Thursday, 2 September 2010

Auntie Seraphic & "Disabled and Determined"

Sometimes I get a letter that challenges my mind and stretches my little world. Here's one:

Dear Auntie Seraphic:

First, I must say that I love your blog, which I accidentally stumbled upon one day when completely bored at work and trying to find blogs which were not nixed by our firewall. :) And who says the Lord can't provide? I honestly can't believe I'm writing a letter like this to a complete stranger, but, such is life.

I am writing because I agree pretty much with everything you say about women, and how they should and should not make themselves available for dating. However, as a disabled woman, I find it hard to put your advice into practice. I will try to explain what I mean without being too rambly, and hope that you might be able to give me some practical suggestions.

First, disabled women find themselves in a unique situation because they must walk the fine line of asserting their independence so as to be dignified but not to come across as so independent that they have in no need of anyone, let alone a man. If I never refused help or, in some cases, rather ardently asserted my self-will, I would be carried practically everywhere, have every door flung open for me, have all my
food served to me, etc, etc. In essence, I would be treated like a child. Not only is this not what I desire, nor is it complimentary, it certainly does not give off the vibe that, hey, now THIS is a woman who can be a wife and mother! Husbands might want to be our protectors, but caretakers? Not so sure.

However, the assertion of ones independence can often be interpreted as aloofness or arrogance or some such. Many a time, I have been at a churchy event with any number of young Catholic adults. If I adopt the former attitude, well, don't you know, I make tons of new galpals but not a single male speaks with me. If I assert the latter attitude, I often appear as unfriendly, no matter how graciously I might refuse the offers of help.

I think this issue is compounded by the fact that, since I am completely blind, I can not do many of the "subtle" feminine things that women like to do in order to catch a man's attention. How do I let a man know that I am open to dating without being too forward and without being able to adopt many typical ways in which women do such things?

Lastly, I, unfortunately, agree with your statement that a man either is attracted to a woman, or he is not. I also believe that your average, everyday man is not going to look at a disabled woman and think ATTRACTION! for a variety of social and, yes, I do believe that for strictly biological reasons, disability is not as attractive as, well, non-disability.

This isn't to say that I sit around feeling sorry for myself. I love me, and I love my life and my friends and my activities. It doesn't mean I think I can't be a mom, or that I can't be productive. I have a good job, graduated from a terrific college,
navigate [a large city] in the US on my own, but I also understand on a practical level that, were I to be paired with a sighted identical twin, the majority of men would probably opt for the sighty.

I acknowledge the social stereotypes which might cause men to believe that the disabled are not interested in sex, cannot be good mothers/wives, and many others which are consciously [but usually subconsciously] held. I also believe that, evolutionarily, being disabled is a legitimate weakness, and I think this plays a genuine role when considering spouses. I am sick of being told "if men are
going to judge you on that they're not worth having," "you'll eventually find someone who'll love you for YOU," and "you're only 23-you're still so young!" because such platitudes do not acknowledge how painful it can be to watch your single friends be flirted with and courted as you stand by unnoticed. [Also, such platitudes] are not practical.

I hope this letter came across as I intended it to. I am trying to remain content in my singledom, yet I do yearn for marriage deeply. I am looking for an eligible, traditional catholic man who is accepting of disabilities (and we thought just the eligible traditional Catholic man population was a small one!), and I am seeking any advice which might help said young men to realize that I'm actually quite awesome and they'd be lucky if I thought them worthy enough to bust out the super-elegant-eveningware cane!

Thanks for any advice, and keep up the humorous posts! They're terrific.

With love in Jesus,

Disabled and Determined

Now, as far as I know, this is my first-ever letter from a blind Single, so I wrote back for more information. Long-time readers will not be surprised that I wanted to know what Disabled and Determined looks like. I don't think men, especially Christian men, are soooo inwardly Darwinian that they would reject an attractive girl at once because she is blind. Sighted men are all about, well, sight.

So after some clarification and some googling, this is what I wrote back:

Dear Disabled and Determined,

After poking around on the internet, I can see why you asked me. So far there does not seem to be a lot of stuff on the topic, although there are certainly some "Disabled Dating" websites that include tips not really helpful to the blind like "keep eye contact." I checked the website for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind because I am Canadian and that's the first blind advocacy group I could think of. And, lo, nothing on dating. Maybe readers will be able to find something solid, though.

Meanwhile, let us recap. You're 23, right? You're attractive, but not a super-model. You are slim and have medium length curly hair. You have a lot of friends, you work out, you go to Mass, and you seem to go to a lot of Catholic events. You are interested in men. So far so good.

The first problem may be your feeling that you must be independent simply all of the time. And I can definitely understand why because if I grew up with a disability, I would long to be like everybody else in that I could take care of myself and do everything for myself.

However, two things that women find out are 1. that sometimes, just because we are women, we DO need help, and 2. that good men enjoy helping--it makes them feel useful.

