With Valentine's Day upon us, I am preparing for a very special day, as it is my first one married to my beautiful and intelligent wife, Jen. In honor of this day, I am going to tell you a little about how we met.
If you have seen the commercials for eHarmony and other online dating sites, you may have heard that 20 percent of all people getting married today met through online dating sites or through social networking. This really isn't news to me—I knew people who met their spouses online in the mid-90s. But maybe the real questions are: Why has online dating become so popular? What's the draw?
Well, I have my own answers to these questions. I met my wife through an online dating site. Truthfully, I used to be a bit uncomfortable telling people that, but now I really don't mind sharing how I met my beautiful wife, who lived two hours away. Dating sites can help you to narrow your search by using questionnaires, surveys, preferences, location, and more to help match you with the right people.
For me, the biggest positive was being able to expand my personal circle. You are often limited in dating by the size of your social network. You tend to see a lot of familiar faces when you participate in similar activities or visit the same places. When I was working in Florida, I traveled a lot for work, which made online dating sites seem like a great way to get to know people better prior to a first date—plus I wasn't meeting many people on planes and in airports. Besides, for persons with visual impairments, it can be tough to meet new people. And we typically can't see if someone has a wedding ring or band on. Finding potential dates through an online dating site makes the process a bit easier.
In terms of speaking about your visual impairment, I think it is important to be open, but also, be smart. Reveal information over time. I didn't want to surprise someone with my visual impairment. I wanted a prospective friend or partner to understand and be aware. If your prospective date doesn't understand once you explain, then he or she doesn't deserve to date you.
When I moved to West Virginia from Florida, I didn't know anyone in my new state. Once I was comfortably settled in there, I thought it was time to start the process again. I never closed the door on the idea of finding someone in a more traditional manner; I just saw online dating as an additional way in which to meet people. I consider myself to be a social person. This was another way to be social and meet people. I made a few friends from this as well. It is hard to get to know someone while out at a restaurant or bar. Online dating provides an alternative, typically allowing you different options in which to interact with people. Often, you can choose to take things slow or fast. Some may move directly to e-mail or even phone calls or online chat sessions. I typically took it slow as I was very cautious. I would warn you to use common sense when online dating—don't reveal too much personal information and be safe about who, where, and when you choose to date.
I was very logical about the dating process—or I believe I was logical. Once I went through messages between the prospect and myself, I would decide whether to speak with them on the phone. You get to know a lot more about a person from interacting on the phone. I didn't have a specific number of phone calls or length of time prior to a date; I just felt it out.
After one date, I had a feeling whether I would like to go out with the person again. I often had a second date, just to see if I still felt the same way. This always confirmed my prior feelings. I felt that people could have an off day or the situation may have been not perfect. But, I was never afraid to tell someone when I was not feeling a connection. You have to be strong about this. I think the earlier stages of the online dating process help because you have to approve or deny so many people. You choose whether to continue the interaction.
My wife and I commuted to date—because we lived two hours apart, we would meet in different locations. I took Greyhound and city buses to meet her, which was great orientation and mobility practice! I chose to date at a farther distance, so I was willing to make the effort to travel. We spent almost every weekend together in the first six months or so. After dating for eight months, Jen had an opportunity in my town, we discussed it, and she moved in with me. This worked out amazingly for us, as we were engaged a month later, and were married a little more than a year later, in October 2011. We feel that it was meant to be for us to meet. I personally feel that I am the luckiest man alive for meeting Jen.
If you're looking for the right person, I suggest opening your personal circle and trying online dating through some of the reputable sites. There are a ton of different dating sites out there now, you can use sites specific to persons with disabilities, religion, and more. Not all sites are accessible, so you will have to do some research. AFB has reviewed several top online dating sites for accessibility, so check out this Valentine's Day blog entry first [Editor's note: this post is from 2008, so keep this in mind]. I used one of the mainstream sites and found it overall to be accessible—not perfect, but adequate. I tried a few sites for free before choosing the one that I liked best.
If you have done some online dating, please comment and provide your criticism and commentary on your experiences.