Girl interrupted: when hearing aids thwart romance

Once upon a time there was a little pair of inoffensive-looking, beige hearing aids made by Phillips. They were bosom buddies from eleven to seventeen. Because each had their own endearing little quirks, I called them Matt (left aid) and Dan (right aid). By day, they were my armour, my conversational crutch, and my means of not getting run over by inattentive motorists.

By night, they were a monumental pain in the arse.

No matter how bosomy your bosom buddies are, you’re bound to fall out from time to time. Most of my fall-outs with Matt and Dan took place after an abortive snuggle-and-snog** where my aids felt the need to make their presence known by whistling, screaming, and generally making life less than peaceful. If I’m to be fair, calm (and slightly less anthropomorphic), the whistling was an involuntary mechanical response and no more Matt or Dan’s fault than it was mine. After all, the shrill and persistent whistling sound which made my first boyfriend’s eyes water was purely the result of ‘feedback’, which Southwestern Hearing Centres defines thusly:

The whistling noise is called Feedback. Hearing aid feedback is caused by sounds that leave your ear and find their way back into the microphone. From there, the sound is re-amplified which causes that annoying whistle. Hearing aid feedback can happen when you put your hand up to your ear, when you’re hugging someone, or when you’re inserting or removing your hearing aid. Or when something like the back of your chair is within 3 or 4 inches of your ear.

Well, that’s entirely true, but not all deaf dilemmas take place in the PG universe. After all, feedback tends to occur when:

  • Eager boyfriend’s cheek is within half a foot of your ear
  • Eager boyfriend’s shoulder is within half a foot of your ear
  • Eager boyfriend has pressed you into the soft furnishings of the sofa
  • Eager boyfriend claps his hands over your ears in the style of Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic (“Why’d you get off the boat, Rose?” [smooch] “You’re so stupid, Rose!” [smooch])

Admittedly those scenarios are PG-15. Which was fine between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. Inadvertently, Matt and Dave were instrumental in ensuring that I retained vital self-respect through years of (entirely unintentional!) abstinence from life’s greater joys. After all, if a guy can’t handle a little whistling, he’s not a deaf girl’s keeper. That’s what I told myself each time a teenaged paramour walked off in a huff because my hearing aids wouldn’t let him get it on.

By the time I was nineteen, I began to suspect that Matt and Dan were on my father’s payroll as reliable, electronic contraceptives.

My dad had the uncanny ability to leap into a room where mere snogging had taken place, and to direct dark glares at both me and my very-temporary suitor despite our very respectable positions in front of bookcases at opposite ends of the room. It transpires that hearing aid squeaks travel quite a long way, and my dad was all too aware of the level of closeness required to make a hearing aid scream.

Matt and Dan chugged on another couple of years until my first term at Bristol, where they repelled anyone trying to nuzzle my neck in a nightclub. Or in a street. Or in my room. Good grief.

There were a couple of long-term relationships. One was with a guy who’d been deafened by a mortar shell who totally got my issues, and also had a few that I was in a position to help him with. It didn’t work out because we had too much in common, needs-wise. We’re still good friends now through email, but I needed more moment-to-moment patience than he could spare, and he needed more personal distance than I could deal with.

My second long-termer was wonderful with the hearing-aids-out stuff, but couldn’t quite acclimatise himself to how little I heard even with the hearing aids in. There was no malice in his misunderstanding of my situation, but it wasn’t going to work.

I met my now-husband in 2002. He was Dutch, not immediately easy to lip-read, but endlessly patient with the repeats, and uproarious with the laughter when I got things totally wrong. He was loving, patient, and totally ingenuous. He worked out quickly that pillow talk was a non-starter because that required me to keep one hearing aid out, but soon instigated the ‘tradition’ of us leaping from bed, making an unnecessarily vast celebratory breakfast after our night’s travails, and having sofa-talk instead, when we could actually chat with both hearing aids in without any undue squeaking.

For their own health (and mine) Matt and Dan were retired in 1995. They remain in a softly-layered box in my bedroom, out of respect for their years of service.

I’m delighted to report that their successors, Irritating and Bastard, haven’t made  a significant impact on the loving relationship between me and my husband, despite their best hyper-sensitive efforts.


16 thoughts on “Girl interrupted: when hearing aids thwart romance

  1. Matt and Dan are Bizarro-wingmen! You played it all wrong, though. I’m imagining something more like
    “You can’t nuzzle me there, my dad will hear the hearing aids go off.”
    “Yeah, try a little lower.”
    “Still too close. A bit lower … a little more … keep going … mmm-ahhhh.”


  2. I have an Irritating and a Bastard of my own, though they’re in-the-ear ones and are really good – very little feedback, even with a 5-year-old hanging round my head.

    I used to work with a guy who’d been deaf since his teens (he was in his 50’s then), and he was wonderful at lip-reading. He was the first person I knew who could tell if someone was Scottish by the shape of their mouth when they pronounced certain words.


    1. Ah yes, that’s a definite advantage of In-the-ear aids. As well as being a tad more discreet, there’s less to set them off, feed-back wise.

      I’m jealous of the guy you used to work with; it’s a skill that I used to have but which has gone downhill. At one point I could tell the difference between Canadian and North American and I was quite proud of that 🙂 Do you have a least-favourite accent? For me, it’s a toss-up between Geordie, Glaswegian and Jo’burg!!


      1. I really like Geordie and Glaswegian accents. I probably wouldn’t be able to differentiate a Jo’burg one from any other South African accent.
        For working out what they’re actually saying, I used to work with a guy from Aberdeen (an Aberdonian?) and I couldn’t understand him. My wife’s a Scot, and even she has problems understanding some people from Aberdeen.


      2. The Jo’burg accent is really guttural with short vowels low-register consonants. Guys from places like Durban tend to have more regulated speech patterns and they’re a lot easier to follow


  3. Loved this! You have the wonderful knack of turning a total pain-in-the-arse situation into the most hilarious post. I hope Irritating and Bastard continue to be unable to give you the grief they would probably like to! 🙂


    1. Why, thank you! I’m glad to hear that my early-years travails with my aids has brought some harmless amusement 😀

      Irritating and Bastard do their best, but as one gets older, one gets canny. As you can probably predict, they will have their own article in the future — most likely dedicated to the frustration of dealing with their psychic setting….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Aloha Sam!! OMGOd…. bloody hilarious as always. 🙂 I love your writing and all your anecdotes. So damn funny and clever. 🙂 I still don’t know how the hell you can get accents so well. It fascinates me. I think you’re wonderful!! Hugs and love Meg 🙂


    1. Thank you, Popsy 🙂 What a lovely compliment and I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I’ve got another underway at the moment but the next might be coming to you via Limping Chicken 🙂


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