Welcome to It’s Complicated, stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships. (Want to share yours? Email pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
It’s a Saturday at 6:30 in the morning, and there’s a man trying to break into my apartment building through the back door.
I know this because I invited him, having just woken up to his “wyd come over” text from the night before.
These brief late-night texts have become a standard exchange between us ever since we reconnected as old friends turned fuck buddies on Tinder several months earlier. I tell him I can’t come over because my foot is broken, and I’m surprised to find that he’s not only awake, but also seemingly turned on by this response. He asks to see a photo of my cast, which is hot pink with neon yellow stripes and covers the length of my right calf, and tells me he’s jumping in an Uber to my place. Never mind that it’s dawn, he lives on the opposite end of town, and has to be at work at noon.
The problem, when he arrives for the earliest booty call I’ve ever had, is that I physically can’t walk down the stairs to let him in. My 100-year-old building doesn’t have an elevator or an intercom, and I’m on crutches, which makes it difficult for me to do just about anything that involves leaving my studio apartment. Eventually, he gives up on trying to get into the building without a key, so he waits on the porch while I get out of bed and strap on my least sexy accessory: a hands-free crutch I bought on Amazon that locks around my upper thigh. It takes a few minutes to put on, and it makes me look a bit like a cyborg — eliciting plenty of stares when I wear it in public — but it helps me get up and down the stairs when I absolutely need to, which, apparently, is right now.
It wouldn’t be the last time I found myself in this predicament. I spent weeks that summer on a kind of house arrest, my right foot fractured in three places (the result of tripping on some steps, a story that is far less interesting than any of my inquiring Uber drivers would’ve liked).
During that time, basic errands like grocery shopping became an able-bodied luxury I could no longer accomplish on my own. Even taking a shower required a level of time and strategy I’d never considered back when I took my two functioning feet for granted. But in spite of these challenges, there was one thing that became noticeably easier: getting laid.
While nearly every aspect of my work and social life had slowed to a halt, my sex life was never more active than when I was incapacitated.
Not only were men chasing after me — kind of an ironic phrase, considering I really couldn’t go anywhere at all — but I also no longer had to leave my house or get dressed up to see them. The same suitors who previously hadn’t returned my texts or couldn’t be bothered to meet me for a drink unless I drove to their side of town were now eager to dote on me.
One guy I’d been casually dating on and off for months offered to bring me dinner, despite the fact that we almost never hung out at my place. I’d ended things with him earlier that summer, but something about his text — “Can I be your Kathy Bates?” — made me reconsider. It was a reference to the Stephen King movie Misery, in which Bates’s character holds a writer hostage and chops off his foot with an axe. In hindsight, I probably should’ve found the joke creepy rather than charming, but I proceeded to ask him if he’d like to come over and sign my cast — a question I never imagined I’d utter as an adult, and certainly not as a pickup line.
Another guy I’d only gone out with once pledged to come over with a bag of groceries and cook for me. Normally I’d think this idea was too forward for a second date, but it was hard to resist the idea of a home-cooked meal after living on the canned and frozen foods a friend had helped me stockpile so I wouldn’t have to make multiple trips to the store. I decided to take him up on the offer.
The newfound attention was flattering, but I wondered if I was inadvertently fulfilling some kind of damsel-in-distress fantasy that allowed men to feel like my savior. When I expressed this concern to a friend, he mused aloud that some of these guys might even be taking it a step further. There was a whole category of cast and injury porn on the internet, he told me — and sure enough, a quick Google search showed dozens of websites, multiple Reddit communities, and thousands of pornhub.com videos dedicated to cast, injury, and broken bone fetishes. The appeal, it seems, is the cast as a form of bondage or submission. A little more digging led me to a related phenomenon known as “abasiophilia,” a term coined by Johns Hopkins professor John Money to refer to an erotic fixation with a partner who is unable to walk. Had I suddenly become more desirable because I’d lost my mobility?
The thought of it made me cringe — but it didn’t stop me from embracing the circumstance. Before long, “Come over and sign my cast” had become my coded sexual proposition of choice, akin to asking someone if they wanted to Netflix and chill. (It was also the quickest way to a UTI, as I soon discovered, which meant that I spent that summer going back and forth from the urgent-care clinic for reasons that had nothing to do with my foot.)
It was a new phenomenon for me, asking for what I wanted and demanding it on my own terms. In the past, I’d often made too many concessions for men I liked: I’d say yes to dates even if the time was inconvenient or the location was far out of the way, because I didn’t want to come off as difficult. More often than not, I’d trek to see them at their place rather than mine, making excuses for my small apartment or the lack of nearby parking. But being temporarily physically disabled forced me to put my own needs before anyone else’s, even if that meant telling a date that what I really needed was someone to drop off groceries.
As I became more vocal, I also found myself caring less about how I presented myself on social media. I’d previously used Instagram Stories to show only the more glamorous aspects of my life, projecting an image of myself as the kind of person who got dressed up and went out with friends multiple times a week. But when I could no longer go out, I passed the time by documenting the parts of me that were messy and literally broken. Out of boredom, I frequently posted mundane videos of my motionless gauze- and cotton-wrapped foot, or my bizarre attempts to walk using my robotlike hands-free crutch. Later, I took videos of my cast being cut off twice — the first time, my foot hadn’t fully healed so I had to do the whole process over again — and my eventual graduation into a medical boot and, later, an orthopedic black shoe with a foam sole and Velcro straps. Like the hands-free crutch, this shoe was one of the least sexy things I’d ever put on my body, but the fact that I could actually wear it felt like a small victory worth celebrating. Each time I posted a video, responses flooded in from friends and acquaintances — including guys I occasionally flirted with — asking how they could help and what they could bring me. My cast, it turns out, was the biggest thirst trap of all.
In the end, though, I don’t think it was really the cast or the impaired mobility that made me so alluring to the people in my life. It was likely the fact that I finally stopped trying so hard and let myself be vulnerable at a time when I genuinely needed help. I asked for what I wanted, and most of the time, I got it — even if none of the men I dated that summer ever did sign my cast.