From The New York Times, I’m Anna Martin, and this is the Modern Love podcast. This week’s essay is about dating apps. If you’re dating today, you kind of have to use them, and using them is exhausting. Bottom line: It’s just really hard to attract the kind of person you actually want to date by using your phone. The essay is called, “His Comfort is Not My Responsibility.” It’s written by Alexandra Capellini and read by Frankie Corzo.
Rob and I have been talking on Bumble for about a month. We matched while he was apartment hunting in New York City. He was handsome, funny and well-educated with roots in Boston. We stayed in touch.
After he arrived and moved into his new place, we switched over from app messaging to texting — the crucial next step. Those first few days of texting, we were deciding on a restaurant in the East Village.
“Trust me,” he wrote. “Let’s try one of these places early next week?”
“That’d be fun,” I wrote.
And just like that, I was torn over what to say next. I still don’t know how soon I am supposed to bring up the thing — or if I’m supposed to bring it up at all. If I should wait until we meet to say anything, or if I should say nothing. Because maybe he already knew. But I had no way of knowing if he already knew. I would have to ask.
You would think that my dating app photos would give it away, but a lot of guys don’t bother to scroll through all the pictures. My first and second only show my face. That counts for a lot in the world of dating apps. My third is bolder — it shows me kneeling. A careful observer will notice my prosthesis. My fourth photo leaves no question. I am standing with the prosthesis on full display.
After a few years on these dating apps, I am still in shock over how many guys miss this detail in my photos. Is “detail” even the right word? Having one leg is definitely something, but is it bigger or smaller than a detail?
I’m 25 and a third-year medical student, but I’ve been dealing with this in one way or another for most of my life. When I was six, my mother noticed that my right knee was suddenly larger than my left. It turned out to be an aggressive osteosarcoma. That’s a bone cancer that led to many months of chemotherapy and, ultimately, to an above-knee amputation of my right leg. That’s it.
I decided that I would be direct with Rob. It would make me uncomfortable to meet him without knowing if he knew about my prosthesis. So at 8:32 p.m., in the middle of our texting, I said, “Just so there are no surprises, you know that I wear a prosthesis on one of my legs, right?” 20 minutes later, there was still no response.
My next move was to go back to Bumble, and that’s when I saw that our chat history had been wiped clean, replaced with “Rob ended the chat.” I fumbled with my phone and texted him the first words that came to mind: “That was really harsh.”
“I’m sorry,” he wrote. We never spoke again.
Did I cry? No. Did it sting? Yes.
I figured out early on that being an amputee would affect my dating life. In college, I enjoyed going out every weekend, dancing with friends. Often, a guy would start conversations on a dark, crowded dance floor and sometimes get me a drink. Then we would walk upstairs to a lighted room to talk, where he would glance down and see my legs below my skirt and find an excuse to wander off.
One guy who didn’t wander off told me that our mutual friend had given him a heads up, saying, “You know she has one leg, though, right?” I was not asked to date parties at fraternities. I couldn’t wear heels going out because of my prosthetic ankle adjustment. And I had to watch what I drank so that I could safely walk up and down the stairs of house parties. It all had to be planned in my head every time.
I still don’t have a plan for explaining over dating apps how I lost my leg. In fact, telling guys how I lost my leg is the last thing I want to do on a dating app. Sometimes I’ll say, “I had bone cancer as a young girl.” Keeping it simple. I cringe at the responses: “Oh damn.” “I am so sorry.” “You must be so strong.”
On dating apps, I don’t want to be thought of as being that kind of strong. I don’t want to talk about chemotherapy; I really have to be in the mood for that. On apps, I just want to know if we can go out to dinner and grab a drink on Friday night.
When I think of Rob, I know I dodged a bullet. Friends are quick to say that he was not meant for me, and they’re right. But I also wonder what would have happened if we had met, if I had not mentioned my leg.
If I hadn’t mentioned the leg, Rob and I would have met for dinner. When I arrived, I might have caught him off guard with my walking limp. He might not have been into it, but he would have had no choice but to talk with me, to engage with me, at least for a while, as an actual person.
Even if he were to drop things with me afterward, just to be able to humanize the abstraction would have been valuable. And my hope would be from that night on, Rob wouldn’t be able to escape into baseless misconceptions and generalizations about other amputee women.
Perhaps he would remember me and think of the night we met, and maybe he would think of how little it all mattered then. Doesn’t change happen one person at a time? After all, in my life, there have been many Robs.
Rob doesn’t know, and will never know, that I walk around with an above-knee prosthesis for 16 hours a day as a medical student. He doesn’t know that I swim twice a week, that I ski on one leg and go out dancing on weekends. He doesn’t know that I’m a summer camp counselor for young amputees, that I proactively take care of my body, and that I travel independently.
Since that thing with Rob, I haven’t mentioned my leg during conversations on dating apps. I don’t want to spend time thinking about how to make other guys more comfortable with meeting me. I do not wish that at all. Recently, I remembered a different Rob I met years ago, an investment banker I dated for a bit. On our second date, we sat at Morganstern’s eating ice cream. He glanced at my leg. I glanced at him. And he said, “You don’t need to tell me anything about it. That’s up to you.” I kissed him that night.
He called things off a few weeks later because he said I deserved so much better. A typical line, I suppose, from the kind of guy who tries, but ultimately can’t move forward.
But he was right. I did and do deserve better.
Alexandra, how long have you been on dating apps?
I have been on dating apps for almost four years — since late 2018.
