How do you cope with feeling inadequate while dating with a disability?
August 12, 2016 1:02 AM   Subscribe

As a disabled person, how do you keep your head up when you're dating, and deal with negative self-talk and feelings of inadequacy? Essentially, how do you cope with - or even stop - feeling like, basically, no matter how awesome you might be or how much you accomplish, you're nobody's first choice?

(for reference, I just turned 28, and I'm a cishet dude in SF.)

Getting right to the point: thanks to a particularly bad spot of meningitis I had when I was a kid, I'm deaf, but I use a cochlear implant, which, while it works pretty well, isn't a perfect replacement for normal hearing. On one hand, it does a damn good job, to the point that I forgot all my sign language a long, long time ago. A lot of what I've been able to accomplish academically and professionally wouldn't have been possible without it, either - I owe a lot to my parents for me getting implanted as soon after losing my hearing as I did. I've had a pretty successful and fulfilling career so far, and I'm even managing my own team right now. In a month or two, though, I'll be moving 30 miles south of here to start a prestigious STEM/business grad program that accepts like 1 percent of its applicants - the alumni of this program have gone into careers like Ivy League tenure track jobs, venture capital, consulting, startups, that kinda thing. I mean, I'm not sure if I want to set my sights that high, but it'll be nice to get the chance to at least explore those options, and at the same time it feels a little crazy to even have the chance to be a part of something as great as this program, in spite of my disability. On top of that, I can use the phone (although it can be hit and miss, and I really need good reception), play the piano pretty well (for a beginner, though!) and appreciate music - the implant definitely enables me to do a lot of little things that I wouldn't have been able to do otherwise.

On the other hand, however, having the implant puts me into this weird sort of gray area: I can hear; and I'm obviously functional, although not to the extent that I probably don't come off as, for the lack of a better way to put it, somewhat different. My speech is normal, and I can hear just about everything someone with normal hearing would hear, but listening - well, that takes work. Much more work than most people have to put in, I'm guessing - I either listen actively, really actively, or I don't. Not only do I have to listen harder, I have to spend a lot of brainpower on accumulating context and then using that context to piece together the bits of the conversation I didn't catch, and sometimes I have to do stuff like predicting when the other person's going to speak next and making sure I'm cued in and looking at their face when they do start speaking. (I realized not too long ago that I had the habit of staring at peoples' faces during breaks in the conversation, and that may come off as a little awkward if they aren't used to it, so I'm trying to cut down on stuff like that.)

So, if I'm interacting within structured environments like an interview, meeting or a presentation, where there's no background noise and the context is pretty clear, I do completely fine. However, meeting new people can be more difficult - and background noise or being in groups of more than three other people only compounds that difficulty even further. When I first moved here, I put a lot of effort into trying to meet people and make friends through Meetup, classes, and club sports, and it was really fucking difficult, and long story short, I didn't end up making any friends. It's not just that, but I also felt really awkward the whole time I put myself out there around strangers - the sheer effort that I have to put into compensating for my limited hearing makes it harder for me to ease up and to let my real personality to shine through. Meeting new people feels sort of like a gamble in that I'm hoping the stars align and all the factors involved - the amount of background noise, the other person's accent and the volume and pitch of their voice, and more - work out and we can actually carry on a conversation without having to explain to them, oh, I'm deaf but, you see, I have this special hearing aid that usually works pretty dang well but it's really loud in here; and by the way, could you please speak a bit louder?; and a bit slower, please?; could you stand over here, on my good side?; and so on. Then, and only then, I feel like I can start the getting-to-know-you process like a normal person would - it's then that I feel like I can start to follow the standard social script. The only times I feel like I can truly be myself is when I'm with my friends, who know me and my little hearing-related quirks well enough to to work around them when they come up, which gives me a chance to put my head above water for once.

Anyway, to the meat of this post: my circumstances, as one would expect, make dating a bit... complicated. I didn't really work up the courage to date online (OKC/Tinder/Bumble) until about two years ago, and to be honest, while I'm glad I took the plunge, I can't say it's been a fun experience on the whole so far. What's funny, though, is that for a very long time before I started this experiment, I agonized over whether I or my profile'd be attractive enough to actually be able to get dates - I had heard so many horror stories about men and women having that same kind of trouble, and I figured, well, what's to stop me from having the same experience? Well, it turned out that I was wrong - so very wrong - I was actually a bit overwhelmed at times by the response I got, but I ended up going out with a lot of people. I hadn't really had the chance to date before I started that experiment, so I figure I was just working really hard at getting that out of my system. The problem? Most, if not almost all, of those dates, turned out to be duds, and I'm not sure exactly why. In the last two years, I've probably gone out with about ~75 people, although that's slowed down significantly in the last six months. Of those ~75 first dates, a few turned into random hookups and ONSs (fun, but not what I'm looking for); a few more into second and third dates, although none lasted longer than three weeks; and one date turned into something more substantial, and this person I really liked and saw for three months - I'm still not sure why that one ended, though. All these people ended up ghosting or fading on me in various ways, which has been really disappointing and has somewhat affected my ability to trust people.

