How I met my daughters' mother: Dating with a stutter
It’s 2009. A spiritual festival in the middle of the desert. A few dozen people walking around on dusty straw mats under a large tent in a singles workshop. Each of us searching for a partner for the next exercise. This was the second time I laid eyes on the prettiest girl I had ever seen. (The first time was the previous night, a small glimpse at the outdoor cafe before she slipped away.) She was constantly approached by other men, obviously, so I kept a close distance to be ready to act at the right time.
At last, she was alone! The instructor gave a speaking assignment, but I didn’t care. I was walking straight to her, while my stuttering monkey-mind got my heart racing; I had to do this.
We were standing face to face.
“You are VERY beautiful” I said, over-emphasizing the ‘very’.
I felt happy that I was authentic and that it went stutter-free, worrying about first impressions and all. We stayed partnered up for the following exercise, and the one after that… I did stutter, right from the second sentence and through all our conversations. But she didn’t care, and neither did I. Once our hands touched, we both felt it; a feeling of ‘home’.
Fast forward nine years. We’re raising two beautiful daughters, and I’m still amazed by her beauty and grateful for our inner connection and good communication.
This might sound like a fairy tale, or just pure luck.
Though there is an element of luck involved, bringing us both to the same festival, that is where ‘luck’ ends.
It is about being ready of the right opportunity. If we had met in the same circumstances but only three years prior, we probably would not have fired that spark. Three years before, I was still at a low place with my speech, and more importantly, not confident in my speaking. I was very insecure about my stutter and feeling unworthy of love.
I wasn’t ready.
Growing up as "The Stutterer"
Growing up with a medium to severe stutter left a big scar in me. I grew up feeling socially incompetent, and I couldn’t believe that it would be possible for someone to want me. Apart from a few platonic friends, I was terrified to open my mouth around girls; they were ruthless! Around them I was ‘The Stutterer’, nothing more.
The first time a girl said to me that she liked me (during ‘truth or dare’, no less), it took me a few hours to comprehend what had just happened. My friends couldn’t understand why I was sitting there alone and frozen in another room. They tried to talk to me, but I couldn’t speak. Total shock. That poor girl didn’t understand what she had done wrong to make me react like that.
It was only after having hit rock bottom, experiencing my worst possible stuttering nightmare in real life, (I’ll tell you all about it in a future post,) that I began to grow and evolve.
Going from a self perception of ‘The Stutterer’ to ‘Ido, who sometimes stutters’ has been — and still is — my life-long journey. There are no short-cuts. It’s about digging deep into myself and actively stretching the limits of my comfort zone one day at a time. It’s about believing that things can and should be different and learning how to make them a reality.
If you’re also trying to break out from that place of feeling insecure about your stutter, if you’re searching for your other half and feel that your stammer is in your way, let me assure you — you’ll get there. Just like me and dozens of people with stutters who found their life partners and built loving families; many of whom I personally know.
The two biggest lessons I've learned about dating with a stutter
Trials by fire: Desensitize yourself to stuttering publicly
Back in my college days, I knew a girl nicknamed “Snow White”. She earned that name for her coal-black hair that perfectly contrasted her milk-white skin and blue eyes. As you might imagine, “Snow White” was confident and extremely beautiful (she probably still is).
One day I started noticing that “Snow White” was staring at me from afar. After a couple of weeks of confirming my suspicions, I decided to make a move. If it’s not obvious so far, this girl really wowed me, and I was very nervous even thinking about approaching her. I thought a lot about how to do it. I wanted to be authentic; to be my true self.
I walked over to her during one of the breaks and stuttered something like this:
“Hey, I […] think you’re ve[..]ry beautiful, I feel like a little kid around you. Wo[…]would you like to go for dd[…]dinner with me sometime?”
Yes. I can practically hear you face-palming while cringing in your seat right now. That’s the exact feeling I get every time I remember this story. If that wasn’t enough, add to that my unconfident body language at the time and some funny looking stutter-spasms, and you get the kind of kid-asking-his-friend’s-mom-on-a-date feeling I had created there. It’s pretty obvious what her response was… although she was very polite about it, at least.
The point is that I was my authentic self. I succeeded in that.
I really did feel like a kid around her, but she wasn’t looking for a kid. It was a glorious failure, dating-wise, but a powerful growth experience for the kid inside me; I put myself on the line, exposed and vulnerable, fell flat on my face and continued with my day like a champ.
Less than two years later, stronger and more confident, I walked over to an amazingly beautiful woman, and if you’ve been reading from the start, you know the rest…
Learn to fail.
Be proud of yourself for putting yourself on the line. Focus on the success in doing what you’ve set to do, regardless of the outcome.
It will take time to take control over your self-expression. You are going to embarrass yourself a lot. You have to desensitize yourself from feeling like a fool and focus on the strength in trying again anyway; focus on your inner growth.
Hunt inside of your comfort zone
I remember one time when I went to a bar with a couple of my close friends. It was a dark pick-up bar in the heart of Tel-Aviv. I’m generally not a fan of pick-up bars; I find the atmosphere sleazy and cynical — not my best choice for making genuine connections or getting to know someone.
Despite the fact this was definitely NOT my first choice for meeting people, I felt confident that night, and I was in a mood for experimenting outside of my comfort zone. After we had settled in our seats, I spotted a woman with a beautiful smile sitting at the other side of the bar.
Thinking about how to approach her, the shameful walk across the bar, the tension rising up and taking over my body and speech, trying to say something cute or funny in an engaging way… it felt fake; a recipe for a disaster.
Instead, I decided to postpone that awkward yet inevitable chronology of a first conversation in a bar to after I had already made the first impression. I caught her attention from across the bar, and made the first interaction while miming, as if asking her to smile again. I genuinely tried to make her laugh.
And it worked! Not that the conversation afterwards wasn’t awkward, but it was much lighter and more positive. In the end, she gave me her phone number, and needless to say, I was very proud of myself.
If you are in a place where you don’t feel comfortable, trying to stretch the limits of your comfort zone is a great thing. But treat those occasions as experiments, as lessons. Do them without any expectations.
When you go with the intention of meeting people and potential partners, aim for places where you feel at home, somewhere you can be relaxed and confident and truly express yourself freely.
The place where I met my wife (remember, a festival with barefoot people in dusty tents in the middle of the desert) was one of those places I feel most at home, where I could genuinely express who I am. And although I didn’t come to that festival with any intentions, I left with a glimpse into my future where the woman I had just met two days ago would be. And while there will always be challenges there, stuttering is not one of them.