(This post is the second half of a two-part series; Part 1 can be found here.)
One of the neat things about being in a relationship with a someone “with” Asperger’s/autism is that you can have conversations with us that you might not think you can say to other (non-autistic) people; for example, you can indeed ask us how much affection we want or need. You can usually have a frank and open conversation about sex. That might seem like an “odd” question or topic to an allistic/neurotypical person, but an Aspergian/autistic person probably won’t think twice. In fact, we’ll be glad that you asked us openly, instead of making assumptions.
Yeah, this whole “assumptions” thing… It can get to be a big deal for us–a thorn in our sides, if you will. You’ve probably noticed that we don’t fit the neurotypical mould. We’re a little “off” the usual yardstick, seeming to be only measurable by a different system. In the US (which uses the Imperial system), everyone else figuratively measures themselves in inches, feet, and yards, whereas people on the spectrum don’t seem to fit neatly into that measurement; we’re more “metric”-type people.
For example, allistic/non-autistic people hold the belief that if you don’t make eye contact, you’re being dishonest. For them, it rarely causes any distress to make eye contact; that’s not even something they think about. But for those of us on the spectrum, making eye contact can be incredibly uncomfortable. Some people on the spectrum describe it as painful, while others describe it in terms of extreme discomfort, and still others can perceive it as more of nakedness or a distraction. The interesting irony is that, given the straightforwardness mentioned above, we’re probably some of the most honest, least manipulative, least-likely-to-lie people you’ll meet.
Another neat part of being in a relationship with somebody “with” Asperger’s/autism is that we’re pretty generous people. We give of our hearts and minds, and even our time and company; it may not be completely obvious at first, but as you come to understand us, it’ll become more apparent. There is one potentially sticky subject: gift exchange.
We often love the idea of giving and receiving gifts, but these situations can present several challenges. First, selecting a gift to give you can be challenging, because we may have a tougher time than most people in trying to determine what you might like. We do aim to please (probably moreso than most), but since our brains run on different “operating systems”, we may not be able to climb inside your head enough to be able to anticipate what kind of gift you might like.
Receiving gifts can also be somewhat stressful, because we can be pretty self-conscious people; we’re painfully aware that all eyes are on us, all attention is focused on/directed toward us, as we open our gifts and express our thanks. Because we express our emotions differently, we often don’t respond or express ourselves the same way as do allistic people. We feel pressured to anticipate what the rest of society thinks constitutes and “appropriate” response and then execute that response within the “expected” timeframe (i.e., “fast enough”). Sometimes we have trouble finding the right words, or we feel pressured to “amp up” our response to match the expectations of other people. This can create stress, a type of stress (and at a time when) no one off the spectrum ever really has to consider.
Just keep in mind that it’s (very) real for many of us, and please don’t be taken aback or disappointed when our responses don’t come out as you may have expected. Just know that we really do appreciate your gesture and we probably really do like the gift.
Another subject: routine. We probably have several. We thrive on them. We depend on them. They provide us with safety, a protection against forgetting something at home/work/school, protection against forgetting to do something, a security blanket against anxiety, a way for us to not look “weird” or “lost”, a way for us to appear “normal”, and a way for us to function in daily life.
When we forget something, it’s not that we’re stupid. If we don’t do something, it’s not that we’re lazy. We may indeed have forgotten to do it because it’s not something that’s ingrained; it hasn’t already been incorporated into our daily routine. To incorporate something new and establish it as part of our routine takes consistent daily conscious effort, and over time–usually a few weeks.
Words of advice from one (and only one) Aspie/autistic person:
- Never assume. Instead, talk.
- If you ask a question and we’re silent, please be patient. We may be trying to identify our feelings, gather our thoughts, find the right words, sequence our ideas, etc.
- Please, please take us seriously. Truly listen to what we say. One of our long-standing thorns-in-our-sides is not being heard and taken to heart. I definitely felt this most of my life, decades before I even found out I’m Aspergian/autistic. Now that I’ve joined–and delightfully interacted with–the Aspergian/autistic community, I have learned a word for this: marginalization. Marginalizing us is a no-no; it’s a quick recipe for frustration, alienation, depression, anxiety, and anger.
- I haven’t mentioned meltdowns yet, but after you read these posts (the difference between a meltdown and a temper tantrum, and what a meltdown feels like, and my view of what triggers my meltdowns and how I try to prevent them), you’ll probably have a better idea. Suffice it to say that it’s NOT some childish, voluntary, willful behavior. Rather, it is an involuntary neurological response that can occur at any time throughout one’s life. Whatever you do, don’t try to stop it. Don’t try to distract us. Don’t try to get us to talk unless we’re wanting to (in which case we’ll usually come to you). Don’t try to rationalize it; the neurological limbic system is in the driver’s seat, and it knows no rationality. Just know that it will be over and, after a refractory recovery period, things will go back to normal. After addressing any applicable issues, please try to act like it never happened, and please try not to hold it against us.
- About our routines… Please, don’t laugh at us or think we’re being unreasonable, ridiculous, or silly. Please don’t treat it as a childish or unnecessary or frivolous thing. Don’t mock us. Instead, please roll with us, accommodate us, participate in the routine where appropriate/needed, and understand that it truly helps us.
- Please don’t ever pressure us for sex.
- Don’t give us the “cold shoulder”. If something’s wrong, say it (best not to bring it up during a time of stress, however; ensure that we’re pretty calm already).
- We do notice the nice things you do for us, even if we don’t always say it.
- Just as we’re straightforward, we also interpret your words literally. So, just as we say what we mean, please say what you mean, and please actually mean the words you say. Don’t just say nice things as “trivial fluff”, just to say them. Also, don’t say cruel things you don’t actually mean, just to “prove a point” or “get our attention” or hurt/shock us in the moment. We’re going to take it literally; we’re going to take it to heart. And we have long-ass memories; we tend not to forget. Additionally, don’t lie. Not even “little white lies”. If you don’t think our shirt matches our pants, or if the cut of the clothing is wrong for our body shape, please (diplomatically) tell us. Don’t just tell us we look “fine” and let us go out looking funny. And certainly don’t lie about the big stuff. Deceit and dishonesty hurt badly, wounding us deeper than most, and we don’t forget that, either. Once burned, we turn from innocent and gentle to suspicious and hostile of the world. Your treatment of us can write a big part of our story, for better or for worse. You can wound us, jade us, and make us fearful of the whole world with a single indiscretion. Or you can fill us with love and joy and gentleness. Opt for the latter.
- We will probably put forth more effort than most to stay with you, even through hard times. You’re an integrated part of our lives, and we tend to have more difficulty with changes, especially drastic ones. So, leaving the partnership is often a last resort, after every other strategy has failed. Please don’t abuse that; we will leave when/if necessary.
We tend to choose our partners carefully (I hope we all do take the time we need to do that), so if we’ve decided not to live alone and we’ve committed ourselves to you, it means you’re something special!