If there’s one thing we can all agree on, politics aside, it’s that love transcends all. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, msnbc.com’s “Love is Love” series will profile a variety of couples and their stories in the week leading up to February 14 to show that “love is love,” no matter your race, nationality, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity.
Names: Laura Emerick Krepel & Scott Timothy Krepel
Been together for: 4 ½ years
How did you meet?
Laura: We met the old fashioned way. At least, that’s what we like to tell people, and then watch them guess. It’s a bit of a generation test. The older people cycle through answers such as “parents,” “church,” “work,” etc, but oftentimes the younger people will immediately guess “online.” We met on match.com. I was immediately interested, because we shared similar interests. He was a nuclear engineer, and I had worked on nuclear power plants. The hook for me was when he shared that he’d been interviewed on my favorite show, “This American Life.” I was dying to meet him. We were e-mailing back and forth to plan our first date, when he told me he was deaf. My thought was, “Well I can’t be a jerk now and change my mind about going on a date with him.”
Scott: Laura is exaggerating a bit … I told her that I was deaf at the same time that I told her about being interviewed on “This American Life.” It was somewhat inevitable because it is a radio show and I knew that she would know which episode it was (it had been aired only about two months before we met). So I suppose that means that I had plenty of other qualities to interest her that were unrelated to a chance appearance on a radio show. At least, I hope so. Still, I will confess to not disclosing that fact up front, in part because I wasn’t looking for someone who was looking specifically for a deaf person to date. We clicked pretty well through a series of e-mail exchanges, and set up a meeting time. It was an open-ended, casual meeting that ended up taking most of the afternoon. After that, Laura flew to Canada to interview for a job. Fortunately, she stayed in the U.S. and the rest became history.
Laura, when you first met, did you know sign language, or did you start learning then? How did this affect your relationship?
Laura: On our first date, we communicated through a spiral bound notebook passed back and forth, each writing short or long passages. That’s how Scott primarily communicates with non-signers in person. He started teaching me the alphabet on day one. I admit I wasn’t a very good student, but he was persistent.
Scott vocalizes or speaks at the same time he’s signing. He has a very thick accent. By our second date, I was able to listen to what he was saying. It’s like going to a Shakespeare play; at first the Old English is indecipherable, but soon enough your ear and brain get tuned to the sounds of that language. To this day, I still primarily listen to Scott’s speech, and struggle if I can’t hear him and must rely only on his signing.
While it’s easy for me to understand Scott, it’s a little harder for me to sign back and communicate to Scott. Sign language is my second language and it’s also often slower for me than spoken English. I think this has helped our relationship – it’s easier for me to listen to my partner than it is for me to speak.
How did your friends and family react to your relationship in the beginning, and now?
Laura: Early on, I feel like some people, myself included, thought he was more limited in his abilities. For example, we were planning on taking flying trapeze classes, and a friend mentioned how important the instructor’s vocal cues are from the instructions; they provide the timing for when to let go of the bar or change positions. She wasn’t sure if Scott could do trapeze without the vocal cues. So I called the Trapeze School New York in D.C., and tentatively asked about accommodating a deaf student. The perky attendant immediately answered, “Oh I sign! And so do two other instructors. Here’s how we normally accommodate deaf students….” We took the flying trapeze class and Scott nailed it, perfecting his move, and made the flying catch on his first try. Now it’s become a joke. Of course Scott can play the ukulele better than I can (true story). Of course Scott picked out the perfect music for our wedding (also a true story).
Scott: From my side, it was much less of an adjustment because my family and friends have typically all been hearing (with a few isolated exceptions). So the main thing that was important to them was that Laura was a positive influence in my life, and that she made the effort to become part of my world – which she did. And her parents went above and beyond the norm. Her mother started taking some sign language classes before she met me, and has picked up enough to communicate with me (as opposed to doing vocabulary drills). Since then, her father has joined in on the sign language fun.
What do you say to people who might not understand your relationship? What do you wish people knew?
Laura: Scott can’t hear, but he listens really well.
Scott: I’ve never really thought about other people “not understanding our relationship.” Perhaps because by the time they get around to actually talking to us, then it makes perfect sense to them. Relationships work because the people involved push each other to grow and become better people. Laura is an extreme extrovert, which may be just as big a difference between us as me being deaf and her being hearing. But I don’t deny that she pushes me to move in positive directions for my own self-development (even if it can be annoying at times). In the end, I do wish that people knew that a relationship is defined more by the differences between the two people than by the similarities. You need commonalities to be able to build communication and mutual understanding, but the differences are what provide the creative energy that keeps a relationship from going stale and unproductive.
What’s something you’ve each learned from each other and from your relationship?
Scott: I mentioned Laura’s extroversion earlier. That helps me sometimes because sometimes I have a tendency to be introvert-ish and not comfortable with initiating a new conversation at a party, partly due to my awkwardness with small talk. But when that is combined with being deaf and thus not really being able to hear random conversations to find one that might be easy to join, that can lead to isolation. But sometimes one just has to put oneself out there and start something.
What’s something about your partner you find intriguing or surprising?
Laura: Scott’s dancing. It’s about par for a guy – a little awkward, but energetic. We danced the tango at our wedding.
Scott: I think that’s more of an insult to guys everywhere than a compliment to me. I found it to be somewhat surprising that Laura has a lot of capability to develop new interests or perspectives, since she can sometimes be quite opinionated.
And lastly, what are your plans for Valentine’s Day?
Laura: We are going on our honeymoon! We got married in March in Costa Rica. Because it was a destination wedding, we didn’t feel like adding extensive travel on top of the wedding; and we didn’t want to waste the excuse for a big trip. So we delayed our honeymoon by a year. I’ve been saving Italy, specifically Venice, for my honeymoon. I also had a bucket list item of going to Carnival in Venice so we planned the trip around that. That Friday, we are going to a Carnival ball in full 18th century French court costumes. It’s going to be beautiful.
Scott: On Valentine’s Day proper, we have no specific plans. But we’ll be in Venice. I don’t think that there is cause to worry about a lack of romance. That’d be like going to New Orleans and not eating any decent seafood at all.