Navigating the World of Dating with Hearing Loss:
Dating used to be fun and quite dramatic in my twenties. It was a lot of butterflies in my stomach, crushes on different people with different personalities, that hope of finding "THE ONE", and learning that people have different values and principles. I even learned about myself during the dating process. One thing a lot of people may not realize is that for me dating with hearing loss added some flavor to my dating experiences and significantly influenced the way I acted or reacted with men, even though I did not realize it at the time.
With this post, I will be exploring the world of dating from my perspective as a woman with hearing loss and hopefully provide some insights on how to navigate dating with hearing loss.
DISCLAIMER: All experiences/opinions are my own and may vary with other individuals with hearing loss.
Embracing Self-Acceptance: For the longest time, due to my hearing loss, I somehow felt like it was some sort of defect on my part. (Not that my loved ones made me feel this way) It was just some internalized nonsense. I felt like I had to overcompensate by tolerating some things I really shouldn't have tolerated, making accommodations for guys thinking "It must be difficult to date a girl like me, I have to make it easier". Coupled with a very traditional background that encourages women to be very subservient and a lifelong audition to be someone's wife. It was a terrible combination that resulted in a lot of unnecessary heartache. A lot of men knew this and took advantage. There was a lot of gaslighting involved when I eventually spoke up that I was being hurt. The thing with acting this way is that it is at complete odds with my strong personality. It was quite challenging.
Once I accepted and truly understood in my heart and mind that there was nothing wrong with me, my hearing loss is a part of who I am and it did not define my worth or ability to form connections. This made such a positive difference. I also came to realize people for the most part treated me the way I presented myself and treated myself. That's not to say there's not the usual conflict etc but being self-accepting made me a lot more of an emotionally healthy person.
Communication: A lot of times I was not always open, upfront, and honest with a potential love interest because I was afraid it would "scare them away" I also had not fully internalized it in a way that I was comfortable sharing it with people. For the longest time, I thought it was a weakness that would be weaponized against me. Now I understand the importance of being transparent and communicating my specific needs and my preferred communication methods. Whilst this may have resulted in some people finding it difficult to accept or change of attitudes, I now understand that anyone who I have to hide my hearing loss from, has no business being in my life anyway. It's easier for the other party too, so they understand that I may not have heard them when they say something. I suppose in a way it helps me start to build trust in the person when I see how they handle the information I have shared with them. I have had different responses, some have literally just said "Okay that's fine" and went on as normal, some have asked questions to try to understand it, and some have stopped communication. The responses have been varied and interesting.
Date Nights: Looking back, When I was asked to meet up for dinners/drinks etc, I wish I was bold enough to ask for environments that were more accommodating for me, especially if I really liked the person. Places with minimal background noise or activities that encourage face-to-face interaction were much easier for me. One thing I did not like, was cinema dates. I mean I was trying to hear what is being said in the movie and then someone is whispering in my ear a running commentary. I always tried to push for the cinema to take place AFTER dinner hopefully they had said all they wanted to say at dinner and were tired of talking when the movie came on. Sneaky I know, but now, I would communicate to the person before going in that if they wanted to say anything to me, they were better off writing it on their notes app on their phone for me to read it.
Whispering: This is an interesting one. Unfortunately, the package of "whispers in romantic settings" is not available for me to subscribe to at this time. I mean I figured whispering was supposed to be romantic "whispering sweet nothings" and having romantic conversations through whispers. I have dated people who thought it was romantic as well, but I literally cannot make out anything when someone whispers to me, I just hear a lot of moving air. I'd just smile and nod or sometimes try to ask them to repeat what they said and there's a lot of guesstimation involved which could be awkward. What I could do is lip-read without my partner having to voice what they're saying. They could be across the room, I can lip-read them, and I don't necessarily have to hear them.
I remember seeing a scene in Crazy Rich Asians where the male lead mouths to the female lead that he loves her. A light bulb went off in my head that YES! This is romantic in public for me - NOT WHISPERING. As a closet romantic, this is probably one of the most romantic scenes in the world to me. Don't ask me outside, I will DENY it - The scene is below around the 2.57 mark. The song being sung is one of my favorite songs too.
Technology: Thankfully we live in the digital age where there are a lot of communication options for individuals with hearing loss. As most people close to me know, I am a texter. I have however had to adjust my communication styles to be more active in calling, sending/receiving voice notes (that my phone can caption whilst I am listening), and preferably video calling. These options ensure that you stay connected even in situations where verbal communication may be challenging. (i.e. loud background noises or when the other person cannot speak clearly enough etc). What I would really appreciate from a partner to understand is that I do get listening fatigue. I have a pretty demanding job where I talk for a significant part of the day. Asking for hours-long conversations after a work day sometimes is a lot more draining than people realize. So It's important to keep this in mind especially depending on the kind of job your partner has.
Patience and Empathy. These traits are not as common as one would think in the dating world. It is so important when dating anyone and even more so when dating someone who has any kind of disability. I have come to understand that not everyone is familiar with hearing loss, has the capacity to accept it or even fully appreciate the fact that I have less than 50% of normal hearing (in both ears) Just because I look like I'm handling it well doesn't mean I ALWAYS handle it well. I have learned to be patient in explaining to people my challenges and proffering solutions that would be mutually beneficial. By doing so, I am hoping I am doing a small part in creating a more inclusive society, and even after we part ways it's a lesson/experience they carry with them.
Support: Last but not least. I have learned in my dating experience is surrounding myself with objective and supportive friends and family is crucial. They are usually honest with me when someone isn't treating me well or if I am not being patient enough with someone who does not fully understand my challenges. Thanks to my friends - I have also made it a policy to be upfront about my hearing loss in the early stages of getting to know someone. Having this support is so important as it helped provide the necessary guidance, encouragement, and a safe space for me to share my thoughts and experiences. It has helped me remain positive about dating/ relationships.
Overall dating with hearing loss definitely has its own challenges, but I am certain It has made a positive impact on the person I am today. I am a lot more honest with myself, a lot more in tune with my emotions, and certainly a lot more of an empathetic person. Following my self-acceptance has certainly made me approach dating with a lot more self-confidence and given me the opportunity to build meaningful connections based on understanding and acceptance. Most importantly I now realize I am "qualified for the love package" regardless of my hearing loss.