Dating on Tinder… Yes… you heard that one right! Cautious, careful me knows what Tinder and online dating is. Since I have always been a sucker for sop and inhale romances like the oxygen I breathe, this whole concept has intrigued me. Coming from a century ago, I must be among the dinosaurs of the online dating world.
My first doubt, of course, was about being a blind woman on the much maligned space; followed by the bane of all our existences—accessibility of the app.
I tried to navigate it and understand how it works, but reached nowhere. The layout was strange, and who knew what needed to be tapped to get going.
There were accessibility horrors around every corner—like trying to upload a picture, write a bio. . . all of which was filled with unlabeled buttons that gave me no clue about what would happen if I clicked them. With such a daunting process to set up, both on Tinder and the other app I used: Aisle, one could only imagine what the journey would be like. I remember trying the famous app Bumble, promoted in India by Priyanka Chopra, which was the worst of its kind. There was no indication of how to get beyond the first screen using a screen reader. Many rants on the feedback page later, and no help coming my way, I turned to my seeing friend who has always been my set of spare eyes.
She looked at it and explained the layout to me and together we were sort of able to make some method of the madness. We sat giggling like school girls engaged in some nefarious activities—what with there being hearts and all that on the page. My friend’s 15-year-old daughter, intrigued by this activity, peeked over our shoulders and let an ear-splitting shriek… “Tinder!!! Do you both even know what this is? It is a dating app… what do you want with this?” Such a reaction just ended up in more fits of uncontrollable laughter and earned us a teenage eye roll. She simply could’t imagine what her mom and aunt, at their age, would want to do with a dating app. Little did she know, there was a whole adventure waiting for her aunt there.
After exploring it for one whole day, we finally decided to give it a go. in about an hour, only because my seeing friend was handling things, I was now all set up and had some idea of how to go about liking, super liking and passing a profile. This, after all the basic settings of age and distance were fulfilled.
You must be wonderin how I made my choice of persons to interact with? Don’t laugh yet… I looked at the name and age. If the name sounded interesting enough, I tapped the icon expressing my interest. What did I have to do with faces anyway? If I could’t have a conversation with the person, his fabulous face and personality was of no use to me.
To have to wait for a seeing pair of eyes to tell me if the face was good enough to go with, would have left me standing with my phone in my hand forever, with no action.
Now this whole concept of a match was also so new; and when I heard a strange sounding alert on my phone, I jumped. Looking at it, I found a message from Tinder. Was I shocked? You bet I was. Of course, since I’d mentioned my blindness after extolling all my other virtues, nobody really paid attention. Those who did, did’t believe that I meant what I’d said. Did I say strange are the ways of Tinder? Like I’d mention being blind for the fun of it or, to make myself sound mysterious or something? Sigh!
So, there was the first person ready to speak with me on the chat window, beginning with the regular introduction and pleasantries. I sometimes think it is at that point itself one figures if the conversation will even go further. Some are simply so boring with ho-humming and playing 20 questions. That is exactly what happened in the first couple of conversations. Just no vibe. Didn't crawl beyond the most basic questions on both sides. After letting it go, the super housekeeper in me, quickly got rid of them. Why keep unnecessary occupied space after all?
So far, nobody had touched upon my disability and I was almost waiting for the other shoe to drop in every subsequent conversation. One might say it did’t matter to them; I say they didn’t pay attention to the profile.
Then the shoe did drop. . . I began speaking with this guy who did pay attention and went into sleuth mode right away. I was waiting for this since this was familiar ground and educating the ignorant was my forte. All the regular queries about how I was typing and answering questions on the phone to how I managed to live life without being able to see… none of it was new. Then came the expected pause that went on for a bit too long…and then, came the not-so-subtle let down… “You are an amazing lady. So gutsy and inspirational”. Can you hear me roll my eyes?
Although, I have to give it to him. He tried very hard to continue the chat for another couple of days, but just couldn’t get beyond my disability. He was the first among many others who, hearing of my disability, felt safe in putting me high up on the proverbial pedestal, from where I couldn’t be reached or brought down.
Beside her is a man wearing a T-shirt that says , "nice guy." He is holding a board that says, "You are amazing."
I have to be honest and say I was quite disappointed and wondered just how a capable blind woman such as myself was ever going to find a date. I know, I wasn’t one to simply jump at the chance to go out. I was being careful and cautious me, who had been warned about how slippery this slope was, filled with all the slime and creepy crawlies present there.
Then, there came a phase of married men who were there to have “mature conversations”. What on earth was that?
Some who said they were in boring and redundant marriages, were looking for companions, while others simply thought it was okay to chat since I was there as well. While intellectually I understood all of what they said, and shrugged it off as it being their choice, I was quite outraged on behalf of all womankind. After many such stories, I did come across some good people, whom I met with and ended up becoming good friends with, no dates, though.
