• Shannon Reyenga

Sorry I'm a catfish

Updated: May 10, 2018

Does not revealing my hearing loss make me a catfish? And other questions you may have when you’re online dating with an invisible disability.

Also, hear what happened when I wrote about my hearing loss on my OkCupid profile.

One of the worst dates of my life was with someone I met on OkCupid. It was 2014. We met at a bar with an outdoor patio in Seattle. He was a tech - bro web developer with an interest in rock climbing. I worked for a public relations firm in the area and also had an interest in climbing.

Things were going swimmingly, until I brought up my hearing loss.

Back then, I always tried to reveal my hearing loss on the first or second date. I explained to him I wore hearing aids and sometimes had trouble in noisy situations, like talking at a bar. He did not acknowledge my explanation. Instead, my date promptly went to the bathroom and stayed there for what felt like an eternity. In the meantime, I ordered a second beer and waited. When he came out, he told me he was going to “pick up his buddy.” No apology. No explanation of an emergency circumstance. He wanted to be with his buddy or in a bathroom stall, anywhere that didn't involve finishing a drink with Shannon

I told him “Okay. Well, I’m going to finish my beer” and the date was over.

My OkCupid profile photo. This photo looks like me. But can you see that this girl is deaf and going blind?

I never heard from him again. But the way he reacted got me thinking, do I need to reveal my hearing loss before the first date. Am I a catfish? Was it my hearing loss or did he really just have to leave because he had diarrhea or something?

My OkCupid profile photo. This photo looks like me. But can you see that this girl is deaf and going blind?

Online dating is no longer unusual. In 2017, 49,650,000 people in the US tried online dating at some point in their lives. What you may not know is, a great portion of those online daters have some kind of disability. The US Census Bureau estimates that nearly 1 in 5 people living in this country have a form of disability - mild or severe.

But, that doesn’t make opening up about disabilities any easier.

When I started online dating in 2012, I had just graduated from college and broken up with my long term boyfriend. I was experiencing pain in everyday life from my hearing loss. These pains ranged from potential employers questioning my slight speech impediment to struggling to keep up with conversations at bars with my siblings. I couldn’t imagine someone wanting to go on a date with me if I revealed my hearing loss in my profile.

I wasn’t wrong in that either. An Observer poll found that 70% of people in England would not have sex with someone with a physical disability. The New York times also reported that the overall first-marriage rate in the United States for people ages 18 to 49 is 48.9 per 1,000. For people with disabilities it’s just 24.4.

To put it simply, disabilities are sometimes cockblockers.

After that bad date though. I was willing to take the risk. I wrote about my hearing aids in the "about me" section of my profile. It only lasted a few days, but here's what happened.

1. I received less messages. There was a 45.5% decrease in the amount of messages I received on a day I mentioned my hearing loss compared to a day I did not mention my hearing loss.

2. Most of the messages I received were the same generic messages I always received. See three examples below.

3. Most of the messages concerning my hearing loss frustrated me. See three examples below.

There weren't many messages that concerned my hearing loss. But even after receiving just a few of those, I was frustrated. Some things like the cause of my hearing loss and how bad it is are complicated and really better explained in person. I also didn't want someone to get the wrong idea - hearing loss is a significant part of my life. But it does not define me.

Having a disability is all about how you work with your challenges and overcome them. Two people may wear the same kind of hearing aid, but they may experience hearing loss differently. Until you meet the person, you can't really tell what they're like and what they can and cannot do. At that time in my life, I was providing 24 hour response to a construction hotline - a difficult feat for anyone, much less someone that is deaf. Some people online may have seen my profile and assumed my main language was ASL.

After that, I removed the mention of my hearing loss from my profile and continued to tell people on an as needed basis. Does that make me a catfish? I don't know.

I never had someone walk out on a date again. But I did start to have the fear of someone leaving me again when I found out about my progressive vision loss. Who would date someone that's deaf and going blind?

That's a story for another day.


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