I used to love dating so much that I would go out almost every night. I’d tell the stories of my dates to my friends and someone suggested I write them down. That’s how my first blog started.
What I loved about dating was getting to know people. I loved their stories.
I used to take guys to this one restaurant that was close to the warehouse that I lived in Oakland. It was this awesome place that served real Mexican food like goat stew, tripe, fish that had been fried whole, salsa that would take the skin off your tongue. There was something about this place that would bring out what was really in a guy – either he’d take a look at that menu and his inner prig would shine or he’d show how cool he was with expertly prepared, interesting food.
The place was loud though, and that was always a consideration with my hearing aids.
Most of my dates, you see, had no idea that I was lipreading through the majority of the date. I wouldn’t come out and tell them I’m deaf until I knew them better – it just wasn’t worth the, “oh, that’s okay” (- was I asking for permission to be deaf?!) or the “I’m sorry’s” (– why are you sorry?!), weird changes in behavior (- like when they start to make up their own signed language or start yelling at me, “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?!”) or stories about their cousin Freddy who is blind (- because, right: we are all the same?!).
I wouldn’t tell them I was lipreading or the hearing aid/deaf package unless and until I was a little more invested in them.
And that didn’t even necessarily happen if or when there was kissing involved. There were more than a few occasions when we would be kissing and he’d put his hand somewhere around my ear and my hearing aid would go off in it’s trademark feedback squeal. He would jump back as if electrocuted.
I came to think of those hearing aids as my chastity belts; always sure to put a damper on things at heated moments.
Disability and Love
You know, with the passage of some time, it’s clear to me how much my disabilities affected my romantic relationships. With people I loved before my husband, then with him.
My brain injury helped me to forget, forget, forget – it was so hard for me to remember things that were done to me (unless they qualified as truly awful, then I remembered), things kept happening on repeat. My complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) emerged over time and additional layers of stress and trauma. I wound up self-medicating with a bottle of wine a day (half if I was lucky, more if I wasn’t) and a pack of cigarettes (more if I was in Japan, less if I wasn’t).
The hearing was the most obvious deal but in the sum total of everything, certainly wasn’t the biggest.
I think that all of these things are typical with regard to disability: they are components to my physical being that affect the dynamics of a relationship. They aren’t bad though; I mean, I think any of us with disabilities that are clearly defined and understood are actually in an advantage in life in general because we KNOW what we need accommodation for.
We understand what ticks us and tocks us.
That clarity can be a gift in relationships.
Back to dating.
I really did love dating. I loved so much about it: the suspense, the unknown. The stories, the dramas, the dress up.
But my desire to be a mom completely over-rode everything else. I didn’t want to wait to have kids, I didn’t want that slow course of dating just one person for a long time, then a wedding, then all that time together, then having kids. Besides, I was starting so late that I really didn’t have the time for all that if I was going to have biological kids (which, to be honest, was never a big deal for me; I would have been happy adopting, but most guys wanted their own bio-baby).
Enter my former husband.
He didn’t want kids. He said so on our early dates. But he still got me pregnant with startling speed, then we got married with a startling speed. I didn’t realize that all of these were pretty standard hallmarks of a person on the narcissistic/psychopathic spectrum (like, the bona-fide spectrum, not Hitchcock’s Psycho).
He and I coming together was the perfect mesh of people with issues.
It’s amazing, really, when you think about it: how it’s like we emit these signals that call the absolute perfect person for our perfect fuck-up. If you are codependent and looking for a partner, you better believe that unless you get that cleaned up on your end, you will attract the perfectly codependent partner. If you are used to being abused and you don’t heal from it, you are going to attract a person who is an abuser.
We’re all out there with these antennas, attracting and repulsing various types of people.
Even before I hooked up with my kid’s father, I knew that and I marveled at how there were times when I knew someone was in love with me but I just couldn’t. Or vice versa. I marveled at how I’d go out with friends and given the same set of people out there, we’d all attract and be attracted to different individuals.
The universe is incredible.
Anyway, so. I attracted – and was attracted to- this particular type of narcissist/psychopath and got way wrapped up in his web. He got me. I got kids.
Which isn’t to say that kids were all that I got – I did love him. My love for him never went away. I was never unfaithful to him, not even in thought: I truly loved my husband and tried with everything I could to have our marriage unfold and grow to be like one of those beautiful unions that so much good poetry is about.
All the hurt and trying and internalizing pain, the endless gaslighting. It all took its toll. I wasn’t just burned by being married for 10 years, I was scorched, seared through and through.
Valentine’s Day is Coming Up
This makes me laugh because I remember my first Valentine’s Day with my husband. We were married, I was 7 months pregnant. I cut out all of these intricate old valentine’s and made this gorgeous collaged card for him. I’m not sure if I bought him chocolate – I think I probably did – but I know I made the entire thing special, a hallmark of love.
He didn’t give me anything.
The next year, with little Micah on my hip, I told him that I’m actually a romantic who loves presents! I asked him if he could give me something.
This went on year after year and then I got the brilliant idea to actually use my brain injury to my advantage: why not order something for myself ahead of time, then when it would come, I’d forget that I ordered it and be so surprised and happy to have this gift?!
Of course it worked.
But even at the time, I was wondering why it was so hard for my love – my husband – to give me something (- I had told him that even a roadside flower picked would be great). I wondered what it was that made expressed love so hard. I wondered if I was in a relationship that was healthy. I wondered what to do about it. I wondered what I could do about it, given that I had 3 very young children, no income great enough to support all of us, and after my brother died, no place to go.
That’s all water under the bridge now, though.
I’ve been divorced for a full year. My kids are with me full time, we’re in a good place.
I think about love and how nice it feels to be in new love and all the excitement it holds. I think about how good old love feels too, when you know someone really well and you know what that expression on their face means, the comfort of familiarity.
I can’t help but think too of that piece that I started this post out with, the piece about how we end up with whomever we fit the vibes to. I attracted a narcissist/psychopath. There was something in me that attracted that type of person.
If I want a different kind of relationship in my life – and I am talking about a different kind of relationship, ever (not just today, tomorrow, next year), I need to clean up my vibration. I need to clean up what I am sending out there, I need to heal on up.
Perhaps the thing is that we rarely acknowledge how multi-dimensional love is – it’s physical, of the body, yes. It is also intellectual, emotional and spiritual. All of these components make up the whole, and without one or the other, the whole will be affected.
I’m wearing the same necklace that I gifted myself while married, and that I still love.
I have the children that were a part of my heart’s longing for life itself, I am blessed with the courage to work through the grief that has layered upon my spirit and laced into my story.
Things are unfolding as they should be, with love and in love, with respect to the totality of my being.
When Valentine’s Day comes this year, I’m going to celebrate it with the 3 most special people in the world to me, maybe with chocolate, maybe without; maybe with cards, maybe without.
Either which way, it’s going to be great.
For other stories on disability and love, check out Easter Seals page on Love, Dating and Relationships with a Disability (they also have a fun project going on now about Disabled and in Love but I can’t find the link to it right now – I’ll add it here later when I do), as well as Disability Visibility Project’s Access is Love
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.