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The love filter

by Charlie Swinbourne

22nd November 2005

Charlie SwinbourneCharlie Swinbourne tells how the access difficulties of dating when you are deaf or disabled could actually turn out to be a bit of a bonus in the long run when seeking a soul mate.
A beautiful girl came up to me in a bar last week, smiled, and whispered in my ear. I didn't quite catch it, so I asked her to repeat what she was saying. She whispered it again. Didn't get it. So I turned her face towards mine so I could see her lips. She blushed, before saying it one more time. This time I got it. "Sorry," she said, "this is quite embarrassing, but do you know where the toilets are in here?"

I'm 24 and partially deaf. I haven't lived the life of a monk (well, not like most monks, anyway), but for me, contact with the fairer sex is only ever a couple of steps from becoming an impromptu comedy sketch. How so?

One date that sums it up was at the beginning of last summer. The reason the evening was a disaster came down to a combination of factors. For a start, I decided that a good location would be a tiny, thumping blues bar I know.
Charlie's chat-up strategy begins well ...
It was such a cool place that I figured she'd be really impressed by my knowledge of London's non-nudie backstreet joints (and there aren't many of them). She was probably very impressed by it. For all I know she still goes all the time.

The trouble was that the live music in the place was so loud that I couldn't hear a darn thing. Under cover of darkness I attempted to lip-read. After about 20 minutes I was spent. Eyes knackered from the strain.

Her reaction was to start hideously over-exaggerating everything she said. The movement of her lips reminded me of when the family goldfish escaped from its bowl when I was a kid. Like she was gasping for breath. I found myself struggling to lip-read, and simultaneously stifling my laughter.

Needless to say, that one didn't work out.
One of Charlie's hearing aids - removing this when in romantic company can be a bit of a passion-killer
A friend of mine says the crunch point on any of his dates is when he first speaks to the waiter. If the tip-merchant has an unintelligible foreign accent, then the date may as well be over as he'll be forced to get his date to interpret for him. "Just like how mum used to when I was a kid." It's funny how he always seems to end up with the caring, nurturing type.

My brother is also deaf. In my early teens, while on on family holidays, we perfected the illusion of being 'cool hearing lads' by taking off our background-noise-magnets (hearing aids) in favour of lip-reading in euro-pop swinging bars and clubs.

The problem with the 'being hearing' tactics we adopted is that we had a real issue once we got out from under the lights of the disco. I remember locking lips with a stunning girl who presumably wondered why I became totally monosyllabic when I walked her home.

In the near darkness of the Spanish moonlight, I didn't even have my lip-reading skills to fall back on, and I wasn't willing to blow my cover by slipping on my hearing aids. I still don't know how we ended up kissing, but I'd hazard a guess that it was due to boredom on her part since I had absolutely nothing to say.
... but things soon start becoming confused
Another crunch point in a developing relationship is whether or not to take off your hearing aids in bed. If you're on your own, this isn't an issue - they get a bit waxy, but then that's what the tissues beside the bed are for (honest). No, rather, it's if you've got company. Taking them off releases a day's worth of pungent, stale, non-perfumed wax air which is not altogether romantic. But if you leave them on, you run the risk of them coming loose in the confusion of the night (ahem) and starting to whistle with feedback.

Much of the literature on the subject of dating advises that men should always try to come across as an alpha male. Well, that's what Neil Strauss says anyway.

Neil who? I hear you ask. Well, if you're female, let me apologise in advance. Neil Strauss wrote a book called The Game, which outlines how men can become pick-up artists. I bought this tome. I was intrigued. Hate me now? Sorry. It was a moment of weakness. Of desperation, perhaps. Anyway, the book doesn't work. And it's not very good. Let me explain why.

Strauss details various techniques to help pull women at a moment's notice. It's based on approaching groups of women in bars, 'isolating your target', then being 'cocky funny' with them. Unfortunately, this relies on understanding precisely what they're saying, and being super confident in response. Not very easy when you're relying on your NHS hearing aids to break through masses of residual background noise.

It struck me that many of his tips were simply not applicable to anyone with a hearing loss. I have considered returning the book to the retailers with reference to the Disability Discrimination Act - before realising that the shop assistant might wonder exactly what kind of disability could hinder a man's success with the opposite sex. Moving swiftly on ...

I saw the deaf stand-up comic Steve Day recently contend that stupid people get more than deaf people do, but he didn't offer any reasons why. I am personally convinced that there are a lot more stupid people than deaf people. Admittedly, since one in seven people are deafies, that makes rather a lot of stupids by my calculations, but I still maintain there's an element of truth here.

Stupid people generally don't realise just how dim they are (they're that stupid), and are often quite wrong without questioning it for a second. Deafies, on the other hand - mostly being non-stupid (but not always) - are used to social faux pas on a regular basis. The trouble is, expecting to be wrong once in a while is not a very 'alpha male' quality at all. Game over, then?

One of the most effective ruses I've ever seen for attracting women is through a friend of mine who is deafblind. He sits back and sips a beer while his guide approaches women on his behalf. From there he dances with girl after girl - and let me tell you, this guy can really dance - and he usually gets more than a few phone numbers by the end of each night. He's often even more successful, but he's asked me not to talk about that any further in this article.

So the main tip is: don't let anything hold you back. And get a guide to chat women up for you - no matter whether you need one or not! Only kidding.

If there is some useful advice in The Game, it's to go out there believing that the person who ends up with you is 'the luckiest girl in the world'.

Easier said than done, perhaps. But isn't it just about true? Without that kind of confidence, you won't get anywhere. Be who you are. And expect to be loved for it. Unless you really are a genuine bastard, of course. Or stupid, for that matter.

After all, if after 10 minutes in your company a girl can't cope with the fact that you mishear things once in a while, you can be pretty sure that she won't be hanging around in 10 months or even 10 years time.

My theory is that disability - deafness or otherwise -acts as the world's greatest romantic filter. Essentially, if someone can accept the way you mishear things once in a while, that you prefer watching foreign, subtitled movies at the cinema, plus how your life occasionally turns into a comedy sketch for no good reason, then there's a far better chance that they don't suffer from an affliction of their own; such as stupidity, superficiality or all-round shallowness.

This could save you a lot of hassle and wasted dates - maybe even a divorce case - in the long run ... leading you closer towards that person who 'gets it' and gets you better than anyone else has before. That's what I'm hoping anyway. Say a few prayers, light a few candles, cross a few fingers, if you will.

And er, if you're single, drop the nice guys at Ouch an email. I'm free on various Friday and Saturday nights indefinitely. Cheers.
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