In this second instalment of the Valentine’s Day Specials, we invite one of our youths, Winston Wong, to share his thoughts on relationships, as well as one of his cherished moments with his significant other. Winston is one of our Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation scholars, who has hearing loss.
I have bilateral severe-to-profound sensorineural hearing loss. I was first diagnosed with mild hearing loss at the age of four. My hearing deteriorated steadily through my schooling years, and I wore my first pair of hearing aids when I was ten. Although there were the bullying, teasing, inferiority complex, sense of low self-esteem, difficulty in making friends and other issues that persons with disabilities (PWDs) might face in life, there was also the harbouring of hope that I would find love someday. This is a topic which some PWDs might find embarrassing or sensitive to talk about, but I hope to raise some awareness through this article.
While I was not actively looking for love back then, seeing my peers getting attached one after another, I was very happy for them, and I did hope that one day I could find a soulmate that I can spend my life with. But I knew that there’s no point in being hasty. So, my mindset at that time was: “If I can meet a suitable person, that’s good. If not, it’s fine too.” Because ultimately, finding someone who is willing to accept my disability is not easy, especially when we talk about relationships. When I was still single, even my mother told me that she had come to terms that I might be alone in future.
I believe most, if not all of us, would want to enjoy a carefree life with our partners. Therefore, people without disabilities might consider the severity of the disability first, before deciding whether to commit to a relationship with a PWD. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with this mindset. Interacting with and assisting PWDs who are friends, or during volunteering events is one thing; but to spend a lifetime together with the PWD and having to take care of him or her, that’s another thing. It’s our pragmatic nature at work. Of course, there may also be some who might find it hard to accept someone with a disability, or might be afraid of not being accepted by their family and peers if they were to get together with a PWD. Hence, this would result in second thoughts even if they have sincere feelings for the PWD.
On the other hand, some PWDs might feel a sense of insecurity or worry when they are together with someone without disability. For example, thoughts like: “Am I really good enough for her?”, “Would I be able to take care of her?” or “Would her family and friends accept me?” will come to mind. I first met my girlfriend in a sign language class almost 3.5 years ago. At the beginning of the relationship, I was worried about whether her family would accept me. But thankfully, they have been very accepting and it helps to boost my self-esteem and confidence in our relationship. But the sense of insecurity and worry is always there, especially when I have to meet someone in her social circle for the first time. Perhaps our society still holds some misconceptions about what it would be like dating a PWD so there’s always this constant and nagging feeling deep down about hoping to be accepted.
My girlfriend has been nothing short of amazing. She is very accepting, open and patient about my disability. Whenever I am not able to catch what she is saying, she would repeat for me. Other times, she would type it out using her phone which makes it much easier for me. And when talking to other people such as to hawker stall owners, she would help me to answer questions that I can’t hear. Of course, like any other relationships, we have our differences which we try to compromise as much as possible. For example, I prefer texting while she prefers calling. So, most of the time, she would text me and on certain days, I try to talk on the phone with her through a call or video call.
This COVID-19 situation has severely limited our time spent together. We used to meet up at least once a week but because of the COVID-19 situation as well as our personal commitments, we only meet once a month now. I still remember when the Circuit Breaker was announced, we went through half a year without meeting each other. Given that we live on opposite sides of Singapore, it almost felt like a long-distance relationship. In spite of this, both of us have been really understanding towards each other, especially when some of our personal commitments take centre stage. This is something that I have always been appreciative of, and nowadays whenever we meet up, we try to make the best of our time together.
One of the heart-warming memories that I have with my girlfriend was our 10-day holiday trip to Okinawa in early January 2020. We were fortunate because that was before the COVID-19 situation hit worldwide and travelling was restricted. It was our first long holiday together, and naturally we were very excited prior to the trip. We planned the trip together and I felt fortunate that we were able to agree on most things without hassle! During the trip, it was not all smooth sailing though. There were happy moments, and other moments where we could not see eye to eye. That’s why there’s this saying that goes “You don’t really know someone until you travel with him or her”. But from spending those ten days together, I learned a lot and I felt that the experience has helped me to become a better person and to understand my girlfriend better as well, which is something that all couples, regardless of disabilities, should strive for if they truly see the relationship as something worth holding on to. In short, maintaining a relationship is not just about accepting your partner, not just about putting in the effort, and definitely not just about love as well, but it is also about not taking the relationship for granted and striving to improve wherever possible. All of these help to make the relationship better, and let both parties to grow stronger together as a couple.
This is a photo of us at Cape Maeda. Okinawa is a really beautiful island, surrounded by clear blue oceans! We self-drove around, visited many interesting places and had awesome food as well. The Okinawans are very friendly too – there was once when a couple of them helped us out when we didn’t know how to pump petrol at a self-service petrol station.
On another occasion, when we went to an izakaya (Japanese bar-restaurant) for dinner, we were not quite sure what to order because the place served traditional Okinawan dishes. Upon hearing our conversation (probably spotted our non-Japanese accent), a very friendly couple who knew a bit of English approached us and patiently explained to us all the dishes on the menu. We had a great chat with them, and they even invited us to join the people there for a traditional Okinawan dance around the izakaya. It was a very interesting experience!
This Valentine’s Day is our third one together. Looking forward to more Valentine’s Days together, as well as hoping for the COVID-19 situation around the world to improve so that we can go for more of such holidays in future!