What kind of bothers me about my experience, though, is this odd sort of uncertainty - that is, not being able to say whether my experience is perfectly normal and I have nothing to worry about; or that my disability may somehow be playing a role and thus I need to find yet more ways to compensate. However, I've read so many stories right here on the Green, as well as other places, about the experiences people have had with online dating that I've concluded that it's almost a sort of a gospel that Most, If Not Almost All, Online Dates Just Don't Pan Out. That's all well and good, but given the amount of extra overhead and bullshit that I have to deal with due to my hearing, most of my dates end up being more fraught with anxiety than what I think would be normal for someone having better hearing. That's because, for one, I have no idea if my date and I are even going to be able to do something as fundamental as being able to carry on a conversation, much less kindle some sort of chemistry. I could be wrong about this, but it feels like if my hearing were more normal, and thus on most of my dates I could expect to enjoy at least some pleasant conversation with someone who I wouldn't otherwise have met, and learn something new that I otherwise wouldn't have - that if I had better hearing, then I could maybe at least start to see the whole process as being mildly enjoyable in its own way. But that's just not the case right now, not with the extra overhead I have to deal with, and I don't know how to get around that - doing stuff like planning more activity-based dates rather than the standard 'drinks?' date doesn't seem to be helping either. I do disclose in my profiles/bios that I have a cochlear implant, but in a playful way, like, 'have a cochlear implant, so this might just be your only chance ever to meet a cyborg!' but even then, I don't think most people really understand what having a cochlear implant entails. It sucks feeling like I'm going to have to buy more tickets to even have a chance of winning the online dating lottery, and for reasons beyond my control.

On top of that uncertainty, I also feel somewhat alienated, but I'm having a tough time putting my finger on exactly why I'm feeling that way. However, a lot of it has to do, I think, with the feeling of not really being in control and not being the one with more options - say, even when things move past the first date and we get to the "we're going out" phase... I don't know, but I've always felt like that the off chance that if somebody actually wants to go out with me again, then I need to run with it, regardless of whether I like them that much or not, because it could be weeks or months before I get another chance. And at some point or another during that going-out phase, I begin to feel like the other person is just, I don't know, settling for hanging out with me until someone better (read: someone having all five senses intact) comes along - I've never really gotten the chance to end things or to turn people down yet. Even though I've never been turned down because of my hearing (to my face, at least), it's the first conclusion my stupid monkey brain jumps to. It doesn't stop there, either - sometimes I feel like no matter how attractive I am, how successful I become, or how hard I work at being a kind and generous person, I'll always be everyone's second option - always "less than", always inadequate... simply because I can't hear as well as my date or potential partner might expect me to, or maybe because I might have my little awkward moments that someone with normal hearing may not have had.

I think, most of all, I guess I'm just frustrated. I'm kinda tired of striving and achieving and having accomplished so much despite the bullshit I've had to deal with, and yet feeling like my social and love lives are lagging behind - and now I honestly have no idea to go from here or what it is that I need to change to be able to square that discrepancy. But right now I'm just thinking about the sheer amount of effort that it takes to even get past that first date, and I'm not sure what would make all of that work worth it. I could be going out on dates every night of the week, but if, based on my experience, they're almost certain to be unfun in this unique way I've described, then what's the point? There are better ways for me to spend my time and potential, and while I'd love to get to meet someone who I could call my life partner, with whom I could settle down someday, plus maybe have kids and a dog and cat with, as it stands right now, I don't feel like the past two years of trying have really brought me any closer. I'm sitting here still without even one shred of relationship experience and still feeling like I'm falling behind everyone else my age by the minute, and wondering how the hell y'all manage to do it - if it's hard enough for abled people to find love, what kind of road do I have ahead of me? I don't know, and that's probably the most terrifying thing of all.

I mean, I'm (apparently) handsome, funny, tall, good company, financially secure, kind, and I'm doing something with my life - on paper, I feel like I have everything going for me. I feel generally happy with the direction my life is going, and I'd love to find someone to share it with - someone having common values and goals that we could work on together. I know that simply having those boxes checked off doesn't necessarily entitle me to anything, but sometimes I find myself wondering just what the hell more it is that I have to do or to become in order to get something off the ground for once. As in - do I have to magically become a billionaire underwear model with great hair who also moonlights as a brain surgeon and has twenty million followers on Instagram, and oh, which also happens to full of pictures of his incredible homemade baked goods? I know it sounds ridiculous, but sometimes it feels that way.

