‘You know we work at the same Kroger, right? I’m a cashier.’ His opening line didn’t impress me. Something told me to respond.’: Woman with hearing loss finds true love who allows her to be herself

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“When I was single, I used to wonder if I would ever meet anyone who would make me feel like myself. Someone who knew all of my flaws and quirks and loved me anyway. Someone who I didn’t have to hide or censor myself around. Someone who could appreciate me, laugh with me, and make me feel beautiful, smart, and capable.

When I was a teenager, I thought I had met that person. But looking back now, it was clear I downplayed who I was in an effort to please him. I didn’t argue with him; I always did what he wanted to do; and I tried to be the perfect girlfriend. I foolishly thought that even arguing once meant we were not a good couple.

He was a good guy and treated me decently. But I let my insecurities get in the way, and when I look back at my teenage life, I wonder. I wonder, if he had seen the real me, would we have lasted as long as we did? We dated for a year and a half, which I consider to be fairly impressive for teenagers. But the length of time we dated wouldn’t have mattered in the end. It’s a moot point. We were not right for each other, and that’s perfectly OK. On those rare times I look back at our time together, I shake my head ruefully at the insecure teenager I was.

After that relationship ended, I dated a few other guys, but never really entered into a real, serious relationship. None of them made me feel like me. No one made me feel like I could relax and completely be myself. No one made me feel like I could be goofy and silly, but still take me seriously when I needed them to. No one ever had.

Until I met my husband.

Before I explain about my husband, let me back up a bit. When I was born, I was born with a severe hearing loss in both ears. Over time, I lost the hearing in my right ear. Now I am deaf in my right ear, and I wear a hearing aid in my left ear.

In case you’re wondering, no, I do not use sign language. However, I use what’s left of my hearing, and my somewhat handy skill of reading lips, to get by in the world. I actually do pretty well, considering.

As one might imagine, this led to some pretty comical and awkward first dates. Some people don’t mind repeating themselves to me. And some do. And the latter is not worth getting to know. Luckily, my husband fell into the first camp.

Whenever people ask how we met, I’m never quite sure what story to tell them. Sometimes, in the interest of saving time, I’ll say we met at Kroger. But to get the full story, I have to go back to the beginning of my time at Kroger.

After I graduated college in 2011, I moved back home and took a job as a cashier at Kroger, while continuing to search for writing and editorial jobs. In 2012, I began to notice a very tall, intimidating-looking man. He also worked there, but in the meat department. Our paths rarely crossed.

I would see him on his break, utterly engrossed in a thick book, wearing an expression that can only be described as ‘resting bitch face.’

As someone who graduated with a BA in English and loved to read, I was instantly intrigued. But his demeanor was off-putting, and I was afraid to approach him. I resigned myself to the fact we would never have a conversation.

Some time later, I received a message on OkCupid, a free online dating website. To my surprise, it was the intimidating man! His opening message, and I still remember it to this day, was, ‘Hey, you seem like a pretty cool adventure buddy. Wanna chat?’

Now, his opening message did not particularly impress me. Plus, I was unsure if he was alluding to something sexual. But, I had to give him points for correct spelling and grammar. And something in me told me to respond anyway.

I decided to call him out and remind him we were technically coworkers! I messaged him back with, ‘Hi, you do know we work at the same Kroger, right? I’m a cashier.’

To his credit, he was very embarrassed and apologetic for not recognizing me. Apparently, he was just REALLY engrossed in his books!

From that moment on, we texted every day. After about two weeks, we agreed to have our first date at an Olive Garden on a Friday night. Looking back, this was not a wise decision.

Despite us working at the same Kroger, we didn’t actually talk in person until the first date. And Olive Garden was very busy and noisy, typical for a Friday night.

You can probably guess where this is going. What followed was one of the most excruciating, awkward first dates I’ve ever had. I could not hear a single word he said. And bless him, he tried. He tried to raise his voice without actually shouting at me, to speak as clearly as he could, to enunciate as much as possible.

Our server decided to ask if this was our first date. I suppose we were painfully obvious and to her, I’m sure it looked disastrous. It sure looked disastrous to me. We split the bill and did not get dessert.

We were both eager to leave and assumed we would never see each other again. Yet, he walked me to my car. And outside, in the calm, beautiful, blessed silence, I could hear him. I could hear him PERFECTLY.

And to his surprise, I didn’t need him to repeat his words anymore. I apologized to him and said, ‘Oh thank God, it’s so quiet out here!’

Our disastrous first date began to turn around for the better. We spoke in that parking lot for an hour. We asked questions about each other, reveling in the beauty of a riveting, animated conversation. In that parking lot, we had all the typical first date conversations we had tried to have inside the restaurant. Instead of cringing as I asked him once more to repeat himself, I heard everything he said the first time and bantered with him for hours. Instead of looking painfully off to the side and wishing the night would end, we looked at each other and wished the night would never end.

At some point, we decided to go to a bookstore. We didn’t want to stop talking. We drove separately to the bookstore and walked the aisles until the store closed, discussing and pointing out favorite books, and so much more.

Then we went to sit inside his car inside the bookstore parking lot. We talked for another hour. This had officially turned into the longest first date of my life. And it still wasn’t over. We decided to go back to his apartment.

Yes, this man I barely knew, invited me back to his apartment. Normally, I would have said no. But I didn’t want to end the night! Still, a girl can’t be too careful. As I followed his car, I frantically texted my best friend. ‘I’m going back to his place, just so you know. I have a good feeling about this guy, so I don’t think he’ll murder me. But just in case!’

When we got to his apartment, we went right to the couch in the living room and picked up our conversation. I don’t even remember what we talked about, but the easy, flowing conversation never stopped. We had more then made up for our disastrous beginning at Olive Garden.

Still, all good things must come to an end. After midnight, I reluctantly told him I had to go home. I still lived with my parents at the time, and they were undoubtedly wondering where I was. We stood up and there, in his living room, he kissed me. It was an electrifying kiss. I loved the feel of this tall man kissing me, of him wrapping his arms around me.

I left in a daze, with his promise he would call me the next day, echoing in my ears. And strangely enough, I believed him.

He stayed true to his word. Ever since that day, we have not gone a single day without talking. This tall, intimidating-looking man is my husband now. And he’s not intimidating to me anymore. He’s handsome, sweet, funny, smart, goofy, affectionate, wonderful, selfless, caring, and determined. He is my rock in hard times. He is calm when I am not. We poke fun and tease each other. We make each other laugh, even when we are spitting mad. We’re not afraid to argue and yell at each other. We always fight fair.

And the best part is? I am truly myself around him. There is not a single part of me I hide or downplay. I’m not afraid to nag or express my annoyance or anger. I’m not afraid to express too much affection, in the fear I would be too clingy. I am not afraid to be myself. I have real love. Love that lets me be free. Love that makes me laugh every day. And real love that makes me able to easily pick out my husband’s voice, no matter where we are.

Let’s just say going to noisy restaurants for a date is no longer a problem.”

Courtesy of Kelley Barger

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelley Barger. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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