Shop shelves have been filled with lurid pink and red stuffed toys, chocolates and candies since the Christmas stock was taken down in the 48 hours after staff returned to work after Boxing Day, and the pressure is now on to do something for your date – or to find a date!
OK, all melodrama and tongue in cheek fun-poking at commercialism aside, this leads into a pretty important topic that I think many of us living with pretty much any kind of disability battle with more than most – romantic relationships. I belong to a bunch of Deaf and Hard of Hearing groups on Facebook, and dating with hearing loss is easily one of the most common topics that people bring up. You see tons of stories from people being rejected by dates when they speak up about their hearing loss, comments from people who advise ONLY dating within the Deaf community, and a plethora of people looking for that special someone.
It’s pretty universal to the human condition. We want to be wanted. We want to be liked. We want to know that we mean something to somebody.
I hope that by sharing a couple of stories from my own life, and a couple of tips I’ve picked up along the way, I’ll help others find relationships that are steady, enduring, and rewarding in all the ways that matter.
Through pretty much my whole school career, I flat out couldn’t talk to most girls. There was probably a wide range of factors in that were a part of this. I was a bookworm, an oddball nerd, and very religious in that fiery black-and-white-right-or-wrong teenage way. To cap it off, my hearing loss is at its worst in the higher frequencies. The drop-off starts in the frequency most girls’ voices seem to register at. Even once I got my first hearing aids, the improvement wasn’t enough to hear many girls.
That was the recipe for a perfect storm when it came to making mistakes in relationships, so I’m going to share a few of the do’s and don’t’s I of dating with hearing loss that I learned along the way.
This was probably my most-repeated mistake whilst I was dating. I used to zone in on the rare girls who paid me attention, going from what was probably a genuine attempt at friendship in many cases to near-obsession. That’s creepy, don’t be that guy/girl/person/genderfluid individual. (I think I got all the ones that are relevant when it comes to relationships – feel free to mentally add whichever term suits you where applicable through the rest of the article.) Falling for those who pay you attention will also destroy budding friendships if there isn’t a solid foundation for a real relationship to bloom.
Pretty often, you’ll find that those whose attention you capture are those who are also desperate to have a relationship for a multitude of different reasons. The worst cases are the ones where someone is facing deep issues in their own life and feels that having a boyfriend or girlfriend will help them fix it, where someone is having deep issues in their life and you feel YOU can fix it, and where someone feels they have to nurture you because you have a disability.
Even if they are not deaf or hard of hearing, their advice is worth listening to. When they tell you that they don’t think things are working out. I lost friends over that last relationship I spoke about because I was spending so much time being a rescuer and focusing so much on that particular relationship.
Lastly on the DON’T list, DON’T fall for the myths about love and dating! If you get hung up on finding “The One” you’ll miss out on a lot of the adventure that comes when you realize that love is all about choice.
When I was introduced to the wider Deaf community for the first time, I made a few good friends. Even including one in particular who I shared a lot of interests with. We were both nerds, into zombies and JRR Tolkien and Greek Mythology. We shared a similar outlook on the world – and we both had hearing loss.
When it came to communication in my early relationships, we tended to talk a lot over text. The difficulty there came in with the misunderstandings that can happen when you can’t pick up on tone or body language, so that caused some spectacular teenage dramas!
In person, however, we were able to speak much as other couples spoke. The only differences were that all my ex-girlfriends were aware that it was better for them to walk on my right so that I could hear, and face me so that I could lip-read. As a teen, you tend to want solitude with your significant other whilst dating, and that, of course, is a great environment for those of us with hearing loss to communicate with others!
The key, when getting to know someone, is to let them know your needs. See, there are some deep, yet simple lessons I’ve come to learn along the way that are things you SHOULD DO. The first of them is to be upfront about who you are and what your struggles are. By not being yourself right out of the box, you let someone fall in love with an idea of yourself rather than who you truly are, as well as setting the stage for misunderstandings and fights further down the line. Assuming, of course, that faux-you is successful in attracting someone!
Focus not on who completes you, but on the things you enjoy, your passions, your interests. Build your confidence by throwing yourself headfirst into experiences, whether it’s a hobby (mine is miniature wargaming), a trip with friends, learning something new, getting a job that gets you out of your comfort zone – grow yourself! See, the thing that attracts other people, mostly, is confidence. You need to love yourself before you can love someone else completely.
Especially when you realize that someone who is a friend that makes you something more than you thought possible catches your attention in a particular moment, and choose to act on it.
Learn each other’s love languages. Show appreciation for the little things. Talk early and often about the things that bother you and resolve them. Forgive each other and let go of the things that make you mad before going to bed. Love is NOT easy. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it. When you’re sharing an adventure with someone else, life takes on a whole new set of joys.
That’s why our marriage works. It’s about the little things, choosing each other every day instead of opting to go aids out when we have our fights and ignore the issues.
“It’s about the little things, choosing each other every day instead of opting to go aids out when we have our fights and ignore the issues.”
Love is about choosing each other over and over and over again, every single day, and putting one another first. Amy and I do that, every day, and we make sure that we communicate clearly with each other using every means at our disposal. We both know a little South African Sign Language (and use it to our advantage when out in public!), we both carry hearing aid batteries for each other, and we both know each others body language really well. See, there’s not much difference between relationships between any kinds of people – Deaf and hearing, hard of hearing and Deaf, or any other mix you could make – when it comes to what’s important in a relationship: Communication. Get your communication with each other right, whatever form it takes, and you’ll flourish.
Oh, one last DON’T.
What communication tips do you have for Valentine’s Day? Let us know in the comments.