Anyway, I've been working on going through therapists to try to find someone to work through these issues with, but I really think I would benefit from seeing a social coach or something on top of that - even though I'm somewhat charismatic, and have pretty good social skills, generally, maybe there's something that I'm doing, like the staring thing mentioned above, or some other tic that people may find offputting. In the meantime, I'd really appreciate any perspectives or insights that I haven't considered, but most of all, thanks for hearing me out.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's a combination of two things. As you noted, online dating (dating in general, probably) is hard and I think it's normal to have that "what's wrong with me, why isn't this working out no matter how hard I try" feeling no matter how great a catch you are. Also, you mentioned that you have the "I have a cochlear implant" line in your dating profile but people don't seem to know what it means. You might consider expanding that into a few more sentences, along the lines of your second paragraph above. Something along the lines of: "I have trouble hearing in crowded situations, and you might catch me staring at your face because I'm trying to lipread. This is because I'm deaf, but have a cochlear implant that helps me hear." You can make it more charming than that, but I'm thinking that being very upfront about exactly what your deafness/cochlear implant means would diffuse awkwardness and set expectations for your date. And then you could be more sure that your disappointment is the same as everybody else's. :)
posted by chickenmagazine at 2:40 AM on August 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

Have you got a sibling or friend that can give you feedback on how you're coming across? I'd start there. I'm also curious how you connect. Do you ask your dates their opinions etc or do you avoid asking questions and tend to talk more because of your implant? (When I'm struggling to hear- I overtalk to compensate and to avoid uncomfortable silences. It's a terrible strategy .)
posted by taff at 2:42 AM on August 12, 2016

I am not disabled in the conventional sense but my wife is, and I think I have the perspective to say that the biggest problem your hearing loss is causing you with regard to dating is self-consciousness. Yes, you're different. Big deal. Your baseline 'normal' person is an imaginary construct from which EVERYBODY YOU MEET deviates in lots of ways. Dating always involves learning about someone else's differences, and teaching them about yours. That's why it's both scary and potentially great. Striving to seem "normal" will keep others at arms length, and deny them the opportunity to figure out the simple, easy accommodations you have worked out with your friends. Obsessing over how hard it is, is likely to make it much harder than it needs to be.
posted by jon1270 at 2:57 AM on August 12, 2016 [16 favorites]

My exes were: a cheater, an alcoholic, a type 1 diabetic, clinically depressed; throw in a myriad of bad dates. My husband has generalised anxiety, which he's medicated and in therapy for. A cochlear implant? No problem! Dating is hard, online dating is hard, and first dates are hard and awkward.

Hang in there.
posted by jrobin276 at 3:53 AM on August 12, 2016 [7 favorites]

My husband is partially deaf and wears a hearing aid.

He is truly my better half & it was easy to see that from the very beginning.

Every relationship has compromises & every partnership includes giving one another a leg up in some areas. Honestly, having to repeat myself every once and awhile & make sure I am positioned so he can read my lips is not even a compromises/leg up. I like him, I want to talk to him & hear from him, so I'm going to do whatever I need to to make that work.

We met when he was 28 & I was 29. I was doing the online dating thing, but we met through an friend. I think online dating is best for learning more about what you want. In this question you talk about fears you are not what other people want. Do you know what you want in a partner? it seems like right now, your main standard is that they will go out with you. I didn't really have healthy relationships until I thought carefully about what I wanted.
posted by CMcG at 4:32 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Purely anecdotal, but I'll share that I went on an OKC date with a guy with a cochlear implant once and didn't quite hit it off, and I felt bad because I was concerned he would think it didn't click due to the extra effort and awkwardness of getting the conversation dialed in. I think it's a legit concern, in the sense that any added awkwardness in the getting-to-know-you early phase of online dating can reduce the chances of both people feeling at ease and hitting it off. On the other hand, if you can get past that initial energy barrier and have a good conversation or two, I your fears about being "nobody's first choice" seem a little misplaced; once someone gets to know you this just isn't going to be a big deal! I'll also note that you're dating in one of the most challenging US cities for cishet dudes, especially if you're looking for something serious.

Anyway, to jump back to my date: the actual turnoff for me had nothing to do with the communication barriers, which I was able to roll with and adjust so dude could hear me more clearly. He made enough direct requests in the first 2 minutes that we were able to get a pretty good conversation going. But once we did, I realized that dude just reeked of dating anxiety and desperation. And I felt bad - like, I'm sure the hearing impairment does make the whole process rougher - but I also didn't want to deal with someone at that level of desperate, desperate need to connect with someone, because it's really fraught being on the receiving end of that. I have no idea if you're giving off the same vibes, but throwing it out there for your consideration.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:32 AM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

Dating is largely a numbers game for all of us. And I don't want to minimse your experience but all humans have *something* that deviatest them slightly from the nonexistent "norm" or requires some adjusting to. (Some of which aren't immediately apparent) Some people have an easier time getting dates, that is true, but maintaining a relationship is a whole other thing. It only takes finding one compatible person (if monogamy is your thing)

That said, I'd be very put off by the idea of dating someone who was just going along with it because they felt they didn't have better options - are you projecting what other people are doing based on what you're doing?
posted by Chrysalis at 6:42 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh wow, yeah, this sounds difficult. A certain pace to an exchange does help generate momentum and a sense of fluidity, and it's certainly possible the visible signs of your communication fatigue are being read in uncharitable ways by people who are unprepared to understand it.

