Dating in the Dark


Eleanor Roth Divulges the Perils – and Possibilities – of Virtually Blind Dating

Even under the best of circumstances, Internet dating is like trying to knock down milk bottles at a carnival. You can come close, but how often do you get to go home with a teddy bear? Or a soulmate?

Now that I’ve lost most of my sight, it’s getting even harder to find mine. I have retinitis pigmentosa, which is congenital, incurable and getting worse. My vision began to go about 10 years ago. It started with night blindness and proceeded to tunnel vision; every year, my peripheral sight diminishes. Right now it’s like I’m looking at the world through a drinking straw. I don’t see you coming if you are on my left or right, and that goes for lampposts, mailboxes and waiters, too. “Excuse me, so sorry” is my default greeting.

Even so, I do want to find The One. Men write to me in response to my photo and bio: “Pretty, slim, caring woman, a news junkie…I could even make news with the right person,” and so on. The computer reads the emails to me in a voice that sounds like a dehydrated Regis Philbin. (I’m able to choose from a menu of voices and I picked “Jim.”)

My life depends on technology and AA batteries. My watch literally tells me the time—in a sexier electronic voice. When I put on a sweater, I’m never quite sure of the colour, and a little plastic thingy that I have, placed against my chest, says, “Intense red” or “Dark blue.” The device is called a Colorino and it’s pretty smart, but it doesn’t seem to get argyle or tweed.

Preparing to meet a new potential boyfriend is like my own personal Survivor show,  and getting there is not half the fun. If I happen to drop my key on the way out, finding it can take forever—and I’m one of those punctual people who get rattled when they’re late, so I have to allow myself extra time for calamities like “Where’s my other shoe?”

I also need to factor in some time for a purse check. My handbag contains not only the usual everyday stuff, but the equipment I need for the hairy adventure of leaving my apartment: a folding white cane, a flashlight contraption that beams a high-intensity light on my dinner plate, paper money folded according to denomination, and my voice-activated cell phone. I’d also better not forget to make a pit stop before leaving because forget about finding the ladies’ room in the restaurant. So, I’m not so much worried about whether or not my date like me as I am about stepping in a hole or being hit by a car on the way to meet him.

Of course, I come clean beforehand and explain that I have a vision problem. “I’ll have to hold onto your arm,” I always warn, and you’d think potential love candidates would see red flags flapping and do a vanishing act, but no. In fact, my disability sometimes seems to juice things up. Vision problem? Men don’t hate it. The dependency seems like a shot of testosterone for them. Reading a three-page menu to me, steering me to a table, helping me in and out of a chair—no problem.

On the other hand, once, on a date, I leaned over in a restaurant to pick up something I’d knocked over—I do that a lot—and didn’t see the back of a chair. Pow! I almost broke my nose. It seemed as if the restaurant’s entire staff came running with ice and napkins. My date shot up and took my elbow. “Are you okay?” he asked. “I’m okay,” I said, through the blood. First date, last date.

Dining with me is slapstick. Once, in a Mexican restaurant, the waiter brought a dip and chips. So delicious. Unfortunately, by the time I was finished dipping and snacking, the table was covered with guacamole. My date stood by as the busboy cleaned up the mess. He was speechless. I think he was one of the ones completely turned off by my table manners, although he wasn’t one of the really unlucky ones.

Those are the men I knock my beverage onto. Diet Coke, ice water and tea are not safe when my hands are on the move. I hardly drink, but a stem glass of Prosecco went over once, dripping across the table into a poor man’s gabardine crotch. He was really cool about it, and actually asked me out again. “Next time I’ll provide you with a slicker,” I told him.

When my dates don’t work out, it’s most often not about my eyesight. I met a man on the Internet who grew to like me enough to eventually propose marriage. I really loved his glamorous apartment terrace on which we ate breakfast together. He liked my family, and he took me on a few nice trips. But I do not need 20/20 vision to see who is wrong for me.

He had a habit of never looking at me when we were together; his face meandered everywhere but my direction. And worse, he didn’t want to talk about current events, film or anything except real estate. I “read” recorded books and do go to movies, and I may not see well, but my hearing is tops. Although he was sweet, boring each other is the last waltz. In the end, I think for me it’s always about the conversation.

I am trying to be open-minded about looks. The pictures of the men who find me online are not that easy to read. Not that I don’t scrutinize them: I continue to imagine that those are eyeglasses, not eyebrows meeting in the middle of a forehead, and that there are no teeth gone astray. Men’s blurred images are the pluses of low-vision dating. One cannot be so superficial as to choose on the basis of a nice face and I am fighting my inclination to shallowness.

Along with other attributes like sanity and a command of the English language, I do like men with nice smiles who are tall enough for me to locate without a search, and George Clooneyish enough to lean on while crossing the street. Is that too much for a nearly blind person to ask?

The one I really liked I’ll call Jack. My apartment is lit with enough halogen to duplicate high noon in the Sahara, and my frivolous soul loved his gorgeousness. He liked me, I thought. It was our second or third date and, on the couch in my living room, we got cozy. We had just had dinner at an Italian restaurant (I like Italian places because I never order anything that requires cutting; my staple is penne). I’d messed up nothing, but suddenly, Jack stood up and told me he had to leave. A moment later, he was out the door. The next day he called to tell me it was over between us.

Apparently, I don’t have the supermodel body he required. He called me deceitful. “You told me you worked out at the gym!” he accused. Well, I used to,” I explained. Was it really about an extra inch around my waist, or had he noticed the sock lying on the bathroom floor or a hair on the soap? “You lied to me,” he said. “Well, you’re not six feet tall either,” I told him.

Next weekend, I am meeting someone new for brunch. He sounded interesting on the phone, said he wished I were even more blind so I couldn’t see what he was wearing—happy days, a wit! I’ve requested a meeting at a diner near my apartment, easy to get to in broad daylight. I love diners because they’re fluorescent-lit and I tend to manage eggs very well. Maybe I’ll wear my “intense red” sweater. Maybe I won’t spill a thing. And maybe we’ll fall in love.


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