Thursday, November 12, 2009

Why do Aspies Suddenly Back Off in Relationships (Part 3)

Continuing the series, part three deals with people who just don't know how to "behave" in relationships. I'm not talking about misbehaviour. I'm talking about communications problems, misreading the signs, missing the cues and not knowing those things which should come naturally.

This time, instead of trying to cover the topic in a clinical way, I'm going to speak straight from experience.

Communications Problems
I remember in 1984 when the movie "The Woman in Red" came out. I was pretty excited to see it, not only because it had one of my (then) favourite actors in it (Gene Wilder) and a great song "I just called, to say I love you" but also because the critics described it as; "Teddy Pierce has just wooed the woman of his dreams - and now that he's got her, he doesn't know what to do with her". At the time, that seemed to describe my life. I'd just managed to win the love of the girl who would oneday become my wife but apart from giving her a great big kiss, I really didn't know what else to do.

We communicated quite well and quite often via writing. In fact we usually wrote each other about three or more flirtatious love letters per week. Sometimes several in one day - usually during lessons. It's a wonder our school grades didn't suffer - or perhaps they did.

In any case, once the wooing phase was over, much of what was written in the letters was irrelevant and we used to quote lines of songs to each other. I was content to sit and bask in her radiance. Somehow I assumed that she could read my mind - and I never asked her anything.

What I didn't realise was that my starstruck stunned stares communicated nothing. I probably just looked like a frightened rabbit.

Financial Matters
Contrary to what our popular soapies suggest, we don't have cafe's filled with teenagers everywhere. Usually, McDonalds is the best you can manage. I used to take my sweetheart to McDonalds every Thursday after sport. I'd buy us a chocolate thickshake each. They were quite expensive and ate up two thirds of my allowance leaving only a couple of dollars for my developing book collecting habit.

Back then (and even now), I visit many of my potential purchases several times before buying while I save up the money. Often I would hide my intended purchase within the bookshop to prevent other people from buying it. Sometimes, it would disappear before I'd saved the required money. I lost a lot of good books in those years.

Although I was older than my girlfriend, I didn't have a job. I'd tried but in those days, checkout chicks were really "chicks". Generally, no men allowed. It was much easier for females to get jobs. My girlfriend had a good job at KFC. I never told her how much it killed me to buy those drinks. She would ask me to take her out to other places but I couldn't. I wanted to take her to the movies but there's no way I could afford it.

I'd been brought up to believe that the male in the relationship should pay for the romantic nights out. Since I couldn't pay, we didn't go. I didn't discuss my reasons - I'd been brought up "well" on that score too. I didn't realise how my refusals and my silence on the matter would affect things.

Ultimately, after a lot of heartache, we broke up. We tried again to rekindle our relationship after school, when we were both working. This time things went a little better. I had money and so we went places, though mainly to the movies (because that's a special interest of mine). My girlfriend suggested some places but I wasn't terribly receptive. I hated the idea of dances and I disliked clubs - relating them to negative childhood experiences.

I never understood that my "knock-backs" were having a negative effect. It might seem like I wasn't sharing, that I was being greedy but I didn't understand at the time how important these little things were. I'd presumed that if she really wanted something, she'd fight for it - the way my mother always had to fight my father for the things she wanted in life (holiday destinations etc).

Stupid Assumptions
I also had a group of male friends. None of them had girlfriends and we used to go out and watch movies together. I presumed that there was an unspoken rule that females were not welcome at our gatherings and I never challenged it. Often, one of them would call to arrange a get-together. I'd accept and make plans without consulting or even informing my girlfriend. She would call later that night but it was a case of first come, first served.

At the time, I didn't understand why this made her so angry.

I also had a tendency not to ring her. Her mother was a bit too scary for my liking (she still is at times) and I preferred not to have to deal with her.

Again, I didn't understand at the time that this was offensive. It made the communication seem "one-way" from her point of view. Now, of course, I can understand. I guess I could have understood then too if only I'd known that I had to stop and look at it from my girlfriend's point of view.

To make matters worse, I would greet her at the door (if she came to my house) and be eager to leave before my parents said something stupid - particularly my mother who had teasing little songs about our relationship. If I went to her house, I'd grudgingly enter and allow her parents to throw snide negative comments in my direction but secretly wished I could leave as soon as possible. I never took any notice of my girlfriends clothes, makeup, perfume or hair. I just wanted HER - and I wanted us to be away from parents as quickly as possible.