Which must be everyone who doesn't experience what you do, or isn't very close to someone who does, if I can extrapolate from my experience... I don't have a disability as such; I do have [old and new] MSK and other issues that intermittently affect my mobility and cause pain in unpredictable ways. So sometimes I can go to e.g. a festival and be fine. Sometimes I can't and know it, so I stay in. Sometimes I think I can, and it turns out I need to stop and sit most of the time, or actually leave because I just can't stand to stand anymore, and this is frustrating to those who have to slow their roll, and confusing to people who went out with me last month, when I danced for a couple of hours [and took sitting breaks, less obvious] and seemed (was!) ok... I think the off/on-ness of it can complicate things for everyone. And most people, other than my best friends and family, don't get it, unless I explain it every time (to the degree I can, still don't know what's up overall, or even get it half the time myself, tbh.)

I think that unfortunately, because of the FAE (and various ideas about what communication and dis/ability are/should be), more explaining - up front, and sometimes as you go - might be necessary to help people understand what the signs of your fatigue mean, and that they don't indicate, e.g., lack of interest or boredom.

So 2nd chickenmagazine - I think it might help to prep people and expand a bit on what they might expect in a conversation with you, before you meet, after a couple of messages that establish interest. And then if, on a date, you notice someone responding to something you might be communicating, explain what's happening, in the moment. "I'm sorry for staring [because although it's not your fault that you might be blanking out at that moment, it might be experienced as staring and that person might feel uncomfortable], I'm just a bit tired from the noise, it's nothing to do with what you're saying".

Some people might be put off - it is probably best that you don't date them, because they're assholes anyway. (Like it or not, I think some traits that are going to be valuable to you in a partner are patience, openness, and willingness to adapt/compromise. If you like fellow go-getters, maybe the patience factor is going to narrow the pool a bit - maybe not, maybe I've got a biased view of go-getters - but I think it may help with communication and promoting a sense of connection. Good traits anyway, imo.)

Also, I think it might help if you chose situations for dates that are like the interview situations in which you thrive - quieter places that let you concentrate. And times of day that are better for you, in terms of concentration. If you're better with listening after a nap or rest after work, maybe plan that in. Or if you've had a busy day and find yourself already depleted, maybe postpone the date or keep it short. (Apologies if you already do all of this.)

You have to stop comparing yourself to other people. I understand the feeling of "lagging behind" in one way or another (believe me), and I know that expresses your personal needs as much as any impulse to "measure up". But try to work on the sense that you "have to" measure up to whatever "objective" or external criteria you associate with success. It's not that success on its own is going to persuade the right partner to come along... or that you have to make up for your impairment... the point is to meet someone who appreciates your individuality, your particularity, whom you also appreciate for her particularity. It is a numbers game, for everyone.

And you don't have to go out with just anyone. Say no if you're not up for any particular person. And maybe it's an idea to take a little break from dating for a bit, sounds like you've been putting a lot of energy into this and you can do that again in a while, if it's exhausting.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:22 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm about half-deaf. I too had meningitis as a kid. No implant, not possible (and I'm not interested). Hearing aids were a complete bust. I've done a lot which technically I shouldn't have been able to accomplish. I'm 42 now, and still single, FWIW.

It's not easy. I get that. Believe me, I get that. I think there's a lot of truth to the idea that some disabilities cut you off from the world, but deafness or hearing impairment are disabilities which cut you off from other people. The social disconnection is a big aspect of the disability overall. Pretty much every venue people socialize in is terrible for us -- high ceilings, multiple sound sources, the inability to focus on one particular voice, or to train yourself for many voices in one conversation. There is, frankly, not much to be done about that. You've spent your lifetime finding your workarounds already. It's the nature of the beast.

But dating -- there things are in your control a little bit. You can pick the venue. You can sit closer, sit on one particular side, etc. You can choose your set of circumstances and physical layout to best benefit you.

And that's when I introduce my hearing impairment. "Do you mind if I sit on your right? I'm half deaf, and I want my good ear facing you." Or, perhaps later, "I know I'm asking you to repeat yourself a bit -- sorry about that, but I have this thing..."

And usually, people are pretty cool about it. If you bring it up yourself, before they start wondering 'what the fuck is up with this guy', then you neutralize the question. And for the most part, things go on from there without problems.

