Anyone with hearing loss can tell you it's not easy. As if dating wasn't already complicated enough, add on the additional hurdles of not being able to hear, understand or function like a normal hearing person. Love is a powerful thing, but when you have hearing loss, carrying on a conversation can be self-defeating, physically exhausting and excruciatingly painful.
When you're in love with someone, the conversations you have can become a source of sadness, and sometimes a reason to fight. Everyone talks of the difficulties faced when a couple receives unfounded judgement for being in an interracial partnership or having conflicting religious views. No one, however, has really talked about the couple who is hearing and nonhearing.
What did you say? It's nothing. Nevermind. No, tell me. You know it really pisses me off when you do that. Just let it go. It wasn't important.
It's always important.
To the normal hearing guy who dates me,
I know you don't mean to make me feel beneath you or ashamed. I know you'll remember we hear differently. You can talk to our friends in the noisy dance club downtown and can make out the hushed whispers in a movie on a Friday night. You can understand what people are saying in groups and it doesn't matter where we are.
I try to read people's lips as we sway in the club, but the thumping bass overpowers everything. I squint, stare and lean in as you repeat the whispered comment about 10 times. I never get it. As we venture out with friends and family, I grab the seat at the head of the table and try to follow the lines of communication and fail miserably. I am the woman you're dating. I am the woman with hearing loss. What you might take for granted, I wish for day and night.
Be patient with me, please.
Listening is hard for me, especially when we are out to eat at a restaurant, in a dark place like a theater or club. I have to read your lips, but it doesn't always solve everything. I can wear my hearing aids, but sometimes it's not enough. I love you, so I listen; I try to at least.
When you talk to me, everything you say is important, whether you think so or not. I will probably ask you to repeat things sometimes, more so when a lot of noise is present or there are multiple people talking. I know it can be frustrating at times, and I know you can get annoyed. But remember to be patient. I'm trying. It's just not the same for me as it is for you.
Don't brush me off when I ask you to repeat something.
"Whatever." "Just forget it." "It's not important.” "Nevermind." These aren't curse words or dirty slang, but to me, they hurt just as much. At first, they will piss me off. But eventually, I'll end up crying in the front seat of your car, at home curled up on the floor or in the bathroom of the restaurant where we are having dinner.
They're such simple words. It's funny how such seemingly harmless 20th-century linguistic productions can feel like such horrid, hurtful and disgusting aberrations. I don't hear you say these words when they leave your mouth. I don't even read them on your lips. Instead, these short, blunt and utterly defeating noises simply remind me of how different I am from you. They make me feel less than you, abnormal.
"Whatever" translates to "I'm not willing to be patient and take the time to repeat what I'm saying until your ruined ears can get it." "Just forget it" or "It's not important" translates to "You're really not important enough for me to repeat it to."
No matter whether you consider it important or not, to me, it's always important. The most painful of all response of all is, "Nevermind." Well, you might as well have said, "F*ck you."
Don't tell people about my condition for me.
I know you're trying to help, but my hearing loss is my own. It is my disability, and it is my choice to share it. I am not ashamed of it, but I don't necessarily want to talk about it either. It is my choice to tell others, whether it's strangers or close friends.
It is my disability to disclose. It is up to me to have the pride and courage to acknowledge it. Don't tell people for me, because when you do, it becomes everything. As a result, the real me who I want others to see gets overlooked.
Understanding isn't the same as hearing.
I know it's hard to understand, but just because I hear it doesn't mean I understand it. My brain and my ears don't work well together anymore, so I don't always know what was said even though I know someone spoke. Don't get mad at me when I ask you to speak louder or more clearly. I'm just trying to understand. Don't get frustrated when I ask you to repeat what you said one or three more times. I'm trying. I am. But sometimes the words just run together.
Remember, I'm trying.
My hearing loss isn't going anywhere, no matter how much either of us wishes it would. My hearing aids are incredible. But sometimes, my hearing loss is just too much. But remember, I'm trying. I'm trying to hear what you say, what our friends say, what our family says. I am trying to understand the words of a song you want me to know. I am trying.
If you will continue to be patient with me for as long as you can, I will try to remember that you don't mean to hurt me when you become frustrated. If you will try to remember to be careful of the words you use, I will try to forgive the times when they are the ones that hurt. If you will try your best to let me own my hearing loss, then I will try my best to always be open about it.
Yet, we both know love is not always perfect. We cannot always be patient. We cannot always be aware. We cannot always be accommodating. It is as exhausting for you to accommodate for my disability as it is for me to to try to compensate for your normality. There is no changing it. Just as there are no fairy godmothers who can wave a wand and fix our hearing, there is no permanent solution in real life.
All we can do is keep going, keep pushing and keep trying. I will never be able to fully appreciate you whispering sweet nothings in my ears, and you have accepted that we can never have conversations in the dark. We will fight, and my ears may sometimes be the problem. But we know this, accept this and choose to move forward.
It will never be easy. I know this. It will never be easy dating someone like me. You know this, too. But then again, the best things in life never are, are they?
A version of this article was published here.