Ah, the first few dates! This is the time when we are on our best behavior – the time when we portray a positive attitude and demonstrate a solid relationship “résumé” (or at least try to). However, amputees have the added burden of when and how to bring up the subject of a prosthetic limb. Unfortunately, the thought of disclosing a limb difference to a new admirer can be intimidating, even for the most self-assured amputee.
Stephanie Bastos, 29, has learned all about that since losing her right leg below the knee as the result of a tragic automobile accident when she was 18.
“My attitude was like, this is crazy, but life goes on,” remembers Stephanie, a first-generation Brazilian-American and professional dancer who began her training and performance career with the Miami Ballet in Florida. “I was a senior in high school, and I was looking forward to parties, graduation night and boys.” Introducing her prosthetic leg to potential boyfriends, however, has proved to be a gamble.
My Two Party Dates
Stephanie bounced back to life after the accident though and was not afraid to meet boys. In high school, she says, she was dating a “beautiful guy.” However, Stephanie was easily sidetracked, and her high-school crushes went in and out of style like acid-washed denim and neon colors.
“I started to like another boy,” she confesses. At a party, Stephanie decided to make a move on a new guy, with some creative advice from girlfriends. She told her date that her aching leg (which, of course, was fine) needed some medicine and asked him to meet her back at a friend's house. Once her date was out the door, however, she proceeded to dance and exchange numbers with the other guy.
“I don't know why, but I came out of this shell after the accident, and all these guys were interested in me,” says Stephanie, “I think guys saw this 18-year-old who was not tripping about losing a leg.”
Single, Latin & Legless
High-school hormones may make hooking up easier, but dating tends to get a little more complicated with age. If Stephanie is on a date and the well-intentioned prospect pops the generic question, “So, tell me about you,” she isn't quick to say, “Well, I'm Stephanie, I'm Latin, and I lost my leg when I was 18.” That's not her style.
“My leg isn't a topic of conversation right off the bat unless he notices,” she says. If she is limping, and he wonders what's going on, then she will briefly talk about her accident. Usually, though, Stephanie waits for “the right time to approach the subject.”
I Dated a Calvin Klein Model
The stereotype is that models are shallow, but that's not what Stephanie has found. In fact, her experience shows that with a positive attitude and a little self-esteem, there is no reason that amputees can't date the hottest person in the room. “I was in Tampa, Florida, at a karaoke bar,” Stephanie says, “and this really good-looking guy with long blond hair came up to the table and introduced himself. Then he asks if I would like to sing a song with him.” He turned out to be a Calvin Klein model, and they became a couple for two years. His reaction to her leg, she says, was “very natural. He wasn't shocked or turned off.”
Rejection & Heartbreak
Unfortunately, not everyone is as open and accepting as the Calvin Klein model.
In college, Stephanie found a man she thought was the love of her life. He was gorgeous, smart and funny – everything she wanted. Until he discovered she wears a prosthesis. “Once he found out,” she says, “everything kind of went limp. The relationship was like a plane crash. We broke up.”
Devastated and rejected, Stephanie felt completely powerless and swore off dating. “I wanted to marry him,” she says, with a grimace. “When that happened, I was just so down; I was so sad.” According to a mutual friend, he didn't know how to deal with her disability. It was something unfamiliar, and he was scared. “It was the first time I had to start thinking about this and how it affects me as a woman and my relationships with men,” says Stephanie.
Reclaiming Her Life
After several months of not dating and spending time with friends, Stephanie focused on school and her passion: dancing and performing. “Training and dancing since I was 5 years old, there were always hurdles,” she says. “Losing my leg and being able to perform and dance was a physical challenge – and I was up for the challenge.”
Indeed. Stephanie graduated with honors from the New World School of the Arts/University of Florida with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. In addition, she has performed professionally with Urban Bush Women and Karen Peterson and Dancers and was a founding member and rehearsal director for the Isadora Duncan Dance Ensemble in Miami, Florida. Currently, she performs as a solo artist and with the AXIS Dance Company of Oakland, California.
Am I Ready for Love?
Eventually, Stephanie jumped back into the dating game. Still unable to forget the hurt and rejection of the past, she struggled to trust a new friend-turned-boyfriend. “I was really scared to tell him,” she says. “He was the first guy I dated after the bad experience.”
Things seemed good, though, and the relationship heated up a notch. “We eventually moved into a more intimate relationship where he put his hand on my leg and felt it,” remembers Stephanie. “Mind you, we had been dating for two months and had gone dancing so I immediately felt scared.”
All of her worst fears began to surface, and, reluctantly, she told him about her prosthesis. “He was cool with it,” she says. He was more supportive than turned off and asked, “Why didn't you tell me this before?”
During these times, Stephanie has also had to come face-to-face with her insecurities about physical intimacy. Her own negative feeling about her residual limb has been one of the barriers. “I think it looks ugly and hairy,” Stephanie admits. “I usually keep a sock over it.”
Because she feels awkward with her naked residual limb, she usually keeps her prosthesis on during physical intimacy. “I feel more comfortable with it on,” she says. After she has known a man for a long time and feels compatible, however, she is sometimes able to be physically intimate without it.
A Man I Can Be Comfortable With
Stephanie wants to strengthen her body image and possibly allow her next boyfriend to touch and rub her residual limb. “I look forward to that,” she says. “I haven't done it yet. It's not because of him; it's my own reservation. I want to slowly go to that intimacy. I would love to be with a man who can say, ‘Can I massage your leg?' I hope to be with a man who is completely comfortable with himself and with whom I can be comfortable.”
If a guy is interested in her, she says, he needs to be able to accept her prosthesis or she doesn't need to be with him. “Guys need to know that I come with a lot of surprises other than just my leg. There are many things about me that are different. If he can't handle this, he won't be able to handle the rest. So I just weed them out.”
Meeting new people is difficult, and not everyone is going to be a match. If your limb difference becomes an issue and you discover the person you are interested in is shallow, just dust yourself off and try again!
In August 2005, Stephanie performed at the Amputee Coalition Annual Educational Conference & Exposition in Dallas, Texas. She danced to the song Ready for Love, by India Arie, and finished to thunderous applause and a standing ovation.