An Aspie/autistic-neurotypical (i.e. Aspie-NT, or “mixed” marriage) can be challenging. Hell, relationships themselves can be challenging in general, whether the people involved are on the spectrum or not. But add the Asperger’s/autism factor, and it can be nerve-wracking.
Part of the nerve-wrack stems from the spectrum itself; we’re anxiety-prone. To complicate things further, this anxiety doesn’t always show up on the surface as fear; it can often manifest as irritability.
There’s also a social anxiety we have to deal with; the very idea of having to interact with someone else can be overwhelming, and developing a successful deeper, long-term relationship with another person can seem impossible.
There’s hope. Really, there is.
Let’s start at the beginning…
I’d had a short series of relatively long-term (by my adolescent and young adult standards) relationships. There were two boyfriends in high school, each of whom I was in exclusive relationships that lasted over a year.
In college (university), there was a 2-year relationship. None of us had any idea at the time that I was an Aspie. All of these relationships ended up becoming dysfunctional in some way, although that had much more to do with their issues and less to do with my spot on the spectrum. And each time, I was the one to break things off.
I was 21 by the time the 2-year relationship ended. I lived in a “college town”, home to a “party school”, where people attend college more to stay on their parents’ insurance while partying than to pursue a real education. I was not one of those party-people. I didn’t drink (much) or use drugs (at all). Most of the other students at that college, especially the guys, generally didn’t have much by way of long-term life goals, nor were their personalities anything special. (I was attending that particular university at the advice of my mother, who had gone there; it hadn’t been a party school at that time, and she was in favor of the low tuition.)
So I knew that the university was not an ideal environment for meeting people, especially males. The only other major gathering of people was the “bar scene” downtown. That was even worse than the school.
At that time, the internet was just starting to blossom, and “singles/dating” websites were beginning to sprout. I figured, “hell, what do I have to lose?” I logged online, and signed up with a couple of those websites. I played it smart, setting ground rules for myself.
First, I created a separate email address that I used only for the dating sites. I supplied limited personal information, nothing that could be used to identify me (technology and its users weren’t as sophisticated back then). Back then, one could also get by with not posting a picture of themselves–that was still acceptable (it’s less acceptable these days)–so I didn’t. If someone was going to show interest in me, I wanted the interest to be in ME and my personality, not because they thought I was pretty or cute. After all, that was the whole point of going online; so that people could get to know me for me and not just what I looked like. I refused to participate in a “meat market”.
Other ground rules for myself included meeting only in public places, in separate vehicles (with my own gas tank full) and bringing all of my own payment methods and identification with me and keeping them on my person. I’d also ensure that several people close to me knew where I was going, who I was going with, and when I was expected to return, and that sometime during my date with a guy, I would mention this, casually and in passing. (If I were a member of the dating pool these days, I would also pack my cell phone in my pocket, a small knife for self-protection (I think in worse-case scenarios), and I would also Google the guy’s name first, being sure to check any Facebook profiles, etc, and for any criminal activity.)
One might think that online dating is dangerous or risky, and there was certainly a stigma about meeting people online back then. If you met your date or significant other online, you were seen as weird, reclusive, socially-inept, crazy, a little “off”, or otherwise mentally unstable. People assumed there was something wrong with you, mentally or physically (or both).
By now (at least I think that) times have changed; enough people meet others online that it’s pretty commonplace now, and fewer people are raising their eyebrows and making assumptions. And I think it’s almost safer to meet this way. You have a chance to feel them out–at least a little–and research them before you agree to meet in person. (That being said, I know that there are still lots of predators out there, and they’ve gotten more sophisticated.)
Reeling from previous relationships (but having given myself enough time and space to reflect and heal), and being on heightened alert for predators, I filled out my profile (“ad”) posting in great detail, with a very “black and white” vibe. I gave a short description of myself and then made 3 “bulleted” lists. The first was a list of qualities I was looking for in a significant other. These were “must-have”s, and I wasn’t going to waver or compromise.
The second list was of what I had to offer them, what I could contribute back to the relationship.
The third list contained personal attributes that I did not want, traits that were absolute, instant dealbreakers that kicked them out of consideration or any possible future with me.
I didn’t mince words. I did my best to come across as warm, genuine, and good-hearted, which was the truth. But I also knew there were a lot of creeps and jackholes out there, and I didn’t want to get mixed up with any of them. So I kept to my standards. If they didn’t like cats, they were OUT (my cat and I were a package deal and I was not going to tolerate hostility, violence, or neglect of me or my cat, and I was never going to be persuaded to choose between my cat and any boyfriend). If they did drugs, they were OUT. If they sat around watching sports all weekend or went out drinking every night with the guys or they pressured for sex, etc, they were GONE.
I figured that if a guy could get through my “lists”, nod to himself, and say “yep, that’s reasonable; that’s me; that fits”, they were an excellent catch. If anything in any of my “lists” turned them off, they weren’t the right one(s) for me and my answer to that is, “good riddance”.
While this may seem hostile, I have to say: it worked–extremely well–for me. I refused to “settle”. I kept dating (carefully and selectively) until I found the Right One. I didn’t just try to force a relationship with the first guy I dated just because he was there in front of me; if it didn’t feel right, it didn’t feel right, and we both moved on. I probably had conversations by email with 20-30; about 10-15 of those conversations went a little longer before fizzling. I actually met in person with 6 or 7. These were all decent guys, but the chemistry wasn’t quite right.
I met my current partner. It’s been over 17 years now. I’ll write about our own personal experiences in the next post, I promise 🙂