I feel like I’ve been on them for the majority of my adult life. You know what I mean?
I feel like, there’s just — the solidarity of women on apps is a really strong presence in my life. You know what I mean? Just being like, we’re all navigating this, but it’s such a necessary evil, and I really do mean evil. You know what I mean?
Yeah. I can’t speak to dating in other cities. I just feel like there’s something about being in New York and the endless, endless lists of options you have that you’re just wondering, how does anyone decide who to actually continue talking to or stop talking to or see twice? I don’t know.
It does feel really like we’re shooting in the dark, like we’re just making it up.
I wonder, would you be game to share your profile with me now?
I can totally share my profile with you now.
Oh, my God. I’m going to send mine to you as well.
All right, I’m sending you. There you are.
Oh, my God.
Oh, I love all of your photos. They’re so fun.
Oh, my God, I love your photos, too! OK, so this first one, it’s like a shoulders up shot. You look to be standing on a rooftop of some sort. How did you decide on this photo as your first pic?
I wanted it to feel like it was an actual snapshot of me. And this was a very typical day.
The lighting is superb in this. It’s like emanating from the corner. You look angelic. You’re doing sort of a soft smile. You’ve really mastered the closed mouth smile. It’s a gorgeous pic. I think you nailed it. I have to tell you, I think that’s 10 out of 10. Incredible first photo. Was this a selfie?
It was 100% a selfie —
— with a soft smile. That was totally true.
— and look at my first picture. Is that not the exact same thing?
Yes, you have the soft smile selfie and nice lighting.
And you’re like —
I’m neck up.
— neck up. [LAUGHS]
Another thing about this app is that there’s little written prompts — you know what I mean, that you —
— answer. And I see you have, “Where to find me at the party.” And your answer, which I love, is: “definitely dancing.” I want your honest feedback on my prompt answers. Because I feel like my tactic is because I sort of balk at their cheesiness, I don’t take them that seriously.
OK, your first prompt here is, “I’m looking for … more napkins.”
I feel like, A, I’m a messy eater, so that is like a real snapshot of me. I’m looking for more napkins. But then also, obviously, this prompt is supposed to be like, I’m looking for a love connection, or you know what I mean? Like I’m looking for something casual. And I chose to deliberately misread this prompt and put more napkins. I guess my approach with dating apps in general is to try to be funny. Do you feel like you use humor on your profile?
Well, I first want to say that I love the humor because I am also —
— always looking for more napkins and stashing them in my bag for literally no reason. It’s just a habit.
Hey, listen, you have to be prepared.
So there’s that. And yeah, I think I could probably use more humor on some of my profiles. There’s one that said, “What is your love language,” or “My love language is —”
— dot, dot, dot. And then I’m like, I don’t know. I could be funny and write, like, my love language is when people carry my leg to me when it’s in the other room.
It’s like the ultimate act of endearance.
Wait, I really love that. Well, tell me, so you’ve considered putting that down, but why haven’t you put it down?
I guess because I’m always trying to find that fine line of making this a thing and not making this a thing. Like, not getting too into talking about the leg, but also wanting to feel like I can talk about it in a way that feels me. And I joke about it all the time. It’s very light to me, even though it’s a heavy thing to other people. And that’s very, very true. I consider the loss of my leg and the cancer experience behind it to have been definitely some kind of trauma. That was a hard time. But I think the hardest times were figuring out my body image all the years afterwards.
But I think at the end of the day, I’ve kind of began to see it as something I can laugh and make light of, because this is what I’m going to look like for the rest of my life. And I don’t think it’s good enough to just accept the way I look and to just say, I’m OK with it. I really have to be at the point where I can celebrate it. And that’s been a big one for me.
Mm-hmm. Your essay is about how you present your prosthesis on a dating app. Do you have friends who navigate something similar on the apps?
Yeah, so some of my friends, if you can write a little bio about yourself under your first photo, they’ll say, like, left above-knee amputee, running around Dallas. Or something like, one-legged girl walking around San Diego, things like that. And I was like, well, that feels so loud. That feels so out there. But some of my friends, that’s what they’re going for. So sometimes we’ll have debates like, OK, should I slip in the word “amputee” in my bio? Or should I throw in a prompt that makes some joke about how I’m playing the longest game of hide and go seek ever?
Wait, what do you mean by that?
That was a joke that one of my friends — he told me this when we were having a talk one time about apps. He was like, why don’t you say something like, looking for my leg? It’ll be the longest hide and go seek game ever. And I was like, I don’t know if that’s funny or messed up, but —
Oh, my God. Yeah. Do you have any dates lined up in the near future?
I am supposed to go skiing with someone.
I know. And I have to say, I’ve never gone out skiing before with someone who I’d already been on a few dates with, so I’m kind of curious how that goes. And it’ll be interesting, because most of the time I’m skiing, I’m with other people in the adaptive community. So it would be really fun to go ski with someone who is just going to be out there with two skis and two poles.
Mm-hmm. Well, that sounds like an incredible date.
Alexandra, this has been truly so much fun to talk to you. Thank you so much.
Thank you for having me. This was so fun, and I’m very excited to been able to see your profile because it’s 10 out of 10.
Yours as well.
Modern Love is produced by Julia Botero and Hans Buetow. It’s edited by Sarah Sarasohn. This episode was mixed by Elisheba Ittoop. Dan Powell created our Modern Love theme music. Digital production by Mahima Chablani and a special thanks to Ryan Wegner at Audm. The Modern Love column is edited by Dan Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of Modern Love projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.