How Having 20/200 Vision Shaped My Ability To Date

If you didn’t have flaming red hair or a foot-tall mohawk, you probably wouldn’t catch my attention.

young girl squinting, boys blurry Nicolas Menijes via Canva | 8213erika via Canva | PIKSEL via Canva | Mary Salen’s Images via Canva | Maria Sannikova via Canva

I grew up with severe astigmatism.

My eyesight was so bad I couldn’t see the writing on the blackboard in school unless I stood beside the teacher’s desk and squinted like Mr. Magoo.

Even then, it took me until long after the bell rang to finish transcribing the teacher’s writing into my notebook before scurrying to my next class.

All throughout elementary school, junior high school, and high school, I’d copy the notes either from the front of the classroom two feet from the chalkboard or from a neighboring classmate’s notebook.


In most classes, the teacher would allow me to sit in the front row unless my needs clashed with their alphabetized seating arrangement.

I couldn’t recognize a classmate or a friend approaching until they were close enough to touch.

I couldn’t tell if the teacher who sat in the front of the room was a regular staff member or a substitute until she began to speak.


I couldn’t read the menu or the prices posted on the wall in my high school cafeteria.

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The teachers who first noticed my struggle with the chalkboard in elementary school advised my mother to take me to an optometrist.

My mother complied, taking me to a doctor who decided I was too unattractive to wear glasses. He didn’t say so specifically, of course.

"Boys don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses," he told me. "Do your teachers let you sit at the front of the classroom?"

I told him that they did.

"Then let’s hold off on getting you glasses for now."

Privately, he told my mother that he was afraid the other kids would tease me if I wore glasses.


He asked her if I was popular in school, and she replied in the negative.

"I think it’s better if I don’t give her glasses," he said. "It will only make things worse."

I didn’t question why I couldn’t see any better after visiting the optometrist than I could before. That’s because I didn’t realize my eyesight was bad. No one had told me, and I simply assumed everyone saw everything the same way I did.

Even as I grew into my teen years, I thought that was the way things worked.

If you wanted to see something far away, you waited until it got closer. If you wanted to see something up close, you squinted as if you were in a sandstorm.

Due to my extreme anxiety, I dropped out of driver’s education class. If I had tried to get my driver’s license, I surely would have learned I was too vision impaired to pass the test. Dropping out of driver’s ed would postpone the realization that I was nearly legally blind for a few more years.


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When I began dating, I recognized my boyfriends by their gait and their hair.

My first boyfriend took short, quick steps and had hair that flowed to his waist.

My second boyfriend took long slow strides and wore his straight blond hair past his shoulders.

My third boyfriend bounced when he walked and had curly red hair.

My fourth boyfriend had long legs with a stride to match and wore his hair in a towering mohawk.

My taste in men: give me someone I can spot at a distance.

Each man I dated was easier to spot than the last, mostly due to their unusual hairstyles.

All average-height, shorthaired brunettes looked the same until they were close enough for me to see the whites of their eyes. Give me a man with waist-length hair, blond hair, red hair that shines like polished copper in the sunlight, or a foot-high mohawk frozen with Stiff Stuff hairspray. Give me something to sink my teeth and eyes into.


The next man I dated was a below-average-height, short-haired brunette. He was impossible to spot in a crowd.

I’ll never forget the time he took me to the circus. We couldn’t find our seats. I could see neither the assigned seat numbers on the tickets nor the numbers on the seats. It was all a blur.

He made me cry before the circus began, and the blur grew blurrier. I attended the circus, but I didn’t actually see the circus. As it turned out, there’s a difference. I couldn’t even see the elephants unless seeing large trumpeting blurs in shades of shadow and gray count.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen years old that my new optometrist marveled at how I’d gotten through life without glasses.


My vision in my right eye was 20/100. In my left eye, it was 20/200.

"You’re basically blind in your left eye," she told me. "Your eyesight is so bad that your brain switched that eye off, and you’re seeing only with your right eye."

Just how well was I seeing with my right eye? On the Snellen chart, I could see the top line, the giant E. On the second line, I could see the next two letters, F L. The third line was an indecipherable blur. With my left eye, I struggled to see even that giant E. Everything else blurred into shades of gray.

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I picked out my first pair of eyeglasses, blue frames, and blue-tinted lenses.


They felt unnatural on my face. My surroundings looked unnatural, too. The world is not supposed to be so sharp and clear, I thought. I was accustomed to objects fading into each other without outlines or delineations.

On my first date since acquiring glasses, I sat across from the same young man who’d shouted at me during the circus. He looked glum, sinister, even more so than usual now that I could actually see him.

The waitress complimented my glasses, which made me hate them.

I didn’t want to receive compliments on them; I wanted them to be invisible. Wearing glasses embarrassed me. I stopped wearing them and watched the world return to its former blurry glory.


I wouldn’t wear glasses in public. I wouldn’t even wear them in the darkness of the local movie theater. It didn’t matter that the images were large. It wasn’t about size. It was about the astigmatism that made objects of any size or distance out of focus. Objects on the movie theater screen were like the elephants at the circus all over again.

I married the man from the circus debacle. Then I divorced him.

I wore glasses and contacts before having my vision corrected with LASIK. The divorce and the LASIK were two of the best decisions of my life.

My current boyfriend is kind and handsome and crystal-clear. I wouldn’t trade him for all the elephants in the circus.


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Tracey Folly is a writer who has been contributing lifestyle and relationship content to the Internet since 2009.