability, but we didn’t share those concerns. Twenty months later we got married.

The Moral of the Story

Mitch: Real relationships don’t come in perfect packages. I used a wheelchair and had occasional problems controlling my bowels. Cheryl dressed differently from my image of a sexy woman and was more introverted than other girls I had dated. But by getting to know her I found a best friend and lover.

Cheryl: I met Mitch when I least expected it. I saw him as just another person, not as a potential partner and I was able to be myself around him. We got to know each other and our relationship developed. Mitch stood out because he used a scooter but it was easy for me to look past his disability since I never really noticed it. I valued the honest and open communication between us and the intimacy we shared.

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