Mind you, there are a lot of people who simply aren't cool with dating a disabled person, no matter what they say, no matter how they act during the date. They might rationalize their dislike as something else, but -- there are a LOT of people who simply aren't cool with it. And you know? FUCK 'EM.

So to answer your question -- how does one cope with feeling inadequate while dating with a disability? Simple -- you are not inadequate. You are a regular person. This is who you are. There is nothing wrong with you. If someone thinks there is, if someone else thinks you're inadequate -- FUCK 'EM.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:03 AM on August 12, 2016 [13 favorites]

I can tell you that as a person who hears as well as the average person, hard-of-hearingness has been no big deal to experience. I mean, both my grandfathers were hard of hearing, I didn't even realize it was thought of as a disability.

My friend whose hearing is about the same as yours, we just stand on certain sides when we're walking and he occasionally relocates himself or reminds me. It's on the same level of effort for me as "pass the soup."
posted by aniola at 8:55 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Inadequate compared to who? Ahh, that is the trick. Don't compare yourself to anyone or anything. Just be you and you will be fine.
Self acceptance and self compassion are the foundation. Be kind to yourself.
posted by jtexman1 at 9:33 AM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

say, even when things move past the first date and we get to the "we're going out" phase... I don't know, but I've always felt like that the off chance that if somebody actually wants to go out with me again, then I need to run with it, regardless of whether I like them that much or not, because it could be weeks or months before I get another chance.

The thing is, I spent all of my 20s (and a little of my 30s) feeling this way. I have no disabilities. This thinking, as I think you somewhat recognize, is a disordered pattern that has just managed to grab a tangible "thing" (your cochlear implant) as "evidence" to prove its disorderedness correct. In other words, your hearing issues are a red herring. You could substitute any source of potential insecurity and have the same outcome.

I think, most of all, I guess I'm just frustrated. I'm kinda tired of striving and achieving and having accomplished so much despite the bullshit I've had to deal with, and yet feeling like my social and love lives are lagging behind

A recurring theme on Ask Me dating questions, probably because MeFi is a magnet for high-achieving folks in general, is basically, "I'm a high achiever, why can't I Unlock Relationship Level." The answer of course is because relationships aren't achievements, and you can't just have them by Doing It Right. They're messy, they don't obey you, and they don't have much to do with "deserve." People kind of know this intellectually, but it really takes a long time to get it on a gut and cellular level.

It IS terrifying. It sucks! You have control over your actions and your choices and literally nothing else at all.

The good part is it isn't a race: you don't have to "keep up" with other people just because you are the same age as them. You don't have to go on online dates that make you miserable because It Is Done These Days. You can honestly do whatever you like. And hey, you're moving soon. You're starting school. (Ahem is it possible you are flipping your shit about dating because it's safer than confronting your insecurities about the new prestigious school program?)

I know how hard it is to turn off Achieve Mode. But try it. Tell yourself, "You know what? Fuck this. I'm probably just gonna meet someone awesome at school anyway." And then just move forward as if this is a foregone conclusion. It's a thought experiment I've had some success with in the past: How would you be as a person if you knew, for a fact, that you'd meet the Love Of Your Life at age 32? If you knew that no matter what, things would work out fine, what kind of life would you lead right now? Lead that life.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:42 AM on August 12, 2016 [10 favorites]

As someone who is roughly as disabled as you in a slightly different way, I categorically reject the idea that I'm no one's first choice. We're all a little different and have flaws and qualities. What you're describing sounds like fairly typical 20something dating in SF. If anything, it's likely your inexperience or lack of confidence holding you back.

A lot of men would love to be financially settled, handsome, and smart, even if they had to trade some of their hearing for it. Keep in the game and build your experience and self confidence. You might also look at or eharmony, which are more relationship oriented than tinder or OKC.
posted by Candleman at 10:46 AM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

A LOT of people have disabilities, visible and invisible. And the rest of us are only temporarily abled. I know it's hard, but as a "normal" who's dated people with various disabilities, it's really not a big deal from my side. Just tell people you don't hear well on that side / arrange to have first dates at quiet venues / tell them you need to concentrate to listen so you might look a little intense / whatever you need to be able to communicate with them. And remind them, because while it's a major life-affecting thing for you, it's probably not something your acquaintances will remember right off the bat. I've been dating someone six months and I can't remember which ear is his bad one - it is really not a thing I think about unless I notice he's having a hard time following conversation.

And yeah, all the advice about dating being a numbers game. Meet people when you want to, see them again when you want to, try not to put pressure on yourself.
posted by momus_window at 11:32 AM on August 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry you're not hitting it off with many people you're dating, but in terms of potentially off-putting physical issues, "deaf with a cochlear implant so I can hear people most of the time" wouldn't phase me (as a lady who has been on OkC) for more than a few seconds.

