‘My most dominant feature seems to be my prosthetic hand’: Dating as a woman with a disability

Description: To the left of the image, a person with short dark hair with a flower in it sits in a chair, a small smile on their face and a coffee table in front of them. To the right, we see the reflection of a person’s back in a mirror on the door of a cupboard. The walls of the room are a warm yellow, and through a large open window we see birds, branches and a building.

People with disabilities don’t need anyone to sacrifice their lives for us.

I was in high school when a guy first told me that he liked me. Don’t get any ideas, people. It didn’t feel good. My right hand had been amputated following an accident the year before. The guy and I had been chatting on Facebook, and I saw something of this sort coming, but I didn’t expect him to put it the way he did. His exact words were, ‘I know there are a lot of good girls, but I like you.’

That’s when it struck me, hard, that I was not like other girls, because I was an amputee with a prosthetic hand. It seemed to me that all my attempts to fit in with my abled friends, in the ‘normal’ world, were futile. Thanks to this guy, I felt like I was inferior to other people for the first time in my life. I started putting my prosthetic hand under my desk in class so that other boys couldn’t see it easily. Although my 13-year-old self did a good job of pretending to not care, the incident left me feeling scarred.

Two years later, I was in love for the first time. The boy I was in love with was a good friend of mine, and the vibes I got from him were different from the vibes I got from other boys. He made me feel good about myself, but we never talked about my disability. Neither of us were comfortable talking about it.

I told a good friend of mine that he liked me and that I liked him too. She was happy for me, but ended up spoiling the moment by saying, ‘Oh, he must be such a great guy to like someone like you.’ That hurt. A lot. While I looked at her in disbelief, she continued, ‘Look at you. You don’t have your right hand, but he still likes you. I think you guys are going to be great together, Paru.’ Her comments made my inferiority complex soar and my self-esteem hit rock bottom. I am not lovable, and this dating thing won’t work for me, I thought. So I let go of my first love.

I figured that maybe I should channel my libido into doing other productive stuff and I ended up concentrating on everything else but dating.

I remember right after the film Bangalore Days was released, a year after the incident with my friend, so many ‘broad minded’, ‘kind hearted’ fellows asked me out. (The lead character in the film falls for a radio jockey called Sarah, who is disabled.)

Was it because of the similarities between me and the character of Sarah? We were both disabled, had short curly hair, and wore spectacles. Almost all the boys who asked me out then did bring up the fact that she and I were strikingly similar in some ways. Anyway, I didn’t even consider accepting any of these people because it took them a film to realise that I could be loved. As usual, I moved on.

A person sits on a chair, looking into the distance. We see their profile. Their black top and pink, orange and black patterned skirt are the only parts of the illustration in colour. Behind the chair, the identical person stands, one hand on their hip, looking down.

Credit: Helena Perez García via Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Everything was fine, but then last year, I overheard two of my aunts talking. ‘Paru is 18 now. She will get married in ten years, but only someone with an extremely large heart can love her.’ Although I was kind of glad that these ladies were kind enough to give me a ten-year deadline, I realised that nothing could change the reality that I would always be seen predominantly as a person with a disability. Nothing. Not even the fact that I am a pretty good quizzer or that I scored well at the entrance examinations I wrote, or that I am studying at India’s best known law college.

If the fact that I am an independent, strong woman doesn’t help my case, I don’t know what will. People compliment me on my wit, my sense of humour, my ‘cute’ face and even my sense of style. But when it comes to dating, my most dominant feature seems to be my prosthetic hand.

I’ve faced quite a lot of sexual violence — creepy guys staring at me, people groping me, and stalkers. But violence has nothing to do with love. And when it comes to love, romance and dating, I am only faced with its absence. What I get instead is sympathy.

On the off chance that someone does like me for who I am, my messed up self-esteem and sense of inferiority find their way through, and boom! I am back to square one. I love and trust myself so much, but when it comes to dating, I tell myself that it is not for me, because I believe that eventually, the guy will screw everything up by showing me unnecessary sympathy, or some random person will poke their nose into my business by saying that he is the Mahatma of the century because he’s dating me. Nonsense!

It’s high time we stop looking at people through this lens of unnecessary sympathy. People with disabilities don’t need anyone to sacrifice their lives for us.

As for me, I don’t want to be single forever, but I’m not in a hurry, either. Things will happen when they have to. I am sure that everything will fall into place for me one day, but when they do, I will thank you to keep your valuable comments and suggestions to yourself, dear society. I’m good without them. Peace.

Parvathy Gopakumar is a BA LLB Hons. Student at National Law School Bangalore. She is an amputee who loves forests and music, and her interests vary from kathakali to the history of Travancore. She is passionate about reaching out to other people with disabilities.


Featured image credit: Upasana Agarwal