“Teenage Marna Michele would have never imagined she would have the opportunity to write about her love life. Let alone, a very specific love… the love OF her life.
Hi there, I’m Marna Michele and I’m going to share some of my love story with you if you don’t mind. First things first, I am a 29-year-old singer/songwriter and entrepreneur from Orange County, California. I was born with a rare disability called Arthrogryposis, although, with social media, it doesn’t seem that rare. I have been lucky enough to connect with many who share the same disability. I have even started my own brand by the name ‘Crippled Is Beautiful.’ Almost 4 and a half years ago, I met a bald beauty who managed to change the course of my life with one message from Tinder. ‘Hi.’ That’s how it began.
Now, if any of you have dated online, and I am sure you have, we know how difficult and ridiculous it can be. And trust me, I went through my fair share of difficult, ridiculous, and downright crazy. There were plenty of guys out there who asked those creepy questions or some who even had a wheelchair fetish. So, my hopes were never high while I was on Tinder. I was mostly there because I had just gotten out of a 3-year relationship with a not so great guy. So, my sister recommended this new app called Tinder. She even set me up and swiped for me. Low and behold, one of the fellas she swiped on was my now fiancé, Robert.
Fast forward to about a month of messaging back and forth, we planned our first date. I chose a brewery where my friend was the bartender, so I felt very safe and comfortable. On the day of our date, I had realized Robert never once asked me about my disability. And after what I had experienced through the app, and just life in general, that was very peculiar in my mind. I had it in my brain he did not know and if I showed up to this date, he would be disappointed because he had no clue I was in a wheelchair. This is very outdated thinking and the farthest thing from the truth, but we will get to that.
I texted him up and canceled our date, telling him I had double-booked plans with him and plans with my family. Later that night, I expressed to my sister what had happened and she insisted I text him to tell him the truth and reschedule. After a lot of thinking and realization, I flat out texted him and asked, ‘You know I’m in a wheelchair, right?’ It felt like an hour until he replied with a simple, ‘Duh, it’s all over your profile.’ I felt foolish I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt, but more foolish I didn’t give myself more credit. Yes, I am disabled. Yes, I am in a wheelchair… but I am also a hoot and a half with a pretty face and nice assets, if you know what I mean. My disability is not a flaw, nor does it make me un-sexy.
We rescheduled our date and gosh, am I thankful we did. I got there a little early, as I like to be prepared, and set myself up so I was comfortable. While I was at the bar talking with my bartender friend about a very odd fruit he used in his newest batch of beer, in came Robert. Mind you, this is our first in-person meeting. He swooped in, sat next to me, said hi, saw the fruit my friend was showing me, and exclaimed, ‘Oh, a rambutan!’ He proceeded to peel it, put the fruit to my mouth, and said, ‘Take a bite, they’re good.’ I had only but a split second to decide…should I be adventurous or decline? I chose to be adventurous, but immediately regretted the decision and ended up hating the fruit and spitting it back into this stranger’s hand. I mean… that’s what he was at the time, a complete stranger! I spit into a stranger’s hand… the things we did before COVID were wild!
Later that night, after 4 hours of talking and laughing and opening up about our hardships and our successes in life, we decided to extend our day date to an evening date. We strolled over to Taco Bell and shared a lovely meal together. When he walked me back to my car, he was very impressed with the ramp to my van. As I rolled backward up the ramp while saying goodbye, he casually said, ‘We could make out in your car’ with a sly smile. I simply said, ‘Not on the first date.’ He then gave me a very sweet kiss good night and asked me on a second date… or rather a third date? Second, second date? Considering the first one I canceled.
Now all these years later, Robert, who was once the stranger whose hand I spit a rambutan in, is now my soon-to-be HUSBAND. It has been an amazing 4 and a half years. Years filled with adventure, fun, and career changes. Going from strangers to lovers, to a couple who lives together to an engaged couple is crazy. This person who was once someone I didn’t know is now the most important person in my life. Robert is kind, strong, funny, honest, creative, and accepting. I have never felt more like myself before him. I truly believe you must love yourself fully before you can accept the love of someone else. And during my time with Rob, I have learned to love myself more and more with each passing day. I would like to say he has experienced something similar.
With all that being said, let’s get real. People fight and argue and get irritated with one another. And if I sat here and said this never happens with us, I would be lying, but I have been so thankful our communication with one other is so honest and loving. We can talk through most anything. Before this relationship, I was in a very unhealthy relationship, one I thought I deserved because it was the best I could get, since I’m disabled. But this was wrong. I should have never diminished my self worth or accepted the way my ex treated me.
I remember the transition going from an unhealthy relationship to a healthy one. For example, one of the first times I spent the night at Rob’s old apartment, I spilled water on his bed. WATER. I freaked out and apologized profusely. Robert had to literally hold me by the shoulders to calm me down and he said those magic words, ‘It’s just water.’ This was the moment I realized I had limited myself on the love I truly deserved. My ex was a very insecure boy, and I am so grateful I graduated from that to a strong, secure, kind man.
As I have taken this trip down memory lane, I’d like to talk a bit about our present time together. Being an engaged inter-abled couple is so neat and unique! As I wrote in my opening statement, teenage me would have never imagined this kind of love for herself. There are so many misconceptions out there about inter-abled couples, and growing up, I believed most of them. I diminished what I had to offer. But back to misconceptions… one of my favorites is my partner would be my ‘caregiver.’ This is so far from the truth. Of course, Rob helps me and is glad to do so, but he is not even close to being a caregiver. Although if he was, that would be fine, too!
For some reason, the majority of the world would portray Robert as a ‘hero’ for dating me and an even bigger ‘hero’ for marrying me! But what they don’t take the time to see is how much I offer to this relationship. I am Rob’s confidant, his best friend, his therapist, his nutritionist, his life coach. The things I can’t do physically, I make up with emotionally. Our relationship is 50/50, no matter what society thinks. I know this because of the very words he said when he proposed to me on our 4-year anniversary.
He had it all planned out, a night in and a freshly cooked meal. As we were sitting at the table and I was devouring my favorite thing he makes (risotto), I remember he started to push my plate back. I scowled at him angrily like a wolf who was still gnawing at her prey. He then started to give me a little speech… mind you, my mouth was still full. I’ll be very transparent, I don’t remember word for word what he said, but I do remember, ‘Best friend, love of my life, thankful for this relationship, will you marry me.’ Obviously, I said YES!
But there you have it, I have so much to offer this man and he’s smart enough to see it and to feel it. Never once has Robert made my disability feel like a bad thing. He looks at it as fact. I can’t walk, I am in a wheelchair to get around and I need help with certain things. I believe if more people would normalize disability the way my Robert does, then the world would be a much better and more inclusive place. And if sharing our love story can spread the slightest bit of advocacy and knowledge, then I’m here for it.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Marna Michele of Costa Mesa, CA. You can follow her journey on Instagram here and here, and her blog here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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