Peter, 51, had always struggled to find love after an accident when he just a boy. Here’s his story about finding love with Tracey, 56, despite disfigurement.
I was your typical teenage boy; a rascal always looking for fun and mischief with my friends. I was one of the popular kids in our neighbourhood and even though I was only 15, I was smitten with my high-school sweetheart, Lily. It was Bonfire Night 1984 me and the lads had got our hands on a stash of dodgy fireworks from a cousin-of-a-friend’s-dog’s-sister (you know how it is!). We made our way to our favourite secret hang-out and started unpacking the fireworks hurriedly with great excitement. We took it in turns to light each rocket, marvelling at the beautiful shower of colours above us. When it came to my turn, I lit the firework gleefully and ran frantically back to the safety of my friends to watch the wonder.
We waited. Then waited some more. Nothing. So, I tiptoed over to the rocket to check and BANG. It exploded in my face. That little moment of childish fun left me with burns across my face, neck, shoulder, arm and both hands. I also lost my right eye.
The experience not only affected me, it traumatised everyone who was there. Needless to say, I lost my Lily, not because she was cruel, but because of my accident I had secluded myself from my friends and become increasingly isolated. The damage wasn’t just skin deep, I felt like a monster on the inside too. I felt such anger at the pitying looks people gave me, or when strangers stared and pointed, or when a family member lied and told me they could hardly tell. Being burnt so badly and losing my eye affected me significantly and had an immense impact on my life.
As I grew up, I grew in confidence, but I was never the same happy-go-lucky boy I once was. Throughout my twenties, I had a group of great mates and heaps of girlfriends; but that’s as far is it went, girl friends. I got set up on blind dates, but despite the young women being told about my appearance, it always shocked them in the flesh. Whenever I met a new person, I could see the concern, the sympathy, the uncomfortableness in their eyes.
During my thirties, I’d resolved to the idea of being single for the rest of my life. I joked about being the crazy cat man; sitting in my rocking chair on the porch, surrounded by feral felines and scaring the local children. But deep down, I was miserable and lonely.
If online dating existed back then, it was in its earliest infancy, existing only as message boards. It wasn’t until the first dedicated online dating websites launched and found popularity with many of my friends that I started to pay attention. They were telling me about all the great women there were out there, but I was unsure. A part of me was cynical; oh, I can get rejected on the internet now too! Great! But by my 40th birthday, I became desperate for someone to share my life with so I threw caution to the wind and signed up to online dating.
What is marvellous about online dating is that you decide what first impression you give out. In reality, I am judged quickly on my appearance and most people never give me a chance because I look different, and it scares them. Online dating allowed me to be completely open about the person I am, what I like, what I believe in, what I would like in a relationship. It allowed women to read about me rather than simply see my glass eye and scarred skin and run a mile! Of course I wrote in my profile about my accident and I also put up a profile picture, but for my main photo I used a side-on image (of my good side!). This is because I wanted potential dates to give me a chance before they immediately freaked out and clicked past me. I uploaded a front-on, genuine photo of myself also so that any woman interested could get over the initial shock and decide if she could handle my disfigurement.
I was surprised as to the amount of women who showed interest in me. Online dating was working! Ladies were considering me as a whole package, as a human being – not just a burn victim. I met and dated a number of women casually for two years and it felt amazing. I stopped seeing myself as a walking causality and began to love myself again for the first time in a long time.
By the time I met Tracey, I felt like a new person. I was loving life and loving being me. Tracey was flabbergasted at my positive attitude and zest for making the most out of every situation. She had sent me a smile on the dating site, and before long we were nattering away on messenger like old buddies. On our first date, I saw her breath catch in her throat for just a second when she saw me in the flesh – but because I was now stronger and more confident than ever before I simply winked at her cheekily and made a joke about her looking a little older in person than her profile photo – we laughed and the rest is history!
That was five years ago now and my-oh-my has it flown by. We live happily together with our three cats, and I even have a rocking chair on the porch – ha!
Without mature online dating, I truly believe I never would have had the opportunity to meet anyone special, let alone Tracey. It’s a revolutionary tool in matchmaking and helping people like myself to find love.