Agreed with the above that the casual tossing-it-out-there in your profile may lead to uncertainty with people who aren't very familiar with hearing technology. I don't know what you literally wrote, but I found your AskMe intro here to be really great as a summary. If I were reading your profile I would be happy with something like:

"Thanks to a particularly bad spot of meningitis I had when I was a kid, I'm deaf, but I use a cochlear implant. It works pretty well, but isn't 100% a perfect replacement for normal hearing. It can be tough to have conversations in really loud places but generally it's no problem."

If I read that beforehand, I would certainly have context about why you asked me to speak louder or more clearly, and that you had a good reason to ask me to sit on a certain side. I'd feel a lot more prepared going in, rather than finding out on the spot and feeling inconsiderate for picking a loud restaurant, or not knowing what to say about it.

I know you're anonymous here but feel free to send me a MeMail if you'd like a lady's opinion of your profile.
posted by amicamentis at 1:01 PM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you sound like an incredible man and nothing you've described would put me off dating you. The fact that you're so successful is a testament to your character and is admirable. I wouldn't have any reservations about dating you.
posted by shesbenevolent at 2:59 PM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

You already know your ultra competitive environment is working against you, disability or no disability, but really try to unpack it. You have this achievement narrative in your head you're bringing to the table and your dates probably do, too. That's another layer of bullshit blocking your ability to connect only it's not obvious and workable like your hearing difficulty. You and your dates are shopping for well-qualified humans like Seamless orders while repeating mantras like "it's a numbers game" and "put yourself out there." One thing I've come to realize the hard way is that too many bad online dates can actually be really really bad for your faith in yourself and other people, and sometimes you need to take a break so you can get perspective where you remind yourself that your goal is intimacy and not to pad a relationship resume or land date N with a person, any person, who is hot and accomplished. Whether or not you are "good enough" in the sense of career or looks or hearing has little to do with your skill in establishing intimacy with others and too many dates might make you lose touch with those skills. You'll spend so much emotional and mental effort trying to fake confidence for people you don't know, and you'll fail anyway when they inevitably sense that you would glom onto them if they showed you enough attention, just because you feel like you don't have other options, and then your confidence is lower than where you started. You have to let go of the "good enough" mentality but you probably won't be able to unless you experience a taste of genuine connection with someone else that isn't born of/clouded by desperation, so you have a catch-22. The only way out is to get out of the online dating pool for now, and into some other social context where you feel at ease and engaged communicating. Obviously that's not Meetup groups etc. for you, but do you do community service or local politics? hang out in maker spaces? attend any kind of spiritual group? something like that is what you need for friends, and potential dates, some context that helps distract from the achievement narratives and embarrassment over your lack of relationship experience. Really, it's not just you or your hearing. Dating is really hard right now for many people in your demographic and I'm sure you have it harder than someone with perfect hearing, but everyone is bringing some amount of this bullshit "good enough" cultural baggage to the table that is horribly reinforced by online dating. The alternative is still time consuming and frustrating but you've already put in hundreds of hours on dates that went nowhere. Might as well sink a few hundred into a different, more incremental approach. It doesn't even really matter what that approach is as long as it's not one that will reinforce the "good enough" narrative. I think this is what people are really saying when they say "stop trying and the right person will find you" - relax the idea of putting yourself out there for the sole purpose of dating as it is currently done in elite circles in SF/NYC/wherever, check in with yourself about your other priorities and emotional skills, and change how you invest your time accordingly.
posted by slow graffiti at 3:04 PM on August 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

75 first dates in two years??! Blimey that's a huge number. I'm wondering if you've perhaps overcompensated in your profile and are attracting all sorts of people who are really not well matched.

Stop worrying about your implant, that's just nothing like deal you're making it. I would tighten up your profile a whole lot more in order to get just the odd date every now and then. Being more selective will dramatically increase the chance that the dates you get will go somewhere. Assuming that's what you're aiming for, of course.
posted by tillsbury at 5:14 PM on August 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

My husband is partially deaf in a way that can't be helped by a hearing aid and while it's frustrating trying to communicate with him sometimes (especially over the phone), I've never felt that it made him an inadequate partner. And he's definitely my first choice!

Something you probably haven't learned yet due to your lack of serious relationship experience: EVERYONE has flaws and annoying quirks that their romantic partners just have to deal with. That is why people make jokes like "marriage is about finding that one special person to annoy you for the rest of your life." And frankly, the level of deafness you describe is such a relatively minor flaw in terms of your appeal to potential partners that I doubt most people would even think to count it if they had to make a list of all your flaws.

On the first date, just briefly explain that you're partially deaf but they can do X, Y, and Z to help you understand them better. I honestly can't imagine anyone seeing it as a dealbreaker. I'm pretty sure most women would rank it far below "never puts the toilet seat down" as something that would bother them.

