While I don’t want to generalize, I’d say the first thing people comment on after they meet me is my loquaciousness, and rightfully so. Despite the best efforts of my parents, I still don’t believe in an unspoken thought. Naturally then, when I started dating my current girlfriend who suffers from hearing loss, I introduced our relationship to my friends with a joke: something akin to, “Makes a lot of sense that I would date someone who could choose when to mute me.” Most people found that sentiment, at best, mildly humorous. I thought it was hilarious.
My girlfriend, like many people who suffer some form of deafness, exists in a liminal world between the hearing and the non-hearing populations. It actually came as a shock to me on our first date when I discovered she was hard of hearing because I’d known her for a year at that point and never noticed it. To be fair, you wouldn’t either if you met her casually. She does not speak with an impediment, she loves music and sings beautifully, and her hearing aids are barely noticeable. However, I quickly came to learn that without the latter, she is deafer than Beethoven next to a jet engine. Even so, it has never mattered to me. I love her truly and passionately and nothing as superficial as hearing loss could ever change that.
Nevertheless, it does mean certain things are different about our relationship. For example, I cannot whisper sweet nothings to her when she takes her hearing aids out to go to sleep. If I want to convey something to her at that time, I must shout it directly into her ear. Even then, it’s a roll of the dice whether or not she understands and—as you can imagine—shouting drains most of the charm out of the exercise. Additionally, I quickly realized that if my apartment were burglarized, she’d be utterly useless, dreaming away even if Hannibal’s war elephants broke in to rob me blind. Even with her hearing aids in, life is different for us, as she hears better out of one ear than the other. Where to sit at a family dinner so she can hear the conversation, what side to stand on when we walk down the street together, learning how to turn on the subtitles so she better understands the lines from a movie; these are all things I consider now that I never did before. Granted all these are small things, but they are different for me, and they did take some time to get used to.
Ironically though, where my girlfriend and I excel is in communication. I’m not arrogant enough to believe I understand her better than anyone else, but she certainly understands me better than anyone ever has, and yes, I do think it relates to her hearing loss. As I said before, I talk a lot. Thoughts aren’t real to me until they’re voiced. In turn though, I can be guilty of using the sound of my voice to prevent myself from looking inward. That’s where my girlfriend, with all her grace, wisdom, and compassion comes in. I believe growing up with hearing loss has made her more perceptive than your average twenty-something. No, she might not catch everything I say, but she’ll listen to me in ways those of us with all our hearing never could. She picks up on things deeper than the sound of my voice and, in doing so, she reveals me to myself. I think that ability is something everyone looks for and cherishes in a significant other. In my case, the woman who does that for me wears hearing aids, and I would not have it any other way.