A Language Fit For Two: Dating and Speech Impediments

This month's columnist writes about building a language while struggling to speak

Feature by Madeleine Dunne | 05 Dec 2019
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I’m blindsided when my childhood speech issues worsen. Struggling to settle into life in a new country, words feel like landmines behind my teeth and conversations exhaust me. When my phone lights up with a name from back home, it’s a welcome distraction.

“There she is,” Chris’s first message reads.

He’s seven pints in and boldly telling me he’s coming down to London in April, and maybe we could get a drink then? I laugh out loud at this weird wee guy, a complete stranger, asking me out months in advance.

When he says goodnight, I see everything sprawling out in front of me: we’ll talk sporadically, have an awkward date, then ghost each other, still liking selfies until we mutually unfollow.

But Chris messages me every day, and soon I can’t dodge his requests for a phone call.

“I speak funny sometimes, by the way.” I blurt out seconds after he says hello.

“How d’you mean?” he asks, and I explain how the words come out slow, or stuttered, or not at all. 

“I’ve got something like that,” he replies, “People always laugh at me.”                                                                                            

With each conversation, we build a language fit for two people who struggle to speak: texts filling in the blank spaces in phone calls, voice notes laughing at the mishaps of our tongues. The weekend we meet is littered with long silences, stammers and stutters. But our language translates to real life seamlessly, and for the first time we both feel like it’s okay for words to falter.

The next few months are filled with motorways that instil either excitement or dread; feelings entirely dependent on which direction the stuffy Megabus is going. Soon, the road gets shorter: work takes me home and our lives start to fit together and the words come effortlessly.

When we lose our first pregnancy, neither of us know what to say. For the first time, our silences are uncomfortable. The speechlessness between us lasts weeks, but we rebuild our language on a foundation of sticky notes and texts reminding each other that things will be okay.

“There he is,” reads the last note I leave him, and here we are. Those words are the easiest to say.