Friday, May 9, 2008

Communication in relationships

So I recently dated a deaf guy. He was the first deaf person I had dated in a few years; the previous people I had gone out with had been hearing.

Let's call him Recent-Dater #1.
Recent-Dater #2 was a hearing interpreting student who signed fluently.
Recent-Dater#3 was a hearing graduate deaf ed student who signed pretty well.

So now that you have some semblance of my recent dating history (and that "history" covers the last four years), I'm going to try to get right to the point.

Communication was HARD at times. In a way, I expected it to be easier because we were both deaf and we both sign. But apparently, that's where the similarity lies.

I prefer to express myself in English.
He prefers to express himself in ASL-PSE.
I voice relatively well.
His voice is pretty damn unintelligible.

I like communicating via voice or written English (IM, etc.). I don't have a problem discussing heavy issues over IM, especially when it's important and I don't think the issue should wait. He prefers to wait until we can both meet and then discuss in person, so he can "sign it out."

Of course, this led to frustration for both of us. Especially since I'm not the most patient person in the world. (Or even the most patient patient...but I digress.)

I almost always had to ask him to fingerspell two or three times because I never understood his fingerspelling the first time around.

He thinks I sign better when I'm "singing."

I found myself wanting to make things easier in public by voicing for him sometimes. In the beginning, he told me he did not want me to interpret for him. Then he started glancing at me every so often. And I would go right into "deaf interpreter mode." Without even thinking about it. One night, we had dinner with my parents. And I interpreted the entire time, taking time out to eat for myself. Not that I minded, but... it would definitely have been easier if he could communicate with them directly.

So perhaps the importance of communication isn't so dependent on the hearing status of both parties or communication mode (signing, cueing or speaking), but rather...

the ability of both people to express themselves in similar ways -- or at least to be able to understand how the other person expresses themselves and not struggle.

Admittedly, I want a partner who is as comfortable with English as I am, who doesn't need me to proofread written communication and, admittedly... one who enjoys musicals as much as I do. :)

And someone who can speak relatively well, so that I don't feel like inequality in communication exists. Because communication with others is just as important as communication with your partner.


ETA (edited to add): I am NOT upset/annoyed/mad with this guy. We just encountered difficulties in communication that I didn't expect. So many people assume that deaf+deaf = easy communication, but that's not necessarily true. It's not just about the language (English or ASL) or mode of communication (signing, cueing, speaking).