I came home from a wedding shower one June day in 2008 and decided I was sick of hiding and being alone/lonely, that I was ready to take a step toward finding love.
Love hadn’t found me. It wasn’t as simple as making eye contact with a guy from across a crowded bar and him asking me for my phone number. For me, there was no possibility of that "whole eyes meeting from across the crowded room" phenomenon, not without enough sight to make such a thing happen on my end. So I started to think about how to make it happen.
"Upload pictures of yourself smiling and having fun! The psychology is if you are happy, you can make others happy," or so suggests online dating website Plenty of Fish, of which I’ve been a member (off and on) for the last 10 years now. What does that mean for a person who is blind or visually impaired?
Using the Phone
Fellow VisionAware peer Jeannie Johnson started before online dating, with the good old telephone.
"When I started trying to get dates with people I’d never met, it was on the phone. My first experience was with the Nashville Singles Line, inexpensive, but not free. There was another that was free. A few weeks ago, I was going to demonstrate the Nashville Singles Line to a single friend, only to find that it no longer exists." —Jeannie Johnson
Using the Internet
For me (Kerry), the Internet seemed my best bet. I felt guys were often too nervous to approach me, and I was shy and had little experience. If only I could use my writing ability to procure a controlled narrative about myself, showing that I was more than blind, that I liked movies and concerts and travel. Then, maybe then, someone might give me a chance.
Points to Consider in Using Online Dating Sites: Jeannie’s Perspectives
To use online dating sites, online dating websites must be accessible for people with vision loss to be able to use them.
My first experience with online dating was with eHarmony, then $40, as I recall. The website was very blind-friendly, as I think I was able to access all the parts and fill in the fields using my screen reader. Its founder is Neil Clark Warren. He wrote a book on which the website’s parts are based, Date or Soul Mate: How to Know If Someone Is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less, 2002, available from BookShare."
Disclosure of Vision Loss
Do we disclose our blindness immediately in the online dating profile? If we do, will that scare men off before they even get to know us? Should we be honest and upfront? Will most guys appreciate our forthcomingness?
I didn’t reveal immediately that I’m blind, but if there seemed to be interest between the other person and me, I did let him know before we actually met. A person I met through the Nashville Singles Line, with whom I had a relationship that lasted just over two years, later said he was glad I told him in advance, as it might have been a bit of a shocking surprise had he not known beforehand. Of course, then there were those who greeted the news with immediate rejection with statements like, "I’ve never met a blind person. I wouldn’t know how to act!" I quickly learned that most people who made such proclamations also chose to remain ignorant and not venture out of their comfort zone.
I would soon learn, this wasn’t a question with a simple, easy answer, that it’s different for everyone. I had to make a choice I could live with. So, I included that bit of information about me. I didn’t make it the first thing someone read when they came across my profile, but I didn’t act like it was a secret. I tried to be middle-of-the-road in this like I try to be in most things in life.
There. Decision made. That was done. I could write a profile, but how long to make it?
The questions kept on coming. Soon though, so did the messages.
Managing the Messages
Some were insulting and awful, but it felt comforting I was getting reactions I heard every other woman also received because I felt like I was just like everyone else. I liked being online because I could block and delete. I didn’t have to answer every message, not if it was rude or thoughtless. I felt like I had some kind of control, the kind I had none of in a noisy, busy, blurry bar.
It was still a visual concept, the fact that dating and online dating felt like a buffet of sorts, which are also difficult for people who are blind.
I found that everyone has preferences and qualities they are looking for. I wasn’t exempt from doing this; for some, it was physical attributes, for me it was a lack of grammar. I soon found my comfort with the right amount of messages, back and forth, before meeting in person.
Some seemed in a hurry, while I liked to learn a bit about them, but not so much that there would be little magic in a first face-to-face meeting.
While most people liked pictures, to see what they’d be getting, I liked to hear a voice over the phone. It gave me something to go by, and I could tell if attraction through voice was there or not.
I couldn’t fault some guy if my face wasn’t what they were looking for. Sure, we could meet, and he could change his mind after hearing my stories or my dry, witty sense of humor. But so could I meet him and fall for him, even if my initial attraction to the sound of his voice hadn’t been immediate. It was all a game of chance.
The Keyword: "Game"
Was that the keyword in all this, "game?"
It still felt like a lot of a physical attraction, with photos being the main point. That’s how it worked for most people. I couldn’t get more than a worded description of some guy’s picture from a trusted source such as my older sister. I could sense, by her reaction, how the whole visual impression thing worked.
And so, I talked on the phone, met at a pub or something, and started dating. I could tell a guy’s openness to life if my blindness didn’t prevent him from at least meeting me for a drink and a conversation. I soon saw that there were all kinds of guys out there, even some that might like me for me.
The End Result of My Phone and Online Dating
Although none resulted in a long-term relationship, I felt that the guys I met through eHarmony were, overall, the best matches. I found Neil Clark Warren’s book particularly helpful, as the exercises forced me to examine myself and the qualities that I both wanted and would not accept in a potential mate.
I’m a list maker by nature, so I listed my "must haves," "prefers," and "unacceptables." I decided I wasn’t going to just settle for whoever came my way. I then tried to figure out if I knew anyone who fit my criteria, thinking that no man existed like that. Every time I thought about it, though, the name "Cary" kept coming to mind. We were friends, but I’d never thought of him as a dating prospect. A few years later, when we were both available, we finally did start dating and have now been happily married for almost nine years.
The irony is that I had always set my sights on guys who could see and drive. Although I wanted to be accepted in spite of being blind, I wasn’t willing to accept that in another person. Through knowing and dating Cary, I realized which traits I had listed were really important and which ones were not, as he, in fact, is visually impaired and doesn’t drive!
Dating Is Tricky: Kerry’s Perspective
Dating is tricky for us all, at some point, and it’s a risk you have to choose to take. Jeannie, for one, took the necessary risk and has found a love that’s right for her.
I know the stigma that was much more common, back when chat rooms were popular and the Internet was newer, but of which still exist now: If you are dating online, there must be something wrong with you. But I knew that if I was doing it, and I knew I was a person worth getting to know, that other people like me must be out there too.
My blindness is just one bit of the puzzle, one thing a person can choose to accept or not accept, just as I must if a guy who likes camping, when I hate it, is the right person for me to take a chance on.
Of course, some differences are bigger than others, and I still know, after being in a few relationships with people I first met online, that love is complicated and multi-layered.
February Means Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is a time when love and romance are everywhere. Dating and relationships are made up of many things, but physical appearances are always going to play a part. That’s just something I’m learning to accept.
This year, on February 14th, I will be having lunch with a friend. Being single, before and after finding love and losing it, this is all part of what makes life and relationships so utterly fascinating.
I Haven’t Given Up on Love
Are there more challenges with blindness as a companion made up of differing concerns? Yes.
Does this mean I’ve given up? Not a chance.
Yet, I have learned a lot about myself throughout the last 10 years of finding love online. It’s just one more way of finding a connection with another person. Just another way.
For now, I am focusing on myself and making the best life I possibly can. I can’t allow myself to get too hung up on the pictures I can’t see or the things I cannot control. Loving myself and my life is the part I can.
As I pass my fourth Valentine’s Day as a single woman, who is blind and who loves to play the violin and who is making my way as a writer, I haven’t given up on love.
I know love is always worth the risk, however it happens, and I’d sign up for that site all over again if I had to go back and do it all again today.
We could all stand to take more risks like this in life, especially for the chance at love.
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