Let’s Get This Over With: A Love Story

Exactly one year ago today, I met a new friend for a casual evening of food and conversation. We had exchanged several text messages and met casually a couple of times, but we didn’t know each other very well at all. I assumed him to be a stand-up guy—we had a few mutual friends who vouched for him—but that’s all I knew. When asked by friends and family whether this outing was a date, I protested that I was still grieving over the devastating dissolution of a 4.5-year relationship (absolutely true) and was in no state to be dating anyone, much less a near-stranger. As the evening progressed, however, and an innocuous meal turned into an entirely too romantic walk along the river valley (the sun was setting, the atmosphere was intoxicating, we didn’t really have a choice in the matter), I realized, quite abruptly, that this was, indeed, a date.
Uh-oh.
Faced with the prospect of opening myself to a new person so soon after being mistreated by someone else, I began to panic. I couldn’t possibly be ready for this! I had so many problems! My mental health was at one of its lowest points, and that’s saying something. I was perpetually exhausted, (I had new-job syndrome), and nursing emotional wounds that are still healing themselves one year later. My moods were unpredictable. My emotional landscape felt jagged and chaotic. Most days, it seemed as though I was being held together by threads so frayed and fragile they’d snap at the slightest provocation. I was an undeniable mess—not an appealing or interesting mess, the way a million colours scribbled on a page can be beautiful in their own nonsensical way. No, I was more like the mess you shove hastily into your closet when company comes knocking—the kind you pretend doesn’t exist and continually refuse to sort out because it’s too frightening. If you opened that closet door, you just know everything would come tumbling out.
That, dear reader, was the version of me trying to decide whether I was prepared to pursue a new relationship.
Certain that I had stumbled into a misunderstanding and determined to set the record straight, I did what any sensible gal would do on a first date: I sat down on this near-stranger’s couch—and an attractive stranger he was, too—and told him everything that made me undatable.
Yes, that was my first-date strategy: reveal every conceivable shortcoming, cover every awkward topic, explore every taboo, and excavate any past mistakes that would disqualify me as a suitable girlfriend. Lay it all out, get the unpleasantness out of the way, and he’ll balk, right? Surely telling him all about my multiple disabilities, my mental illness, my dubious track record with romantic relationships, my spectacularly poor choices, my insecurities, my unwillingness to ever have children, my overwhelming fear of failure—all of these would definitely scare him off, yes? In the name of honesty, I dredged up everything I could think of off the cuff that would make him retract his interest so I wouldn’t have to deal with big, scary decisions.
In short, I handed him every reason he’d ever need to call it quits before we’d even begun … as one does. (Everyone tries this on the very first date. This is a completely normal approach. I’m not currently laugh-crying as I’m writing this. Nope.)
Those of you who don’t know me very well may think you know where this is going. He was caught off guard, improvised some polite and sympathetic response, and led me gently to his door. When a woman implies, without an ounce of subtlety, that she is a disaster on legs, just thank the universe she’s not wasting your time.
Those of you who do know me, of course, will know that’s not quite how it happened. Instead, he sat quietly and listened while I gave him my spiel. He asked a few respectful questions, provided the odd empathetic comment here and there, and waited patiently until I was finished.
“So…okay…I’m sorry I dumped all this on you, but I really need to know. I need to know if you can handle all my … stuff. Otherwise, there’s just no point. Any guy I’m with has to be okay with my disabled, chronically ill, foolish self.” (For those of you fuming at my excessively self-deprecating portrayal of disability and chronic illness…just hang on. I’m getting to that.)
“Yeah. Of course. I think it’s great that you told me all this now. It’s brave to tell me, and it’s good information to know.”
As it turns out, not only did this remarkable creature have a disability of his own (moderate and mostly invisible), he was happy to explore romance with someone who had a handful of fairly serious problems, as long as I was willing to be honest about them. Exposing everything in one go, on day one, had the opposite effect you might imagine. Far from deterring him, it actually encouraged him to trust me and seemed to make me even more attractive to him. With everything on the table from the get-go—and yes, for those wondering, he did reciprocate by telling me many of his own struggles that night—we went into our tenuous relationship knowing there would be few surprises and no unnecessary anxiety about whether we were putting on a good face for each other.
Naturally, there were some who were horrified by what I’d chosen to do.
“You talked about all that stuff on the first date? Were you actually trying to scare him away?”
On the other hand, many others were pleased to hear that my impulsive strategy had worked, and a few even stated they’d like to try it for themselves, perhaps more gracefully than I had, but with the same unflinching sincerity.
“It would be kind of nice,” some said, “not to have to worry about them ‘finding things out.’ The slow reveal, especially with invisible disabilities and mental illness, can be even scarier than just spilling it all out at once.”
There was another latent benefit to depositing my life story into the lap of someone loving and respectful: I was reminded, once again, that my disabilities, illness, and various other attributes don’t make me undatable. They may present significant challenges, but they are not objects of shame, ridicule, or guilt. Choosing to date me even with full knowledge of my broad range of atypical challenges was an act of faith, perhaps, but never of charity. My partner wasn’t doing me a favour by agreeing to “handle” these things. I wasn’t “undatable,” and never have been.
Today, as I celebrate my first anniversary with a partner I have come to respect and adore, I appreciate the many ways in which our story could have veered into much darker territory. He could have been repulsed by what I’d disclosed. He could have promised he could handle it and realized that wasn’t really true. He could have used the sensitive information I gave him to do me harm. Any number of catastrophes could have resulted from the way I handled our first date. Reeling from exhaustion and pain, I wasn’t in the most stable state of mind, and I fully acknowledge that if I’d been in a better place emotionally, I may have handled this quite differently.
All this has taught me that the recipe for a healthy relationship requires trust and forthrightness from the very beginning. Even if you don’t present your prospective partners with bulleted lists of all your issues—and I don’t generally recommend that you do what I did—it’s essential that you feel comfortable around a person you’re planning to date. Romantic relationships place us in vulnerable positions, and if you don’t think your partner could handle how ill you get during migraines, or how much help you need when trying to identify objects you can’t see, you should probably keep looking. In the meantime, remember that while there may be many people out there who aren’t right for you, you deserve to find someone who is.