After finishing my stint on Tinder, having tired of all the meaningless conversations, I decided to embark on to Aisle, another inaccessible dating app. Here too, I did interact with a few, most of whom were not even worth a second conversation. That is, until I met someone who was interesting.
Here was this guy who spoke my language, had much in common with me, and instantly wanted to speak with me. I panicked, wondering how I got here so quickly. Contrary, I know, but I was skeptical about someone knowing I was blind, and still wanting to go on. It reminded me of a male friend who once told me, a man didn’t care if the woman he wanted to hook-up with was blind or anything else. Not the most encouraging thing, since I was not the hooking-up kind, and was looking for at least someone who wanted to explore something long term.
I had been through a bad marriage, and spent years healing. It had not deterred me against giving a relationship another shot. Disability had left me lonely and not having to share all of me was slowly taking away my zest for life. Seeing people around me in relationships, being part of a twosome and together, made me sad all the time.
Maybe this consideration pushed me to speak with this guy, and it felt like an instant click. He wanted to talk all the time, every moment that he and I were not working. It felt exhilarating and rekindled that little spark of hope within me. It wasn’t without my customary caution, but I did allow myself to get sucked into the thrill of it all. He flew down to see me, wanting to spend time and explore things.
Since I live in a conventional home set-up, where my parents did have some say in things, I had to at least run it by them. Only, they did not have a say in my going to see him. Assuring them that I would ensure my safety, I went to meet him.
I felt so rusty and out of my depth for a while, but he made me feel comfortable. I had come prepared for anything, having given myself the permission to do whatever felt safe, and my heart desired. To think a sighted guy had flown across the country to spend time with me, a blind woman, seemed like such a big deal at the time. It was a great two days—of getting to know each other, some physical intimacy, and promises of many more meetings to come. Cautious me had already told him that I wasn’t having sex on the first meeting. I laugh at myself now, at all those disclaimers, since that was exactly what he must have come for. A long way to travel for that, but I believe there must have been something about me that appealed to him. We had both said we were not interested in marriage, but looking for committed relationships. Through the phase with him, I did so much psychology reading about relationships and so much more. Somewhere deep within me was that lurking doubt of it being too good to be true. It didn’t take too long for the other for that realization to come true. He went from someone who wanted to move to where I stayed, to slowly moving away. I found myself getting frantic with worry, all the insecurities resurfacing. This wasn’t my first rodeo, but being ghosted still stung.
He went from someone who called me from an international holiday location with buddies at all hours, insisted I make time to speak with him, to someone who began phasing it all out. The calls became few and farther apart, and when he finally spoke, said he was busy. I remember reading about all the red flags in those psychology reading I’ve mentioned earlier, and this was heading towards an eventual ghosting. That is exactly what happened, and I can’t say I was surprised; also quite distraught.
It came back to the fact that I wasn’t good enough. My disability had once again come in the way of what might have been a relationship. It hurt for a long time, since we had been in each other’s orbit constantly for about four months. Was I wrong in opening myself to another disappointment? It was encouraging there was no self-recrimination at all, since I was sure of why I had embarked on the journey, and that was progress. I was a finally done.
Uninstalling all the dating apps I had on my phone, I deleted all my subscriptions and decided I did’t want to look for any more online suitors. It was like snapping a tether that had me bound to an expectation of finding happiness, where there was none to be had.
Over the years, I have begun relying on my own company (not always what I want), find happiness in my romance books, living vicariously through those. It has not taken away my desire for a companion, but has me resigned to the fact that there may be nobody.
After all, where else can I go to find someone? With inaccessible spaces, little to no company to hang out with, the road ahead is rather lonely. When I read how folks are shocked that someone can go without physical intimacy for a few months, let alone years, I smile to myself- in the knowledge that is mine alone. This led me on to another path—that of discovering self-pleasure. Not that it was a foreign concept, but I always held on to the hope that I would share it with someone. A hug, the warmth radiating off someone else, and knowing it was shared. I set off on the hunt for sex toys, which at the time were not available easily enough. It was hilarious to ask someone travelling from abroad to look for one of those for you. I was met with embarrassed denials, and a little surprise, I’vet had a great time with it as well. I did find someone brave enough to slip some through in their baggage under the guise of something or the other.
Once I learned these are available online locally, I have added many to my repertoire, and have found my own joy. It is not worth the angst and sense of loss and disappointment to go looking for someone to accept you for who you are, a person living with a disability; something that does not stop you from functioning just like anyone else. But then, I am not going to be the one to tell them that living with my expectations limited to myself, I can definitely say: I’vet been there, done that and learned from it all.
A disability consultant and speaker, Payal writes narratives on living life with disability. Creator of award winning podcast - Rasoi ke Rahasya, she loves to read, experiment in her kitchen and travel to new destinations.