When a Stranger Said 'He Loves You Even Though You're Blind'
If you know me, you know I’m pretty much an open book when it comes to educating others about my blindness. Few questions or comments offend me or catch me off guard. I’m even fairly laid-back with the whole “inspiration porn” issue, because honestly, with regard to disability or otherwise, you can never know how much you might help or encourage someone, just by being you.
But I need everyone to stop martyring my boyfriend.
Picture this: Jordan and I are strolling through an art gallery arm in arm, less because I need him to guide me and more because I want to be close to him. He’s describing paintings, sculptures, and others’ interactions to me. We’re grinning like fools in love… because we are.
“Oh my gosh!” a friendly, well-intending stranger greets me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “You guys are precious. I’ve been watching you, and he’s so attentive to you. He loves you even though you’re blind. You are so lucky to have him.”
I breathe. Grip Jordan’s arm a little tighter. Smile. Thank her. Because even though my heart is splintering into a million tiny pieces, it’s not like what she said is untrue. Jordan is super helpful in general. He waits for me outside of the restroom. He gives me rides to and from work sometimes to give me a break from the acute anxiety I experience while traveling thanks to a
rail platform accident I had in 2014. He helps me fill out paperwork I can’t read. He cooks dinner and takes care of the utility bills. Describing things is second nature to him now, and my world is full of color because of him. The list goes on, and he does it all without batting an eye.
But here’s what I feel people don’t see. While Jordan cooks, I clean. While he takes care of utilities, I take care of rent. When he needs help with a paper or cover letter, I read it and offer feedback. When his left side seizes up thanks to his cerebral palsy, I make him stretch and help to work the kinks out. I have also been known to button shirt collars and sleeves.
Love should never be a contest of favors, but whether or not disability is a factor in a relationship, there’s an element of give and take between partners. Sometimes things are equal, and sometimes the scale tips one way more than the other. We take care of each other, and that’s how it’s supposed to be. There is no shame in interdependence.
So why does this bug me? Jordan really is the best boyfriend ever, so why can’t I be content in simply nodding my head and saying, “I know, right?”
It’s the “even though you’re blind” clause that sends me over the edge. It’s tantamount to saying, “I love you even though you’re hardheaded. I love you even though you are a pain in my ass.” And yet, these blanket statements seem benign by comparison to the careless assumption that loving a blind person is high-maintenance and a challenge most wouldn’t dare accept.
In moments like at the gallery, I find I stand in the shadow of a sighted partner who, at least in this case, is privileged in that his disability isn’t apparent to most. I am left with the impression that spectators must feel, on some level, like Jordan would have found a smoother path with a sighted (and therefore more ideal) partner.
This isn’t just me being insecure. I have tried in earnest to be reasonable, but even my usually placid tolerance has its limits. Wouldn’t you be devastated to know that people considered the most important relationship in your life to be a charity case? Wouldn’t you be devastated to learn that you were viewed as a labor of love because of some aspect about yourself that can’t be helped? Let’s face it, even if they’re your favorite person in the world, loving a partner can be rocky at times, independent of disability. Last time I checked, that was known as “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.”
In a world where I am constantly forced to prove myself, poor Jordan ends up helping to pick up the pieces every time we have an interaction like this with someone. And believe me, if this were a rare occurrence, I honest-to-God wouldn’t be complaining. But it happens all the time. At the store, on the street, on social media — the damaging rhetoric of ableism runs rampant in others’ romantic lives as well as my own, and it needs to stop.
So please, by all means, compliment my boyfriend all you want. Clearly he’s awesome, because I love him. But I urge you to examine the reasons behind your admiration. If you find you’re inspired by us, please do not place him on a pedestal, because that creates a burden where it didn’t exist. Do not mistake my blindness as some tragic flaw or his sensitivity toward me as a labor of love. Instead, observe our dynamic. When we talk at the same time, when we share an inside joke, when we go from hugging to play-fighting at intervals, when he leads me by hand to touch a statue, when I drag him haphazardly toward live music — those are signs of best friends in love.
I agree, love between best friends is beautiful, it is enviable, it is inspiring. We’re lucky to have each other, and I — we — definitely don’t take it for granted.
Picture this: Jordan and I run into an acquaintance while browsing at an antique store.
“How are you?” she asks. “Is he taking care of you?” I smile and play the part, but my heart
sinks. It’s the second time in a night and at least the fourth time in a month. Why hasn’t either of us found a way to gracefully correct people?
“She’s taking care of me,” Jordan says brightly, stunning me to near tears. “We take care of each other.”
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