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When It Happens To You…

It happened on a bus. I was sitting near my boyfriend, who is not fully sighted but whose vision loss is not noticeable to the average passers-by. An older woman began talking to him, and my mind drifted a little. I was jolted back to earth, though, when I heard her say, quite sweetly, that it was “so nice of [him]to take care of [me].”
There it was.
I knew it would happen sometime, I really did. I’d heard so many stories from other blind people who had sighted partners. I’ve commiserated with them, thinking I knew how it felt because people had made abstract statements of that kind to me. I’ve basically heard it all: you need a husband so he can take care of you; you can’t raise kids or manage daily life without a man; you need to choose a sighted partner so he can keep you safe–and on and on.
It turns out that I was wrong about one crucial element: an abstract statement, no matter how offensive, is far less upsetting than a well-meant but deeply personal one–and it wasn’t even directed at me!
I tried to break it down. After all, I knew this was coming. My previous partner had been totally blind, so we never encountered this situation, but as soon as I began dating my current boyfriend, I expected it. So if I knew it would happen, and had helped so many others bounce back after it happened to them, why couldn’t I anticipate exactly how much it would hurt?
In the end, besides the fact that I am an independent person who takes care of people as often as they care for me, the tone and style of her words were my undoing. This woman thought she was being kind. She simply wanted to commend this nice young man for what she considered exceptional strength of character. Her intentions were pure and I’m certain she did not understand that it might be the wrong thing to say–let alone harmful to the girl in question. I know all this, and yet…
I think it comes down to feeling like an object. The conversation did not include me, strictly speaking. I was not being spoken to, but about. This woman’s casual praise concerned me at least as much as it concerned him, but I don’t believe I was really meant to participate at all except to agree emphatically and gaze at him adoringly for the next few minutes. I was merely the tangible, living example of my partner’s essential goodness and compassion.
Now, he really is a wonderful human being, and sometimes having a blind girlfriend does involve offering a little extra assistance. We travel using sighted guide, for example. Other than a few relatively minor adjustments, we function as any other couple would. My blindness isn’t usually on my mind, and I doubt it’s on his either.
I know this–know it down to my bones–but I still feel insecure, hurt, and embarrassed when someone assumes otherwise. I found this particular incident so unsettling that it took me a few minutes to calm down fully, and I regret to say that I did not respond to her comment with as much grace as I should have. True, I tempered my “I take care of me–he really doesn’t…” with a smile, but I don’t know how effective my attempts to cover my shock and indignation really were.
So, okay, it was a difficult experience. It was humbling, because I thought I could handle such a thing with minimal effort. I believed I was near-impervious to this sort of thing, only because so many fellow disabled people had dealt with it first. What’s the big deal?
Ultimately, this is my takeaway: you cannot know how something will feel until you go through it. Guide dog handlers might be sure of their reaction when they experience their first access refusal, hoping their conviction that it’s wrong will carry them past anger or humiliation. Disabled people who are denied a job based on discrimination can’t know just how painful and frustrating it will be before it actually happens. A student cannot predict their emotional response to being barred from a course because they are deemed unemployable and unteachable until the moment it occurs. I know this, because I’ve been through the last two examples and witnessed numerous people go through the first. My experiences mesh with theirs: it’s easy to empathize; it’s much harder to deal with these situations when they’re directed at you, and only you.
So what can I do? What can we all do?
First off, we can avoid assuming we have such a firm handle on our emotions. We can choose not to claim we know how we will feel until we find out the hard way. We can definitely prepare for the eventuality, and do our best to steel ourselves against what we know we’ll face at some point. Even as we do this, we must be mindful that all that preparation might fly out the window when we need it most.
The more important step is to support other disabled people even more wholeheartedly than we have before. It is not enough to stand by and comfort them. We must avoid minimizing their feelings or pretending we can know what they’re struggling with if we genuinely do not. It may seem like we understand a situation intimately, but there’s just no replacement for first-hand experience.
Going forward, I’ll apply the lessons I learned from this encounter, while continuing to embrace the compassionate view I’ve tried to nurture all along. At the end of the day, I know I must not forget that this sweet woman’s only goal was to praise what she considered to be a small pocket of good in an increasingly dark landscape. She actually went on to say that we made a good couple. She wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, and while I know her viewpoint is wrong and even unhealthy, I can’t change it, not for now. All I can do is move on, let it go, and practice resilience. I hope that, next time it happens, I’ll be ready.

