Looking to Settle Down
Dear Patrick: As a veteran who lost a leg to an IED, I am trying hard to get back to a normal civilian life which of course includes dating. So far it seems like the missing leg means more to me than it does to the women I ask out. But I find myself being very self-conscious in bed. Lately I've been chatting with an on-line acquaintance who says she has dated other guys in my situation. She has hinted that she might prefer it, in fact. I was surprised by how angry this made me. I was hurt serving my country, not pursuing some kind of fetishistic thrill. She wants more of a connection and would like to meet me. But she would have to travel to do so, and I have made excuses so far. Do you think I should pursue this or just drop it? I like the photos she's sent me, and we are compatible in some important ways. Your perspective might keep me from making a mistake.
The reality of injured veterans is creating social pressure on all of us to update our definitions of attractiveness and health. Those improvised explosive devices are hurting far too many men and women. There certainly is a powerful stereotype that men who have lost a limb have also lost their potency and independence. But some of the most sexually open and determined people I've met are classified as “disabled.” I am really glad to hear that you are fighting the disempowering stereotypes and looking for a good partner. Of course you continue to feel the need to give and receive love … and hopefully some naughtier experiences as well.
The range and variety of human sexuality is pretty awesome. Fetishists are in a position similar to that of disabled people. Most people with fetishes did not ask to have that feature included in their sexuality. It is something they received, like the color of their eyes. They are in the position of trying to have decent lives despite being different, and despite sexual desire for things that most people don't understand. Fort example, she might be seeking out a person with an amputation because she wants to lose one or more of her own limbs. How would you feel about that? If you have a strongly negative reaction, you should probably ask her bluntly if this is her situation, so you don't subject either one of you to a further waste of time or painful rejection.
I certainly wouldn't suggest that you have sex with somebody who doesn't think you are hot. One of the advantages of dating or sexing with somebody like your on-line friend is the fact that you won't have to worry about being virile and getting her erotic attention. She will want you because of the same quality that might make other women turn you down. The same thing that makes others see you as less of a man could, in this relationship, give you enormous power. How do you feel about role-playing or acting out fantasies during sex? If this disturbs you, she might not be a good choice for a partner. Are you determined to only date women you might marry, or is it okay to date women without being certain of the outcome? Would it be okay to have some experiences that are new, maybe shocking, maybe satisfying?
I sense that mutual respect is very important to you. Will she be able to understand that the missing limb (and the experience of being hurt in a war) both mean something different to you than it does to her? Can she see you as a separate person who has his own story, values, and needs? Or are you going to wind up feeling like a piece of pornography or a sex toy that she can use and discard? If somebody can't make room for your perspective, you ought to reject them for a lack of maturity, whether they are a fetishist or not.
The terminology here frankly confuses me. It can be hard for an expert to distinguish between “a fetishist” and somebody who is just really clear about what qualities in a partner turn them on. What are we to make of the man who only goes out with women who have large breasts, or the women who check out a guy's butt before they check out his face? Are you a fetishist if you like to see muscle development or watch a partner work out at the gym? The bottom line has to be the emotional component. How are other people treating you? Do you feel listened to, validated, perceived as a man in your own right? Do you see her as a person and not as a problematic behavior? Is she able to share her hopes and dreams, her needs and dislikes, her personal history, without focusing exclusively on specific sex acts? Is there chemistry? Do you click? Do you feel challenged to learn new things and become a better person?
It can be very hard to see whether these important elements exist without meeting in person. Have a candid conversation about your doubts and also your attraction to her. She should probably rent a hotel room rather than planning to stay with you. It would be ideal if she had another reason to be in your area. That way, if the date does not work out, she can still go to the museum or attend the concert or whatever. The trip won't be 100% a loss. Every time two people meet, there is vulnerability. No matter how much you enjoy writing to each other or talking on the phone, an in-person meeting can be the start of something big, the beginning of a mistake that will eventually fizzle, or it will immediately fall flat as a pancake.
Meeting her could also be an opportunity for you to clarify what you are looking for in a girlfriend or wife. If you feel vulnerable regarding her attraction to your physical difference, you might remind yourself that it's a big deal for a woman to go meet a strange man and trust him enough to let him be alone with her. Be sensitive to that. Let your first meeting be in a public place, so everybody feels safe. Set it up with the understanding that either one of you has the right to say, “I don't think this will work” without any fireworks. If she can't handle disappointment like an adult, with a minimum of drama, you don't want to be with her no matter how cute, smart, or funny she might be.