Ahh. The million dollar question for most young people (I’m looking at you teens and young adults… and maybe some in their late 20s). One of the biggest questions that I asked myself when I became of age to officially “start” dating was: would hearing people find me attractive!? Many other insecure, self-conscious questions surfaced. Fact: this is PERFECTLY normal and it’s nothing to do with being Deaf or Hard of Hearing (D/HH). It’s called being human.
Nevertheless, a part of me was also curious what ‘hearing’ people thought about dating a D/HH person. I managed to rope in 5 individuals (all who are still with their D/HH significant others!) who answered some of my questions about their experiences. Because they all gave so many great responses, we’ve made this into a 2-part series! Today, meet Conrad (Natalie) and Dyra (Dustin) below! Next week, we’ll feature 3 more ‘hearing’ significant others.
Meet the Interviewees 🙂
How did you two meet?
Conrad: We met through an online dating service called ChristianCafé.com. I saw that she was an aspiring Teacher. She saw that I was an Educational Assistant. All she asked was one question which was “Which School District do you work for?” and I answered in 5 paragraphs and the rest is history.
Dyra: Dustin and I met while attending high school. We were in the same English Class – I had entered the classroom late on the first day and the English teacher was looking for a volunteer to take notes for Dustin. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and the only seat left was at the front where Dustin was sitting. I volunteered to be his note taker (even though my handwriting is atrocious! – think doctor’s writing).
D: My initial reaction to Dustin’s hearing loss was that of interest and intrigue. I realized early on that he had an oral interpreter who followed him to all his classes to translate (mouth out) the dialogue in the class. I thought that must be pretty difficult to have to pay attention to so many things while still trying to digest the content (I could see why he would need a note taker for all his classes). I also wondered how his hearing loss affected his communication with other people and found him a little hard to understand at first but became more used to his speech patterns and pronunciation of certain words. I was surprised at how easy it was to communicate with him after the initial getting over the fear of not knowing how to communicate with someone with a hearing loss.
What are some things that you find interesting about being in a relationship with a D/HH person? Examples are welcome!
C: I am fascinated how much the human mind and body is able to adapt to such a trauma as hearing loss. For example, I can see with my wife that she is able to read my body language so much more acutely even though she is also vision impaired!
D: Being in a relationship with a hard of hearing person is very much like being in a relationship with anyone else – you have to work just as hard to ensure you’re communicating often and openly. The quirks that I would mention is the ability to communicate across the room (mouthing out a sentence during a party from across the room or in a loud setting using other forms of communication that most hearing couples would not have an option to use: ie: finger spelling). Other interesting things would be the ability to repeat and re-phrase what I just said. This unique ability comes in handy when I say something out of spite or in annoyance – having the chance to re-phrase has (many times) allowed me to take a moment and say what I wanted to say in a more efficient and constructive way.
Finding ways to communicate after he’s taken off his CI or when he doesn’t prefer to put it on right away in the morning -I find that interesting!
I also find it interesting that he has the ability to shut the world out (especially when the kids are extremely loud) but he doesn’t. He maintains that “if you have to put up with it – so should I” this outlook has definitely endeared him to me but I imagine other deaf and hard of hearing folks are the same way where they don’t take advantage of their hearing loss and don’t use it as a tool to their benefit.
Did being with a D/HH person change the way you think about communication?
C: I am more aware of how much messages never really get across. For my wife, she is assertive enough to let me know if she didn’t hear something or didn’t pay attention enough to catch what I am saying. Not everyone is that assertive.
D: Being with Dustin has definitely changed the way I think about communication. I met him earlier on so I’ve had a lot of time to practice good communication skills like eye contact, enunciation and completing my thoughts and instead of trailing off. However, I still find myself speaking into the fridge while I’m asking him where something might have been placed (I am pleasantly surprised that he can actually hear me and responds from the other room – the CI has been wonderful for that).
My relationship with Dustin has also changed how I teach my children about how to communicate (not just with Dustin) but with everyone around them (eye contact, no mumbling, and getting someone’s attention by tapping their shoulder etc.)
The other thing I’d like to mention is I’ve become accustomed to seeing things from the perspective of a person with hearing loss in terms of accessibility to services (automatic answering services through TELUS or VISA etc.) This makes me want to advocate for those services to be more accessible for people who are hard of hearing. The world starts to look a little different and one starts to think outside of what works for the regular person and start to think about what works for everyone. It’s a more inclusive way of looking at things and it’s a humbling experience to realize that we sometimes take our hearing for granted.
Do you look at D/HH people differently now that you’ve dated/married one or is it the same?
C: Definitely yes. I can see the complexities of what it means to be a person of the deaf community and how controversial it is for people to get the cochlear implant and how the deaf community as a whole do not have the same opportunities that hearing people do.
D: Not really – I think I worry more about what D/HH people think of me and sometimes I am compelled to reach out to them and tell them something along the lines of “I get it… I think you’re awesome” because I do think a lot of D/HH people are categorized for what they can’t do vs. what they can do and how much harder it is (sometimes) for them to get to a place where people see them as capable as everyone else.
What are some of the frustrations you’ve encountered while being with a D/HH person?
C:I am still learning how my body language affects how my wife interprets things. Never have I been so overwhelmed by so many details that I have not picked up before. Eg. One frustration I have is that I don’t even have to yell for Natalie to feel hurt. She can pick up my agitated facial expressions and gestures very easily and her brain will interpret that as I yelled even though I know I did not yell.
D: Repeating myself during situations where I am distracted or need to communicate something quickly can be frustrating (even if for most part I’m used to it) I still get annoyed sometimes.
Being on the phone with a service provider on his behalf is one example!
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences in being in a relationship with a D/HH person?
C: I think my experience has taught me to really self advocate for myself. Whenever life hits me, I can find a lot of inspiration from my wife and how she was able to live with her disability. Also, when it comes down to it, everyone has their own deficits that they have to live with. So really, being married to a person with a disability doesn’t feel all that different.
D: I didn’t realize until later on that there’s a lot of educate around hearing disabilities and not only for myself but for the people around me about Dustin’s capabilities as sometimes people can’t see past the disability. I think it’s interesting how people sometimes need to label something to understand it “a relationship with a hearing impaired person” vs. just a relationship with someone who has different ways of communicating?
What advice would you give to a D/HH person new to the dating scene, and unsure how to disclose their hearing loss?
C: Look to the points from the previous question and the fact that you are not defined by your disability. You are you.
D: I would say that if they are worried about how they may be perceived due to the disclosure of the hearing loss they should consider that the people you want to be involved with are the ones who have the initial open mind to want to know about your world. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Stay tuned for next week’s Part 2 – with three more amazing interviewees!