You Should Date A Blind Person, Because…

While some are busy advising us to date sighted people, others are equally busy insisting we date within the blind community. These people are influenced in part by a belief that sighted people are either inferior or superior, and that it’s best for us to stick to our own kind. They think you should date a blind person, because…

A blind person will understand you.

It’s always comforting to have people in your life who “get” you. I’m fortunate to have friends to rant to about inaccessible software and the exorbitant cost of braille displays. It’s hugely cathartic to have heart-to-hearts with other blind people who know where I’m coming from when I talk about the demoralizing aspects of blindness. But…
I have blind friends for that. I can join support groups and forums. Understanding of this sort is not difficult to find, thanks to the internet. I do not need to have a relationship with a blind person to experience this catharsis. While I was romantically involved with a blind man, I found that our blindness had little to do with our success as a couple. Our deep emotional connection was not dependent on our mutual understanding of what it’s like to be blind. It was convenient to be able to complain to him about something and have him understand me on a gut level, but I can go elsewhere for that connection, so it’s not his chief selling point, nor is it mine. Now that I’m with a man who has functional vision, I don’t feel the lack. We’re humans, and sighted people can understand us pretty well.

A blind person will accept you.

It’s certainly true that there’s a lot of prejudice out there. I recently discussed the sighted population’s tendency to reduce us to a fringe group, entirely unsuitable for romantic involvement. So, yes, it’s accurate to say that not all sighted people will accept us as we are. The fear of disability is alive and well.
Not every sighted person is this way, however. In fact, I’d say many sighted people are not this way, especially once they’ve met a few of us and realized we’re pretty normal. While I wouldn’t go so far as to disclose my blindness on a dating profile (opinions vary widely on this point), I know that being blind is not a recipe for a lonely life. It may take sighted partners time to do so, but many of them will eventually accept us.

A blind person will have more in common with you.

This idea usually comes from blind people who have been quite sheltered and have not ventured beyond the blind community enough to feel comfortable on the “outside.” They have somehow confused mutual understanding with general human compatibility, and do not necessarily know what it’s like to have things in common with someone who isn’t exactly like them. Most of my friends were and are sighted, though my network of blind friends and acquaintances has grown considerably in the past few years. While there were situations where they did not understand me, we generally get along like a house on fire because we enjoy the same activities and share some of the same views. A friend and I may not be able to hold long conversations about screen readers, but we can ramble on about various hobbies we both enjoy. One of my oldest and closest friends and I bonded because we were both introverted and both adored books. Another of my oldest friends was introduced to me through a mutual love of musicals. My blind partner and I bonded over a love of literature, a thirst for knowledge, and the same idea of what is absolutely hilarious. My current partner and I enjoy shared values, adventurous spirits, similar senses of humour, and mutual respect for each other and for the wider world. Most of the conversations that take place in my life are not about blindness-specific thoughts. They’re about animals, and books, and music, and education, and human relationships.

A blind person will let you be yourself.

