April 7, 2020

Sara Claudia Tillman: Dating When You’re Blind

(Editor’s Note: Special guest speaker Sara Claudia Tillman will be appearing at Centralhatchee First Baptist Church this Sunday, Feb. 23rd at 11:00 AM. All are invited to attend. Below is a recent blog post from her website about dating. To learn more about Sara Claudia’s story and read more blog posts, visit saraclaudia.com or her Facebook page.)

Dating When You’re Blind

Dating is scary.

Blindness is scary.

Dating while blind…now that’s really scary!

From learning Braille to graduating college, I tackled a lot of obstacles while dealing with my sight loss.

I learned how to cook, mastered three different screen-readers, and even ran a couple of 5k races. But dating? For a long time, I thought I would never be ready to tackle that endeavor.

I don’t usually talk about this much, but I’ll be vulnerable for just a moment.

When I lost my sight in 2015, I actually was dating someone at the time. We had not been dating for very long when it occurred, but when you go through something traumatic, you tend to cling to the people around you. When we broke up a few months later, it was very hard for me to say the least.

At that point in my life, I had lost my sight, my college equestrian career, several of my friends, and my sense of independence. In some ways, I felt as though my relationship with my boyfriend at the time was the last tiny shred of my old life that still remained…and I was clinging tight to that little piece.

This relationship was one of the only things that made me feel normal in a new life that was so different from the one I had been living just a few months earlier.

After we broke up, I had no interest in dating for a very long time. Social interactions were already awkward and frustrating for me a lot of the time due to my blindness. I couldn’t imagine throwing in the extra anxiety of actually dating. So, dating while blind…blind dates, if you will, stayed in the deepest, darkest corner of my mind for about 3 years.

Needless to say, when I finally started dating after this long hiatus, I was very anxious. Let’s be honest, first dates are awkward and uncomfortable.

Trying to keep the conversation flowing while also attempting to get to know your date better can be a daunting task. All the while, you’re trying to eat your meal without making a mess and looking like a complete slob. It’s a lot of pressure!

Dating while blind, however, involves a lot more than simply worrying about conversation or keeping your shirt clean. Will the restaurant have a braille menu or will my date mind reading it to me? What if I don’t know where the bathroom is? Will he mind walking me there? Will he mind telling me where my food is on my plate or where everything is on the table? I hope he’s a good sighted guide?

These questions go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Honestly, my biggest concern was that my blindness would make things awkward or that he would feel like it was too much like a care-taking role. I was also scared that I would have to spend so much time trying to teach him how to help me that we wouldn’t get a chance to get to know one another.

Then, there was the ever-present worry that no one would even want to date me because of my blindness.

When I finally found the courage to start dating again, I applied a lot of the lessons that I had learned as I dealt with my blindness.

From early on, I realized that just being open with people is the best tactic. So, I decided to adopt this same mindset in my new dating life.

I learned to be up front about what I needed help with and what would make the dates more enjoyable and accessible for me.

If we were going out to dinner, I always request that we go somewhere quiet. This makes it easier for me to talk and keep up with the conversation despite my impaired hearing.

I also learned that it’s best to start giving my date tips on how to be my sighted guide at the very beginning of the date. Most people have never had any practice guiding someone who is blind, so they are usually pretty nervous and uncomfortable with it at first.

I always try to throw in some humor here and there to lighten the mood and to make both of us feel more comfortable. I haven’t run into anything yet, so I guess my tips are working! I have, however, been left standing by my date as he walked off and forgot that he was supposed to be guiding me.

It’s okay, though, this just means that he is getting comfortable around me. I see it as a sign that he is no longer focusing on my blindness, but is just focusing on me as a person. I just shout out a quick, “hey, don’t forget about me!” and laugh it off.

However, sometimes focusing on my blindness is a good thing, and I’ve had dates go out of their way to ensure accessibility. One date even showed up with braille Uno cards in hand. All of these experiences made my previous worries start to fade away and made me more confident about dating with a disability.

Overall, dating while blind isn’t quite as scary as I first thought. Don’t get me wrong, it does have a lot more obstacles than dating when you are sighted, but these obstacles can be overcome with a little open communication. I learned not to put too much pressure on myself or my date, I learned that it’s okay to laugh at myself sometimes, and I learned how to enjoy a new experience that I had been avoiding for so long: dating while blind.

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