As someone who lives with visual impairment, I have been single for a long time. A very, very long time. I have to really stretch my memory to remember when I was last in a relationship. If this sounds like it has been irksome for me, also consider the fact that I have been surrounded by people in love, or at least performing the act of being in love.
My Facebook has been filled with news of weddings and new relationships. My friend, who used to rant about how much their life sucks, is suddenly in love and feel that they have found the love of their life. For the longest time, where was I in all of this? Absolutely nowhere, and it seemed like that was not close to changing.
Seven months ago, one of my friends gently put a hand on my shoulder and asked me to create a Tinder account. I chuckled, and told her I don’t want to put my foolishness out in the world for everyone to see. But she was unrelenting, and asked me to think about it. And she was right — I had much to think about.
The first obvious question was — should I mention my disability upfront, or should I give the prospective date some time to understand me, and then disclose the disability? As is usual for the perplexing questions of our times, I asked Google for an answer. It threw up contradictory advice.
Only I could decide what I was going to do. Since I view my disability as an integral part of who I am, I decided to mention on my bio that I live with it. I realised that I did not want to omit mentioning a feature of my body which I don’t see in a negative light. I decided I didn’t care if someone swiped left just because of my disability.
Then there was a much more pressing question. When it comes to disability and romantic relationships, the biggest challenge that people with disabilities face is that we are usually not seen as potential partners. How could I approach someone if they didn’t even see me as a potential date? And how could a dating app be different in this regard than any offline scenario?
After thinking about this for some time, I realised I had a rather exciting answer. By creating a Tinder profile, and mentioning my disability on it, I was making a statement that I was, in fact, a potential date. I was declaring that I was worth dating. And the people on the other side could not ignore this entirely.
Finally, I signed up and wrote an apparently witty bio. I was certain that I wouldn’t get any matches. I was proved wrong when I got my first match — and even more wrong when a few more matches arrived.
These are a few of the bios of my first matches:
‘This is awkward. Writing about oneself, not being on Tinder. Also being on Tinder. A nerd in the making, reader, dancer, traveller, a former engineer and a full-time overthinker. I have this natural superpower of attracting idiots. Please break the trend.’
‘Remember, it’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’
‘And what will you call Pickle Rick in summer? Pickle Rick. #okbye.’
They say there is a lot of nonsense on Tinder. This has not been my experience; I think this is because my disability acted as a great filter — and also because I would always look at someone’s bio before swiping left or right. Most of my matches were super sensible, and knew exactly what they were doing. They were very smart women.
Sure, most of them asked how I managed to read the screen, and how I generally manage in life, and so on. But these questions came from people who seemed to have good hearts, who were genuinely curious about me. Perhaps they could have done their own research, but I do understand how little non-disabled people know about folks with disabilities. Plus, I had mutual interests with most of them. They were feminists, leftists, people who had an opinion about life.
I had good conversations with these matches. I ended up meeting some of them over coffee, or drinks. Even in my wildest dreams, I had not expected that they would put in the effort to meet me — but some of them did.
Finding accessible spaces which are easily identifiable on Google Maps was a Herculean task. Suddenly, I started to find Mumbai — a city I otherwise love — a little alien. I managed to find a few good places, though — a few I had visited in the past, the rest recommended by friends with disabilities.
Although many of my Tinder matches left our meetings undefined, and a few wanted a platonic relationship, some of my matches did call me their date. I was cool with all of this. After all, all of them had had the choice to swipe left, and had not exercised it. Many asked me thoughtful questions, and gave me new perspectives on disability, and life. Tacitly, they lifted me from a kind of slumber I’d been in, and asked me to be myself.
For many of us with non-normative bodies and visible disabilities, apps like Tinder can be a space to express ourselves. I am still swiping, hoping to find the match of my life. Maybe it is on my home screen right now, or maybe it is a few days or months away. Maybe it will never come.
I’m not sure what the future holds, but for the time I’ve been on Tinder, I appreciate that it has allowed me to just be who I am, and to chill — with, or without Netflix.
Tony Kurian is a researcher based out of Mumbai. He is interested in the intersections between disability and technology.
Featured image credit: Upasana Agarwal