Sure, she was gorgeous but the clothes hardly mattered. To me, she was (and is) always beautiful. Such trimmings as makeup and jewellery were akin to sprinkling gold dust on a rose. Maybe they made it glitter but they were unnecessary - they couldn't possibly add beauty in my eyes.

I never mentioned it to her. I'd always been brought up that it was bad to make any sort of comment about anyone's appearance and in true aspie fashion, I took that rule and made it golden. What an idiot I was! Even today, I have huge problems making comments. I try but they always fall flat because I'm fighting my true nature.

Social Blindness
Then there was the matter of flowers, chocolates and gifts. I'd known my girlfriend since she was in year seven at school and she'd never ever expressed any interest in flowers. I didn't figure that she'd suddenly change because I didn't realise that there was a hidden meaning in giving flowers. I just thought that they were dead plants.

Similarly, I didn't present her with chocolate because we were going out. It didn't make sense to rock up at her door with chocolates, let her put them inside for her parents to eat (and they would), then take her out somewhere. I used to buy chocolates at the movies, choc-tops, malteasers etc. I thought it was the same thing... but it wasn't.

Jewellery too was weird. I knew enough to know that you only gave a girl a ring when it was time to get engaged (or so I then thought). The time for Jewellery was Birthdays and Christmases. Unfortunately, my family has a nasty habit of being thrifty at Christmas and getting things based on price rather than suitability. In those days, I did the same. I'd not been brought up to understand anything else.

In the end, my Christmas presents ranged from copperart pieces to craft kits and when they strayed into jewellery territory, it was usually only for earrings or pendants - often silver. I really had no idea what to spend. I'd only just learned the difference between gold and silver but I still had no idea of carats, plating and appropriate pricing. I was so naive in the purchasing of such things that it took me years of training to get it right.

Happy Endings
Somehow my girlfriend saw through to the real me. We still broke up once again and in fact it was only her discussions about her new boyfriend and what made him "special compared to me" that made me understand where I'd been going wrong all those years.

She talked about flowers, about compromise, about love, respect and listening. I listened, I learned, I "became" and she gave me another chance.

I guess that this post makes me sound like a lousy boyfriend - and I was. I was lucky to meet someone who was willing to persevere. It's not something that many aspies manage to find.

The problem is that we all take our limited experiences into new relationships. You can't change people but you can teach them and help them to accept new ideas. Many aspies completely destroy their relationships by simply applying the wrong sets or rules or forgetting to stop and try to see things from a different point of view. It's not easy - I'm still learning myself - but it is important.

If you're in love with an aspie, please don't assume that your aspie is less fond of you than you are of them. Perhaps they don't know how to express it, perhaps they're following the wrong rules or script and perhaps they just don't know what to do. Give them the benefit of doubt. Teach them what they should be doing - you may find that it brings amazing rewards.

If you're an aspie in love, the key to it all is to try and see things from your partner's point of view. They can't read minds, so make sure that you tell them whatever is on yours.

Also, watch some of these romantic movies. I always assumed that they were B.S. but they're not. Often, it's exactly what your partner wants you to say and do. A little romance takes very little effort but can bring great rewards to your relationship.

8 comments:

StatMama said...

I'm an aspie in love. With another aspie. While life (and a highly NT - no other way to explain it - family) taught me much more than the lifestyle my husband grew up in, I also tend to be more receptive to responding to the needs of others. My husband believes things should be a certain way, and when they go against that, he cannot typically respond very appropriately. For example, if I need to talk about something that stresses me, and this is not his way of dealing with his own stress, he will be much less understanding than if he believed that talking was more beneficial. It can make him seem extremely selfish at times, but I truly believe he just does not understand why anyone's needs should differ from his own.

Anyhow, thank you for this post. My husband is the only other aspie I know outside of the blogopshere, so posts like this help me to keep perspective.

Anonymous said...

I have an Aspie son (aged 6). He's newly diagnosed and I'm struggling through my feelings of what to expect in the years ahead. My wife grieves that "he will probably never marry". Thanks for showing that to be an assumption we should not make. Oh, and all guys feel most of your post. "The Five Love Languages" was a real revelation to me in that regard...