If you’re lucky, any partner you choose will let you be yourself. It’s sort of the point of finding someone to spend your whole life with. You may as well throw your lot in with someone who won’t expect you to live a lie just to please them. The blindness-specific argument usually goes like this: blind people are abnormal by default; blind people cannot control their odd behaviours; blind mates will tolerate this; sighted mates will not. Ergo, blind people should stick to their own kind, so they don’t have to live under constant stress.
Okay, so sometimes being around a sighted person makes me nervous, because I feel scrutinized even when they’re looking the other way. I start to agonize over the way I’m accomplishing various tasks, like cooking, for example, in case I’m being eccentric about it. I now know that this pressure is compounded by choosing a sighted mate, because I want to remain attractive to him. If you’re choosing responsibly, though, you’ll try to find someone who will let you get on with life, and allow you to abandon the quest to appear as normal as possible at all times. Ideally, you’d choose a mate who won’t cringe with embarrassment every time you bring out the cane.
Then we come to the other part of this argument—that blind people are always abnormal and can’t do anything about it. Blindisms, like rocking and hand-flapping, can be difficult impulses to suppress. I was about twelve before I was able to stop eye-pressing altogether. It does take some dedication, for some blind people, anyway. Subscribing to the belief that we can’t rein ourselves in and that we shouldn’t even try is disempowering and blatantly false. I’m not saying that deviating from normative behavior in any way is automatically wrong, but if you want to be part of the larger world, you’re going to have to fit in to at least a small extent. It’s how life works, and sighted people with peculiar habits need to cultivate the same self-control. Dating a blind person so you won’t have to be too normal is a harmful lifestyle choice.


The moral of the story is this: date people because you like and are compatible with them, and not because they have or don’t have a disability. Get it? Got it? Good.

You Should Date A Sighted Person, Because…

Anyone with a love life knows full well how much people enjoy meddling in it. Everyone has an opinion about the ideal mate, and by God, they want you to hear about it. These opinions are sometimes sound enough, but they’re still just opinions, and not necessarily reflective of your needs, preferences, and values.

I, like many blind people, have heard all kinds of opinions about how I ought to manage every aspect of my life, down to which mobility aid I should use and how passionately I should desire a cure. When I began dating my previous partner, who happened to be blind, people were quick to loudly and emphatically express the opinion that I should choose a sighted mate, because…

“A sighted person can take better care of you.”

We begin with the pervasive assumption that blind people can’t take care of ourselves. Some simply mean that we struggle more with everyday tasks (which is often true). They point to the driving issue: wouldn’t it be so nice, they suggest, if your partner could drive you everywhere? They could come pick you up when you get lost, or help you shop so you wouldn’t need to bother the customer service people, or find your keys when you drop them, or walk with you so you don’t get hit by cars.
While some of these arguments might have merit, I don’t particularly need taking care of, at least not to the extent to which I’d need a live-in caretaker. Besides this, I don’t think most sighted people would appreciate a mate who selects them in whole or in part because they could act as caregivers. Even if a sighted person got off on that idea, I’m not interested in being someone’s source of validation. No thanks.

“A sighted person makes more money.”

Okay, so there’s no denying that many, many blind people find ourselves chronically unemployed. The job market is more limited and less welcoming. Despite diversity quotas and affirmative action, it’s still difficult for us to land and keep jobs, even when the economy is booming. So, technically, choosing a sighted mate would mean that at least one of us would have an easier time finding gainful employment. But…
Blind people can still work. We still establish and maintain high-paying, fulfilling careers. We attain the same level of education as sighted counterparts, and are still more than capable of making a living independently.
We’re supposedly past the stage where we believe women ought to have a man so they can be supported financially, so my argument is that, if I can live independently as a single, educated woman, than I can live with a blind guy, whether he is or is not rolling in it. Again, who would want a disabled mate who chose them because of their employment prospects? Seems a little shallow, no?

“A sighted person will keep you normal.”

Blind people, like many other disabled populations, are usually perceived to be alien. Sometimes, we are socially awkward, hesitant, and even a little sheltered. Some of us never outgrow common blindisms, like rocking, eye-pressing, or hand-waving. These are techniques we use to self-stimulate as children, and while some of us left these things far behind as we entered the adult world, others have more difficulty eliminating these habits. Beyond these very specific issues though, blind people are about as normal as any others, but sighted people don’t always believe this. They think of us as having our own little tribe, and encourage us to mix with sighted people to dilute the blindy weirdness as much as possible.
So, the logic follows that, if we date sighted people, we’ll be forced to stay as normal as possible to retain our attractiveness. There will be no room for letting things slide, or sinking to a lower standard of behaviour. Blind people, after all, encourage each other to act strangely, and don’t value normal human interaction, right?
All I’ll say to this is, there are a hell of a lot of strange sighted people in this world, and most of my blind friends are as normal as can be. Besides, I’m capable of befriending someone without adopting their exact lifestyle and mannerisms. So, even if I dated the wackiest blind guy alive, I’d probably be the same, normal-ish Meagan. (Hey, why are you laughing? Stop that. I can be normal! Seriously!)

