Now that I have written a few blogs in the series “Living in An Uncertain World,” I can get into some of the good stuff like the topic of this blog, “blind love.” Many may think that relationships and finding a partner doesn’t differ much whether blind or fully sighted, after all, love is love with or without vision, right? It is true that love is love, but to think that there is no difference in the process of finding love could be no farther from the truth.
In my view, there are many mountains to climb when accepting and coming to grips with your vision loss. The first mountain, I will call Everest. It’s the largest mountain and the one that everyone knows about. Everest in this case, refers to accepting that being blind is “normal” for you. You may do things differently and people may look at you in a different way, but that is who you are. When you have climbed Everest, you know you are blind and can share this with others, but your blindness does not define nor limit you. After Everest, there are more mountains to climb. These mountains may not be as tall and well known as Everest, but they can be much more challenging. Some of these mountains include K2 (Dating & Relationships), Denali (Employment) and Mt. Rainier (Higher Education). Mountains such as Denali and Mt. Rainier will be discussed in greater detail in future blogs. This blog will focus on K2. K2 is known as the toughest mountain in the world to climb, and for blind/VI individuals one of the toughest psychosocial issues to confront.
Getting into the dating world can be a psychological and emotional roller-coaster for a blind visually impaired individual. I would say it is even more challenging for males, as in our society there are stereotyped duties and roles that the male is supposed to fulfill. Some of these include: opening doors for the woman, driving, providing financially for the woman, fixing things around the house and the list goes on and on. I am sure you probably can tell where I am going with this. As blind/visually impaired individuals, there are some things that we are unable to do. There are also some things that people don’t think we can do, but we can, we just have our own method.
As a result of the expectations of what a man should provide in a relationship, and all the stereotypes surrounding those expectations, a great deal of questioning of our self-worth and whether we are good enough to meet the standards of the ideal male partner arise in our heads. This creates a constant internal battle. Questions such as, “How will she react when she realizes I am unable to drive or when I need her to read the food menu to me?” or “Does she consider me a burden or is she looking beyond my vision?” swirl in our minds. As people of the blind community, we are very attentive to how people perceive us and we never want to be looked at as a burden. Undoubtedly there are things that take us longer and ways that we do things differently, but in order to fully understand the dilemma we are in, one must erase the ways of the sighted world and look at each situation as if in our shoes. This does not imply in any way that we want people to do things for us, but rather we want people to appreciate and understand the reasons and the thought processes by which we live. Only when there is this appreciation and understanding will a relationship between a blind/VI and a sighted individual be successful.
The psychological struggle of how others perceive us is an ongoing one for people of the blind/VI community. It first rears its head as we are climbing Everest and trying to come to grips with the realization that this is who we are, and then it comes back with fury when climbing K2. This struggle is probably the reason why so many blind/VI individuals end up single or end up dating others that are blind and in their same situation. I would be willing to say that the concern of “How others perceive us and whether we ask for too much,” is the #1 psychological battle we face after accepting that we have lost our vision. This trickles down to asking friends for rides or other small favors that make our life easy. We never want to feel like we don’t appreciate the help others give us or want them to get burnt out from helping us. For this reason, people of the blind/VI community are driven to prove their ability to live independently.
During many conversations about the struggle I went through in finding a long-term partner, others found it difficult to grasp. They found it hard to believe that someone meeting the fun and energetic Aaron would consider me a burden. At first, I struggled with why people would think that way too. I had many people that wanted to help me with things such as rides, reading my mail and other tasks that just took me forever. I was very grateful for the help I got from these people, but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t making that connection, where I didn’t get the sense that over time was becoming too much for them. I knew that if the extra help I needed and the ways in which I had to do things differently was an issue, a long-term relationship with that person just wouldn’t work.
After struggling with the fact that others may perceive me as a “burden,” I came to the realization of two important facts that helped me understand the questions I had. Here is what I discovered:
1. Blindness is a Trait: There is no stamp on our forehead that says “blind” when diagnosed. Just like those that have anger problems or those that have early onset baldness don’t have a stamp on their heads stating those traits. Blindness is neither an all a good thing nor an all a bad thing. It is a physical trait that is very impacting on our lifestyle. It is such a meaningful trait that if we let it define us than it can “disable” us. This is no different than the physical trait of being overweight and how if we let it define us it can lead to depression and other medical co-morbidities.
Putting this in the context of relationships, most individuals are first attracted by physical traits and personality traits such as energetic and funny. Over the course of dating, people find out new traits about their partner that bother them, such being messy, disorganized, overly motivated/unmotivated, live a sedentary lifestyle/extremely active life, selfish, unappreciative, overly optimistic, spontaneous, the list goes on and on. For some people, these traits push them over the edge and lead to the end of the relationship. For others, these traits are the ones that keep the relationship together. Either way, we shouldn’t endure hatred towards on another if our personality traits don’t coincide with the personality traits that fulfill the other person’s needs. Blindness is a trait, just like the ones aforementioned. One can like the trait or hate it and we should not dislike or harbor anger to those that are not attracted to this trait. In contrast, others should not use blindness as the defining trait or determinate factor of a relationship before truly discovering who we are as a person.
2. Blindness Brings a Whole New Perspective to Life: Living with someone who is blind introduces you to a whole new world. It teaches you resiliency to overcome whatever obstacle is in your way. It teaches humility when you run into things or wear totally mismatched clothes. It teaches you how to trust and verbally communicate with others rather than basing your views on facial expressions or body language. Lastly, it teaches you how to look beyond superficial attributes of others and learn more about who they are at the core.
As people that are blind/VI, there are many attributes we bring to the table that no one else in this world possesses. These are the attributes that make the trait of blindness attractive when in conjunction with all other traits that make up the individual. I have found that there is a special group of individuals that see the world from our perspective and truly appreciate and are attracted to the gifts that we bring to the table. When we as blind/VI individuals find these special people, we need to understand and realize how rare and unique these individuals really are.
In summary, dating and relationships for people of the blind/VI community is like climbing K2, one of the world’s toughest mountains. It is not impossible though, especially after we have already climbed Everest, the tallest mountain the world. The good news for us as people who have the trait of blindness, is that we have also learned to be resilient and relentless, both qualities essential to success. We as blind/VI need to realize that we are in the same boat as everyone else. There are only certain people that have what we are looking for and only certain people that see what they are looking for in us. When we find these people, we must appreciate them and realize that they possess special attributes just like us.
I will end this blog with a few words of advice to both those of the sighted and blind communities. To those of the blind community, don’t get down or angry if your trait of “blindness” is not attractive to someone else. I’m sure that you could find a trait that is a “deal breaker” in them as well. Also, don’t settle on someone that is attracted to you, but you are not attracted to, just because you don’t think your good enough for someone else. But if you find someone that is attracted to you and you are attracted to him or her, you better realize that this is something special and may not come around again. To those of the sighted community, don’t look at our trait of “blindness” as you may look at someone’s physical appearance. Blindness is not a superficial trait like a sculpted body or attractive face is, it is much deeper. The only way you can know if it attracts you or not is to get to know us more and attempt to look at the world from our shoes. If you have done this, and appreciate what we go through and how we do things, but are still not attracted, that is totally fine.