I gave a speech last week, at the sold-out Bellevue City Hall (calm down Amin, it was a free event) about my struggle to connect with others, how I overcame it, and why I decided to become a dating coach. The title of the speech is "The Real Barrier Is Invisible" and it was part of the Cultural Conversations special evening event (full video here). Below is a video of just my speech, and below THAT is the transcript (with the pictures that were shown behind me, if you're curious).
I know what you’re thinking…
● You’re thinking…what’s wrong with him?
● You’re thinking…I wonder how fast his wheelchair goes?
● And you’re thinking…wow, that is one sexy man…
Well thank you for the compliment. And to appease your curiosity, I will tell you that I was born with muscular dystrophy.
And this was a shock to my parents, because they had just immigrated to the United States from Pakistan, where people with disabilities are seen as liabilities. Burdens. And unable to contribute. But that’s not the life they wanted for me – so they supported me in pursuing my dreams, and so did the school system where I grew up, just outside Chicago.
HOWEVER, there was one area in my life, where I was completely left behind. And it started in middle school, when my best friend no longer wanted to sit with me at lunch – he wanted to sit with his “girlfriend.” And I wanted to girlfriend too, but I had no idea how to make that happen.
I mean, there are no classes on dating in middle school.
And I couldn’t ask my parents for advice, because they grew up in a very conservative Muslim culture. My mom got yelled at for just talking to a boy on the way home from school, and when my dad was old enough to be married, he visited 17 girls, at their homes, and picked my mom after a 5 minute conversation. I’m glad he picked one with nice hair, thanks mom.
So I consulted the movies – and they all had one message: girls like guys that are strong. So I came up with a master plan: first, I was going to do everything I could to hide my condition – and that was somewhat possible, because I was able to walk when I was younger. And second, I was going to be really successful, because that’s what girls care about, later in life anyway.
So I focused on my schoolwork. I took all honors and AP courses, and I was even ranked 1st in my high school class of 700 students. But when it came to girls, I was at the bottom of the class. When I would pass by the cheerleaders, with their bright red uniforms, my heart would race, and all I could think about was to not say something stupid. I told people I was too busy to go to the school dance, but in reality I was embarrassed that I didn’t have a date. And after my first year of high school, things got way more challenging, because I had to have surgery on my back, and I lost my ability to walk. I saw my wheelchair as a permanent symbol of weakness, and I struggled not just with girls, but even to make friends.
I hoped college would be different, but I found new barriers there, because social life revolved around alcohol, which I don’t drink, and fraternities, which were not wheelchair accessible. And all my classmates were dating each other, but I sat on the sidelines and wondered, would a girl ever be interested in this?
I got a job at Microsoft and hoped that I would fit in better there, but when I moved out here, my coworkers would talk about hiking, or rockclimbing, or skiing, and I would just stay quiet, because I didn't have anything to add.
But there seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel, because I had started talking to a girl from mosque, and she seemed to like me. So one day I gathered every ounce of courage in my body, and I kissed her, but she pulled away and said the words I will never forget – “I just don’t see myself dating a guy who uses a wheelchair.”
What else did I have to do? I had 2 degrees from an Ivy League University, a fantastic career, a car, and even a beautiful home. Was there NOTHING I could do to make up for being born with this body? And should I just accept my parents offer, to find me a nice girl from Pakistan, because maybe the only thing I had to offer, was a US passport?
No, I knew that I could never accept that.
So I hired a dating coach. Yeah, like Hitch. And I learned 3 very important lessons, which turned my life around.
First, I learned that I get to decide how people see me.
I could either be the sad guy in a wheelchair who is trying to hide and not talk about it, or I could be the charismatic guy who accepts that he sticks out, and even gives people something to look at. So I started to wear really tight clothing, sometimes too tight, and funky glasses, and cool socks.
I also started to joke about the wheelchair, to let people know that I’m comfortable with it, so they can be too.
Second, I learned that the most effective way to make friends is to be genuinely interested in other people. So when my mechanic mentioned that he went fishing, I asked him “what do you like most about fishing?” After several conversations about fishing, he took me out on his boat, so I could experience fishing, with a friend, for the first time.
Third, I learned that girls DO like strength – but – there is no greater strength than having the courage to talk to a woman that I find attractive, and to have that courage no matter how many times I’ve been rejected in the past.
So that’s what I do – I go up to women, I tell them I think they’re cute, and I talk to them. And guess what!? It works!
I’ve gone on dates now with over 40 different women, from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and even religions. I’ve had girlfriends as young as 19, and as old as 53 – which is a little awkward to say with my parents sitting right here.
But in all seriousness, my life got remarkably better after I learned these skills, and I thought maybe there's a reason that I went through years of disconnection, maybe there's a reason that I had nobody to talk to, and maybe there's a reason that I was given this body – and maybe that reason is to show the world, to teach the world, that no matter what challenges you have, you too can find connection.
So I started my own dating coach business. And I chose a name that would remind me every day that my wheelchair is not a symbol of weakness, but rather a symbol of strength, of courage, of perseverance. So ladies and gentlemen, my name is Amin Lakhani, and I am The Dating Coach on Wheels.