Blessed said...

What a beautiful post. My husband of 15 years is an aspie. Now if I could figure out aspie women friends I'd be great.

Lili

Challenger said...

Awkward but beautiful love. This post brought my tears.

Anonymous said...

Gavin,
I found your blog on Sunday and just wanted to say a massive thanks for sharing. My boyfriend of 5 yrs confided to me a few nights ago that he suspects he may have aspergers. At first I was sceptical but I started researching and the similarities are startling. The brutal honesty, lack of "I love you" after 5 yrs and lack of any future planning have been really taking their toll on me lately. Personally I definitely feel he loves me & we get along really well and enjoy being together, but he's very hung up on trying to figure out what love is-I think he thinks he's meant to be feeling something more than what he is. I love him to bits but have this big fear that he'll be just as non-commital in 2 yrs time. Sigh. Thanks again for blogging-it's definitely helped me understand our relationship better. X kelly

Anonymous said...

I'm dearly in love with an Apsie.
I am sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks. My partner in, his own wonky wonderful way, has showed me more love than any other partner.

Songbyrd said...

Two weeks ago I would not have had a reason to be on this blog. But today, after two weeks of digging, researching and reading, I believe I have been in a 6 year+ relationship with an aspie. I love him very much. He's the sweetest man I've ever known. He's gentle, doting, attentive, sensitive, unworldly and passionate. All wonderful qualities. However, I've always wondered where I fit into his life. It's been six years of wondering if he loves me or if he will ever make a commitment. He's just in the past year told me he loved me, but only twice in all this time. My experiences with men is they want a serious relationship fairly quickly. Not my sweet G. He's been confusing, slow to let me know how he feels, shuts down immediately if I try to bring up any conversation about commitment, future or just taking the temperature of the relationship. We never talk about US. It's been the most confusing thing of my entire life. It's made no sense to me until now. He's broken up with me 3 times, most recently a month ago. His adult son has been missing for 5 weeks with no trace, so extremely devastating. He traveled out of town a month ago with his family to speak to authorities about his son. While out of town he sent me an email to break up. Stated he'd thought about it for awhile and listed several things wrong with me. Then stated maybe in 6 months or a year or maybe never he'd consider the relationship again. Also, didn't want any discussion face to face or even hear from me. I was completely blindsided and of course hurt beyond words. He gave me no voice after all those years. All I wanted to do was hold him and offer comfort and support. He wanted to be alone. I would have understood if he had told me he couldn't manage a relationship at this time, but he made it about my shortcomings instead and slammed the door on me. I was so hurt, angry and confused. The anger and confusion have faded now that I feel a light opened my eyes. I have tears too. I love this man dearly. The quirkiness, the social anxiety, the references he makes to himself "I'm boring", his musical genius, his ability to recall details, his high IQ. It all makes so much sense. I feel at some point he'll come back again, and I want nothing more than to understand him better and help him understand me. I want the relationship. Gavin, how do I address the possible aspergers? I don't want to start with a label. I feel the relationship could survive and thrive if the truth is known about this. I feel it could help so much, but I'm so afraid I'd offend him to the point of losing him forever. He's still in touch with me thorugh email. He left the door open for himself. I understand he's going through unspeakable grief and loss. I'm sorry for such a long post. I'm seeking answers. This blog has been amazingly helpful. Thank you.

Gwen said...

I'm also an aspie in love with an aspie. We clicked right away, seemed to understand each other and had our own 'unspoken' language pretty much immediately upon meeting. It may possibly help that we are same-gender (both women) so we both really do see it from the same perspectives.

She was diagnosed before I was. In fact, it was me upset and confused over an argument I'd had with my NT roommate and discussing it with her that she brought up the idea I may be aspie as well. Turns out, based on my evaluation and score results, that I'm even more severely aspie than she is!

I have no doubt a relationship between an NT/Aspie, especially a mixed gender one where the parties don't process/think alike anyway, would be especially difficult. Mine is the safest and most understanding and loving relationship I have. I'm blessed with wonderful friends and family who are patient and understanding but they are all NT and no matter how hard they may try, they just don't understand. She understands instinctively, without explanation. Everyone on Earth deserves that kind of partnership, and I am incredibly blessed to have it.