“A sighted person is more of a catch.”

So, so many people are under the impression that I was settling by choosing a blind mate. I chose him because he was attractive and compatible with me; I did not settle for less by dating him. Sighted people are not better mates by default, even if they do have an easier time getting a job and are able to drive me to an unfamiliar place. My current partner, who is closer to being fully sighted than he isn’t, is also attractive and compatible with me. I selected him for the same reasons as my blind ex, and benefit far more from his sweet disposition and kind personality than from the various perks his vision can offer me. My relationship with a blind mate failed for reasons independent of disability, and my current relationship thrives for reasons unrelated to my mate’s sight.


If you liked this post, drop by next week for its companion piece, in which I discuss the reasons we should only date fellow blind people (and why they’re totally ridiculous).

No Sex Please: We’re Disabled

When I was about fifteen or so, I was scrolling through some disability-related books, not paying much attention to most of them. I became very alert, however, when I stumbled across a book (whose title escapes me) about society’s puritanical de-sexualization of wheelchair users. The book also delved into the experiences of other physically disabled populations, exploring the myth that we are not and do not want to be sexual creatures. This was a new idea to me, or so I thought. But, as I continued to read, I realized it wasn’t new at all.

I cast my mind back to a family trip to Mexico when I was about thirteen. This is well past the age when girls generally become convinced that kissing someone would be more fun than icky, and I was experiencing a tame awakening of my own around that time. As my sister and I walked down the sidewalks, with our elaborately braided hair and colourful bathing suits, the eyes of nearly everyone slid over me completely, or opened wide in fascination as they noticed the long white cane—that conspicuous symbol of otherness. These wide-eyed stares came from all genders, and I remember several people running back the way they’d come just so they could get a better look! (My sister and I joked that people should forget about taking pictures with monkeys and take pictures with me, for a fee, naturally.) If you’ve got it … flaunt it, I guess?

Now, if I was as stunning as my sister, it may have made a difference in the way people looked at me, but I’m not convinced of that. People tend not to actually see visibly disabled people, unless they’re gawking, that is. Beyond making us feel like monkeys ourselves, it can also seriously stunt our love lives.

I’ve talked about feeling like I wasn’t a real girl, and how I’m only just discovering that I’m satisfactory the way I am. That does not mean, though, that the rest of society has caught up with me. All throughout grade school, only other blind people showed any interest in me at all, and they could only communicate with me via the internet or telephone. (Most of them were as desperately lonely as I was, so I didn’t put much stock in their judgement.) I’m sure many sighted people didn’t flirt or approach me at all because they simply weren’t interested; that’s not a big deal. You can’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I am quite sure, however, that many boys I grew up with simply didn’t consider me based on my broken eyes, even if they did so unconsciously. There were girls, and then there was Meagan: normal enough to be friends with, but too alien to date.

Once I started talking to other disabled people about this, I discovered that they, too, were often rejected outright because of their disabilities, with people only realizing how attractive disabled people can be once they could get past their discomfort (assuming they ever did). If I put my cane out of sight and manage not to bump into walls, I don’t look blind, and I’m told that people actually look at me differently. Suddenly, I’m a human–a young woman who is potentially attractive to at least one soul out there somewhere. As soon as that cane comes out, though, I’m reduced to an asexual, undesirable creature who is off limits to everyone, romantically speaking anyway.

The worst bit is that some people apparently believe we want it this way! They believe that we wouldn’t want to become romantically involved, or that we don’t like or can’t enjoy sex. I can understand the confusion when it comes to severe cases of paralysis, though people need to do their research and be more open-minded even then, but it baffles me that someone whose body is in fine working order would still be de-sexualized. Even those whose bodies aren’t up to statistical standards of normality should not be ruled out; you’ll just have to get creative. Aside from all this, a disability should never rule someone out as a potential romantic partner right off the bat, based solely on the idea that they’re not datable. Judge them by their personalities, general physical traits, outlooks on life, and all the other attributes you’d evaluate in any able-bodied mate. Preferences are fine, but ignorance is not. We’re not children, and we’re definitely not puritans by design.

Next time you see a pretty girl in a wheelchair, go talk to her. Next time you meet an attractive blind guy, go have a chat. Next time you encounter someone with a disability who appeals to you, assume they’re a viable option until you discover otherwise. Finally, never, ever write them off as disinterested by default. How can you know until you try?