If I need to get the lid off a jar or a cork out of a bottle, I don't struggle with it. I go and find a man and get him to struggle with it. Men love to feel useful. Helping them feel useful is not a loss of our independence. It is a little gift to them.

Therefore, the next time a young man you like offers to do something for you, accept or think of something you're more comfortable with. For example, if I were at a party, and a man asked me if he could get me a drink, I might turn down a beer but say I would love a glass of water, thank you. And when he turned up with the water, I would thank him with a dazzling smile. And I love it when men get the door for me. They open the door, I say thank you. They offer me their seat on the bus, I take it and say thank you. Bless their little useful hearts!

The second problem might be figuring out how important sight is to sighted men. I'm afraid it really is, which is why I asked what you looked like. The Disabled Dating websites I looked at assured me that 94% of communication is non-verbal, which once again doesn't help the visually impaired, and makes me wonder who is running the Disabled Dating sites! But if you are not doing this already, consider how your body language makes you look approachable or not approachable to sighted people. Figure out which clothes flatter you and are appropriate to your age and personality. Practice smiling while saying hello, and nodding to show you have understood what a person has said to you. (Sorry if this is all basic stuff you know already!)

There are two visually impaired women in my parish, one married (not totally blind, I think) and one Single (totally blind). The married woman does not wear dark glasses or use a stick; usually her husband guides her around. The Single woman has dark glasses and a very naughty--but loveable--guide dog. The advantage of the dark glasses, I suspect, is that they create the illusion that she is keeping eye contact with sighted people (who seem have an inborn sense that eye contact means friendly interest--well, I do anyway). What do you think of this?

The third problem stems from this one, and it is how to smile at a man from across a crowded room when you can't see him. If I were in your shoes, I would enlist the aid of a trusted female friend, first to find out if any interesting man is looking at me, and then to fetch him with the line, "My friend Seraphic wants to meet you." Your friend becomes your smile.

This is bolder than I would recommend to a sighted woman, but in the case of a blind woman, it seems a necessity. And, besides, if the guy doesn't want to meet you after all, he can just make some excuse and flee. Do not be overly crushed if this happens because, believe me, men just ignore the welcoming smiles of sighted women all the time.

The fourth problem is that sighted people have no real clue what it is like to be blind and forget that blind people cannot see their non-verbal cues. I dated a severely hearing impaired guy for two years, and constantly forgot that he couldn't understand me at all unless he could read my lips. He had to remind me over and over again. I'm not saying that all sighted men are as dumb as I was, but I am suggesting that you are going to have boundless patience while building friendships and potential romantic relationship with sighted men.

Do tell me if any of this is helpful. I don't see why some guy shouldn't fall in love with you eventually and marry you, unless it is simply not God's will for you. Queen Alexandra was profoundly deaf, but very lovely, and Edward VII of England married her.

As I say to everyone, our main focus should be on making friends, not meeting mates. Husbands and wives usually start out as friends-of-friends, and become friends-who-are-secretly-attracted-to-each-other, and then fall in love. Tell your female friends you are interested in making more good male Catholic friends, and see what happens.

Also, as I say all the time, I didn't meet the Perfect Man for Me until I was 38. And I was attractive, funny, smart, university educated and all that stuff. If God wants it to happen, it will happen, but only when He says so.

Finally, I feel that other blind women may be a great resource for dating advice. If you belong to a support group for the blind, bring up the topic at a meeting. I am sure everyone will be glad you did.

Grace and peace,

Now, there are two points that I had not considered, and Disabled and Determined filled me in. The first is the shocker that disabled support groups do not always provide good relationship and sexual advice. There is a culture of wanting to behave like "all other women", and this, unfortunately, means the "acting just like men" crap we popularized in the Age of the Pill. I think, then, that there is a crying need for faithful CATHOLIC fellowships for disabled men and women. I wish I knew older, blind-from-babyhood, Catholic married women who could pass on their wisdom and experience to Disabled and Determined.

The second point is what to do if you are blind and want to join a new Catholic parish, and you can't convince your sighted friends to come along. How do you meet people, including men? My advice here is to find the parish priest and ask him to introduce you to men and women your own age. (This, by the way, goes for everybody. The one man you can always go up to and get the ball rolling with is the priest.) And I suspect that it is easier to meet people in a small, quirky parish with a strong identity (whether Trid or Most-Left-Wing-In-Town) than in a ginormous, anything-goes parish of thousands.

Update: Association of Blind Catholics (UK) here.


Sheila said...

I suggest online dating. That's a great way to get to know people without relying on that "95%" of communication that's visual. I don't think most men would rule a woman out because she is blind, but they might feel awkward getting to know someone who is blind because of those visual cues. Meeting online (whether through dating sites or blogs and forums) would allow her to make a good first impression and remove that awkwardness.

theobromophile said...