I think your lack of dating success likely has more to do with demographics than anything. The Bay Area has a very high single men to single women ratio. It's possibly the worst place in the country to be a single heterosexual man. Hopefully the ratio at your new school will be better for you.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:06 AM on August 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't be put off in the slightest if my date told me they'd like to schedule a first date for somewhere quiet because it was easier for them to hear me. In fact as someone with no physical hearing issues but some amount of sensory processing ones I'd prefer that! I also did a metric crapton of online dating in my 20s and 30s and am still single at 40, as are many of my friends, so I think that part of it is just sort of a "them's the breaks" kind of thing. I don't think any of us who are single have any worse personalities than friends who are married, it just hasn't happened for us yet for whatever reason.

I also dated a guy with hearing aids in my thirties. That relationship ended because we lived in different cities and the logistics required (staying over at one or the other's house, a ten hour long first date in a city neither of us lived in) made getting a relationship off the ground just too intense and overwhelming. It didn't have anything to do with the fact that he sometimes needed me to repeat stuff.

So while I wouldn't say that you're wrong to be worried (I'm mean there are definitely people out there who rule out people to date for all kinds of dumb reasons), I will say that your online dating experience is very similar to mine, so I think you can ascribe most of it to just being the nature of the beast.
posted by MsMolly at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Somehow missed this during the edit window. My sentence above should read "I mean there are definitely," instead of "I'm mean," which I hope I am not! :)
posted by MsMolly at 3:39 PM on August 13, 2016

Dating is hard. Online dating is hard. Add a disability to that, and the challenge level goes up several notches. I'm not sure if you're looking for commiseration or advice, but I just came here to offer some encouragement of the hang-in-there variety.

I think part of your challenge may have to do with your age. I think you will find that as you move into your 30's, people will be more open to exploring differences and less likely to see your hearing problems as a deal-breaker. You will also begin to know yourself better and be open to exploring new things.

I don't wear a cochlear implant, but I do wear dual hearing aids and have all of the communication problems you described. When dating in my 20s and 30s, I found that a certain percentage of people were just not ultimately comfortable with my hearing loss, even when they initially said it was fine for them. Who knows why people decide not to see you again when it seems to be going well, but I suspect that my hearing issues were the cause of some of my breakups. Having said that, I went for long stretches without dating, and the hearing problems didn't stop me from finding and having a few good relationships.

I eventually met someone in my late 30's who became my husband, and obviously, he doesn't see my hearing problems as a deal-breaker. But I am aware of the stigma that many people see. It really comes down to getting to know people well enough for them to see past the device and to see you for the full human that you are. The reason dating is hard is that on the very first date, your disability is visible and is immediately up for judgment, long before people get a chance to know all the other things about you. It isn't fair, but that's how it is. There's lots of different kinds of disability out there, but there's also lots of people who have no physical disabilities, who find it hard to relate to those who do. I have found that maturity counts for a lot in this respect.

I agree with the other posters who are advising you to everything you can to give yourself an advantage-- find places to meet people on your terms. Have first dates at quiet coffee shops or places you are familiar with. It sounds like you are up front in your dating profile about your hearing loss and how it affects you, so there shouldn't be any surprises for the people who show up for the first date. The rest is down to the odds. It's hard to meet people who you really mesh with. Those people are rare. They are rare for all of us. Everyone says it's a numbers game. It's also kind of a life experience game. The person you appreciate now may not be the person you appreciate five years from now. My own dating life got better when I stopped trying to see everyone as "possibly the one" and just focused on having fun and getting to know different kinds of people. When I stopped caring about "where this is going?", I was able to meet and relate to a much broader range of people. I doubt the problem is you, specifically. The reality is that timing is different for everyone, and there is a huge element of serendipity in finding love and contentment with others.
posted by amusebuche at 6:02 AM on August 14, 2016

I'm sorry that you're having a tough time right now. Dating sucks.

My boyfriend has (relatively new) cochlear implants, and he has a pretty big deaf accent since he's been hard-of-hearing his whole life. I have average hearing and an average accent.

He was absolutely my first choice. He was the most gorgeous, talented, friendly dude and I thought about him like every day for six months until I finally asked him out. (We worked together and I was not super into the idea of dating someone I worked with; his hearing did not factor into it. I was finally just like, fuck it, I want to try this even though MetaFilter thinks it's a terrible idea.)

Your hearing won't be a dealbreaker for the right person (or people).

Our dates have mostly been in quiet places. Examples: kayaking, walking (in/on art museums, gardens, trails, [sparsely-populated locale of your choice]), cooking food together, meals in quiet restaurants, watching Netflix with closed captioning, watching movies with a closed captioning device.

