By Shelly Evans
The tale of “Austin and Shelly Forever” sounds like your typical vaguely romantic love story: Girl messages Boy on social media. Crushes develop. Boy and Girl eventually meet in person at church. Girl awkwardly avoids Boy at all costs. Boy asks Girl out. Girl says no 3 times. Boy swoons. Girl finally gives in. They play Mario Kart, they eat pizza, they kiss, they fall in love, they marry, and they live happily ever after. The End.
Our love story sounds like a modern day fairy tale. Despite this, there were so many different emotions that I was feeling when we first met that I don’t think even Austin knows about.
When we first met in person, I was terrified. You see, talking to someone you find extremely attractive is already hard enough. Then, add a stutter into the mix? Yeah, game over.
Here’s the thing. By this time, we had been talking via social media, text messages etc. for a few weeks now. During this time, the fact that I stutter was never a worry. My charm and wit were at full force and my flirting was spot on (naturally *flips hair*). But when it came to speaking in person, it was a whole new ball game.
Let’s just say this. I’m awkward. And I know it. I have this cute boy standing in front of me who has never actually heard me speak. I had done a pretty good job of presenting myself as “cool” and “awesome” over the internet (as I’m sure we all have mastered), and as I thought about this, I instantly feared that I would not be enough. I feared that my real-life awkward little stuttering self would not live up to the “awesome-cool Shelly” on that computer screen.
So many questions ran through my head at that moment: Could this man love all of me? Am I ready to let him into my stuttering world? Will he accept it? Will he mock it? Will I always feel guarded?
I didn’t know the answers to these oh-so-important questions. And that was really scary. But, do you know what his response was when he first heard me stutter?
“Wow. That is so stinking cute.” Yep. This one’s a keeper.
Everyone deserves to find love and to feel loved. But I understand that it is so hard to find love these days. Especially if you stutter. Meeting new people can cause so much anxiety, some of us refuse to even try.
But, guess what? If you withhold yourself from people forever, love is impossible. SPOILER ALERT: Cupid’s not real (neither is Santa). You are never going to be magically shot in the butt with an arrow of love (I sure hope not, at least). You can’t expect love without effort. It’s just not going to happen. Do. The. Work.
Start out with something that you are the most comfortable with. For example, I struggle to make myself heard in groups of people. I get anxious and simply choose to stay quiet and keep to myself. However, I tend to thrive in one-on-one conversation (at least that’s what I tell myself). When getting to know people, it is vital for me to be able to talk with them on my own, just me and them. Without this, you’ll be lucky to know even one intimate detail about my life.
However, I understand that starting an in-person conversation, for some, is just out of the question depending on where they are, mentally, concerning their stutter.
If the fear of speaking in person is keeping you from finding love, take advantage of modern technology! We are in the age of technological communication. For people who stutter, this is the prime time to find love! As much as I am an advocate for face-to-face communication when it comes to relationships, sometimes a simple “hey!” over Facebook is the kick start you need.
Know this though… Typed words can only go so deep into the soul.
You need to let them in. You need to let them hear your imperfect voice. You need to let them love all of you.
I know that “I am not my stutter,” but I know that my stutter has completely shaped who I am. If I didn’t let Austin into my stuttering world, he would never be able to completely wrap himself around my heart.
Falling in love means getting to know your partner in the deepest, most intimate ways possible. Your stutter is intertwined with every facet of your life.
You need to be 100% open with your partner about your emotions regarding your stutter. How they react and choose to help you through those emotions is the most telling aspect of the bond you have together.
Your partner may not stutter, but that does not mean that they can’t love you completely.
Austin will never fully comprehend what it is like to have a stutter. But he works every single day to put himself in my shoes to be able to be as empathetic as he possibly can. He doesn’t feel what I feel when I break down over something as trivial as not being able to say just one single word. He can’t know. He can’t feel what I feel concerning my stutter. He probably even thinks it’s not a big deal at all. It was just one word, after all. But he sits there, stroking my hair as I sob into his chest, and holds me until the very last tear falls from my cheek, saying “next time, you’re gonna kill it.”
A much as I love Austin for his kind, affectionate nature, what most fuels my admiration for him is the way he pushes me to become the best version of “Shelly.” When Austin first mentioned the idea of going up to Alaska to work as tour guides, my first response was “Um, you know that speaking is not my forte, right?” Of course he knew this. But that didn’t matter to him. He didn’t see this adventure as something that I “couldn’t do,” he saw it as something that I was MADE to do. He knew that I needed to prove to the world, particularly myself, that my speech impediment was not something to hide behind, but rather to grow from.
Love someone who pushes you to stretch yourself in the most loving, gentle way possible. As a person who stutters, I know how easy it is to stay in a zone of comfort, always saying “I can’t because I stutter.” My husband has never accepted that answer. He has always seen me as something greater. Someone to be heard.
The reason I fell in love with Austin is not only because of how much he loves me, but because of how he makes me love myself as a person who stutters.
It takes a special kind of person to love someone who stutters. It also takes a special person who stutters to let someone love them. Hold yourself to a high standard of love. Choose a partner who not only loves you deeply, but who also drives you to love yourself and to love your voice.
And settle for nothing less.
Shelly Evans is currently residing in Rancho Cucamonga, California, with her husband, Austin. Read more of her writing at www.stutteringlifeofshelly.wordpress.com
Photos by Olivia Russell Photography
From the Summer 2018 Newsletter