This might be terrible advice, but if you're trying to balance independence and warmth, and a man asks if he can help, then assign him one task of the next few that you have to do. If you need to use the ladies room, find a chair, and get a cup of coffee, ask the NCB to please get a coffee for you, and, after you powder your nose, you'll be sitting with your friend and could she please find a seat for the three of you?

I once heard a story about a blind man whose guy friends devised a touch system to tell him when a pretty woman was showing interest in him (two squeezes on the right shoulder or something).

IA_ said...

Seraphic, it said this comment is too long so I had to break it up into several comments. It may be too long you may want to delete it.

Ms. Determined,

I was thinking about your letter.

If you are a cute young lady as Seraphic vouches you do have men interested in you. Period.

Guy sees cute girl. Guy approaches cute girl to see if she is nice and intelligent. Guy offers to do a nice deed for cute girl as part of flirting ritual. Guy gets shot down understanding cute girl is expressing a "I'm not interested in you sign." Guy politely excuses himself.

Birds bring back to their lovers shiny pieces of tin foil and colorful plastic. Sure the ladybird can find it herself but it is a gesture the guy bird is making to the girl bird.

Many times conversations are just that, conversations. Other times they become ways for men to assess the personality in a girl that has piqued their interest. It becomes a way for a girl who recognizes a guy has interest to communicate back if she too is interested or not.

Sure much of this communication is through smiling, posture, and eye contact, but still much of it is although through voice tone and inflection.

One such mode of communication is offering to do favors. If judging by your prior interaction you think he likes you, and you wish to keep the rapport you must either accept the small gesture of kindness or refuse it in a way that he knows is not a rejection of his interest.

IA_ said...

You've said you refuse favors graciously but do you have any understanding just how fragile a young man's ego can be? By the time hes reached our age he has been rejected by dozens if not hundreds of women. (If you think nobody expressing interest in you is painful imagine expressing interest and getting shot down... regularly. Boys do not like rejection. It hurts.) If you want to keep things going you've got to be super incredibly super sugary gracious about refusing a favor. This way he knows you are rejecting the favor, not him.

A good way is to couple the rejection of a favor with an invitation to another favor.
"Actually it is usually easier for me to open my own doors but I would really appreciate it if you could help me find an empty seat."

"Oh that is so kind of you to offer (big smile) but it really is most convenient for me to take care of this. Next time I need something though I'll make sure you're the first one to know."

Recognize sometimes favors are not about the favor itself.
"Oh you want to carry this food to the table for me? I'd really like that." In reality he may not want to just carry food, he may also wants to sit next to you.

And if you're not interested in the man, "Thank you for nice offer to carry this food but it is easier to handle it myself."

When you are interested in someone simple actions and gestures take on a second layer of communication. That is just the way it is.

Like you said, you refuse graciously. I'm sure you know this already but I'll say it anyway. To come off not sounding as aloof or arrogant ramp up the charm and rather than curtly muttering "No," cheerfully chime "No, thank you for offering though."

Another way is to make the easiest way for them to help you is to not help you, "Really it is easier for me to do this." This way you're not refusing their kindness, but the way the kindness is best expressed is by staying away. That tip is just for everyday actions. If you're interested in the guy I wouldn't recommend it.

IA_ said...

I know some men who would prefer a capable blind woman over a woman with a disfiguring facial scar. I know some men who rate attractive figures over said scar. I know some who would rate intelligence and kindness over all. Men are different with similar ideas for what is perfect but varying preferences for they are actually looking for in a spouse.

Yes a disability is not attractive. But despite your disability you are an attractive women. Yes there will be men who will cross you off the potential wife because of your sight. What I'm telling you there are many men who value a cute, kind, intelligent, Catholic girl above even her vision.

Note: I think Seraphic's idea of a wing woman is fantastic.

Note 2: In some places here in the south it is incredibly rude for a man not to hold open a door for a woman no matter her age, station in life, disability or not. Likewise it is incredibly rude for a woman to refuse it. My girlfriend is sighted but I don't think we go anywhere where I do not open the door for her. We've been out all day and she hasn't opened one door, except to get out of the car door. I know she can open doors just fine, I've seen her do it before. It is a show of respect and courtesy, not an expression of pity. If you are in one of these places you'll probably get a rudeness pass for your blindness, they won't hold it against you for not accepting an open door, but it is still a faux pas.

Note 3: It may be a good idea to refuse these pedantic favors from women but accept them from men. For men offering a pedantic favor may be the only one he can think of to start a conversation with you. This may be a way of showing yes, you can do this, but you wouldn't mind a big strong man to keep you company.

Note 4: If you like the guy let the man lead you around. Grab his arm. He'll like that. I often lead my girlfriend in a similar manner although she can clearly see. Its just the way men and women work.

Note 5: Be careful. Its dangerous for everyone in the dating world. Some men will target disabled women for their non-virtuous machinations. Stay safe.