I'm not going to lie; communication is sometimes a challenge for us. But it's just part of our relationship, and it's gotten easier over time as we've gotten used to each others' voices and gotten more comfortable asking each other to repeat that, or talk louder, or whatever.

If meeting people irl hasn't worked for you, maybe it's time to take a short break from online dating and focus on yourself. Do things that make you happy and comfortable in your own skin, and then jump back in. You sound great. Just try to be more confident and do your best to communicate about what you need when you need it. (I'm working on that myself!)
posted by topoisomerase at 7:32 PM on August 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

My boyfriend was born with only one hand -- his arm ends just below the elbow -- and I met him through Tinder. I can't speak for him and his pov, but I can give my perspective "from the other side."

We matched when I mindlessly swiped right on him ("oh yeah he's cute!") without noticing his arm, though he'd made a point to include a picture where it was very obvious. I didn't realize until I was going through my matches more carefully later. I'm not proud to admit it, but I had a "holy shit" freak-out moment and my knee-jerk reaction was to un-match him, which luckily I didn't act on.

It helped that neither of us was free for a first date until ~a week later. We messaged a lot for 5 days (contrary to my usual preference to take things offline asap), and as a result, I got a good feel for his sense of humor and found I loved talking to him. We clicked and had a comfortable, crackling rapport going by the time we did meet. Looking back, I think this made it so much easier for me to see him for the person he is, who just happens to missing part of his arm.

When I first saw him in person, I had another brief panicky moment. I'd never met someone with a limb difference before and it was really jarring for me. He didn't seem at all self-conscious, and enthusiastically gestured with his nub, clapped it to make emphatic points, etc. I had to will myself not to stare at it and was trying a little too hard to be all "whatever, I'm so cool with it, I don't even notice!" For me, it also felt like the elephant in the room because he didn't bring it up, and I was anxiously wondering if + how I should. I finally bluntly asked him about it 4 hours into the date and he was open and so clearly at ease with not only his arm, but himself overall. I even asked him how he ties his shoes, and he said earnestly, "Oh, I can show you!"

Even so, to be honest it still took me about 3-4 dates before I grew comfortable with it. It also took me a little longer to get over feeling self-conscious about the staring in public whenever I was with him -- he's had 30 years to get used to it, but I haven't. Unlike a hearing impairment, a limb difference is conspicuous from afar, without any social interaction required (though it does impact his social interactions with strangers as well). Now, I barely notice the arm or any staring... I'm only dimly aware of it, mostly when I realize he's doing something a different way than a two-handed person would, or if I need to hold something so he can free his hand to do something else. It sort of fades into the background like any other physical trait -- similar to how we're not constantly thinking, "Oh this person has blue eyes." If I have to carry more things, I'm not "accommodating" him any more than him me if I asked him to get an item on a high shelf for me because I'm short. Like amusebuche said above, eventually you really do come to see past the physical difference for the whole human they are.

I haven't asked him what his experience was like doing online dating with a visible physical disability. But these are my own thoughts from where I stand:

-- I think your deafness is only as big of a deal as you make it out to be. If it's no big deal to you and doesn't get in the way of how you approach life, that attitude is contagious. My bf doesn't hide his arm or act embarrassed or self-conscious about it. The body is just a vessel and it comes in all different forms. Sure, there'll be people who will be turned off by your deafness and whatever communication challenges it might pose, but that's their problem, not yours. If someone refuses to give you a chance because of something you can't control, or conveys that they're "settling" by being with you -- that's revealing something essential about themselves that indicates you probably don't want to date this person anyway.

-- Confidence and self-acceptance is huge. If you don't accept and like yourself, why should someone else be expected to? My bf was a little nervous on our first date, but at the same time, his overall ease in his own skin really shone through. He's self-assured, sunny, friendly, and happy with who he is and where he is in life. I asked him once, if he had the chance to have two hands now, would he take it. After some thought he said, "No, having one hand has really shaped who I am. It makes me more determined, patient and resourceful." That really gave me a different perspective.

-- Turning outward is key. Dating in general comes down to getting to know another person and building a mutual connection with them. Your original post focuses a lot on you -- your achievements and what you bring to the table (e.g. describing your grad program and how hard it is to get into, which frankly isn't really relevant to the topic at hand), fixation on your deafness, your insecurities around it, etc. I know that's partly the nature of asking a question on here, but it might be helpful on dates to be sure to make it less about you, deafness and all, and more about the other person. The most striking thing about my bf right off the bat was his lack of self-centeredness -- he is so genuinely interested in getting to know me better, curious to hear about my experiences and thoughts, and a great and truly engaged listener who remembers and follows up on random things that I say.

That's my $0.02. If you want to talk more, feel free to memail me!
posted by amillionbillion at 1:38 PM on August 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

« Older What is the Gen Y equivalent of "Play it again...   |   What can I do for a family with a toddler with a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.