Saturday, June 11, 2016

Why do People with Asperger's Syndrome find it so difficult to Say "I Love You"

It's not uncommon for people, males in particular, to have major difficulties with the words “I love you” but in neurotypical (normal) males, this tends to be related to a commitment issue rather than a problem with the concept of love. 

People on the autism spectrum, particularly those with Asperger’s syndrome have rather different problems with the words both in terms of honesty and understanding.

Honesty

People with Asperger's are often meticulously honest. That's to say that they go out of their way to be honest about things, even when honesty really isn't the best policy.

It's not that people with Asperger's cannot lie but simply that many, not all, feel very uncomfortable about lying.

If you ask a neurotypical person if they love you, you’ll generally get a “yes” response (if they're going to give you one), immediately - even if they don't actually "love you".

This is because a neurotypical person is fairly comfortable with the concept of love if they DO love you -- or they're comfortable with lying if they DON’T.

A neurotypical person will understand that a “yes” answer is their best chance of manipulating their partners into something, usually sex or money.

A person with Asperger's however won't usually lie to protect your feelings or to manipulate you. It's not that people with Asperger's are “Good people by definition”, just that they usually lack non-verbal communication skills to manipulate anyone.

A person with Asperger's will tend to give a "no" or an indefinite answer if they're struggling with definitions (ie: if they really don't know) - or they'll give an honest answer even if it means that they lose certain privileges on offer.

Definitions 

As people get older and more “worldly”, social customs start to become second nature.

If you approach a well-integrated but "unwell" person with Asperger's and ask "How are you?" and "Are you sick?" You'll get the correct contradictory answers of "fine" and "yes". These answers are of course, quite silly.  After all, how can you be "fine" but still be "unwell".  It's a social thing.

If you ask a younger person with less social integration, they'll often respond to the first question with a statement of Ill health.

The same goes for "I love you".

Older and more experienced adults with Asperger's are better equipped to answer the question while younger, less experienced people with Asperger's will struggle.

Unless you're very familiar with the feeling of "love", it's very hard to be entirely certain that you're "in it". It's kind of like showing someone something turquoise and asking them if it's blue. They know that it's similar but they're not ready to say that it's the same thing.

It doesn't help that cartoons lead young people to assume that they'll see love-hearts in people's eyes or a heart shape jumping out of your own chest.

It's not that people with asperger's believe in the silly literalisms of cartoons, it's just that cartoons and books and movies make it seem that you'll know for absolute certain when you're in love.

As a result, a person who thinks in "black and white" rather than shades of grey will doubt that they are in love because they don't KNOW for certain.

A person with Asperger's will often slip into a major pause when asked if they love you. This doesn't mean that they don't or that they're looking for an excuse. It could mean that they're being totally honest and that they simply don't know.

Perception 

Many years ago, my wife and I did some counselling sessions. I can still remember the thing that shocked me the most. It was when the counsellor asked us each what we thought love was.

I described it as being when a person looks at you and smiles in such a way that it feels like a warm summer's day. When that warmth is so tangible and so precious that you feel like could stay there forever. I went on with a few other descriptions, all of which I believe in today as much as I did back then.

For me that's what love feels like. It means that on days when I love my wife. I absolutely love her with all of my being.  It also means that there are days when I don't love her.  It's not that I ever stop loving her really, it's just that on some days, when I'm tired or when she's angry, that warm sunshine feeling just isn't there. 

I was heartbroken when my wife answered the same question with statements about what her lover does for her. Her answers felt "material" to me. Our perceptions of love couldn't be further apart.

It was a long time, years actually, before I understood that important lesson. Love isn't something that is defined externally. We all have our own perfectly valid definitions of love. It's very much an individual thing - even for a couple.

Is it any wonder then that some people have more trouble with the concept of love than others? You're comparing abstract concepts like the feeling of a sunset with solid ones like "he brings me flowers".

No two people are going to be totally in agreement as to what love is - and that means that their agreement (that they love each other) isn't necessarily going to be balanced either.  It's not wrong... it's just the way things are. 

As a result, your lover with Asperger's may love you as much (perhaps even more) than you love them but they may still not use the words "I Love You" because they're not sure if they're supposed to be feeling something different.

Sometimes words aren't the most important thing. 

4 comments:

Cri said...

Thank you for this post! :)

Near Captain said...

Greetings!
Thank you for sharing.
Today I was just starting to write down some notes about my last relationship and how my - by that time undiagnosed - Asperger-Syndrome must have, well, "affected" this part oft my life, too.

I hope, I find the time to read your thoughts :-)

With best wishes from a wrong steamship

Selena L'Estrange said...

What about an Aspie guy who overdoes the "I love you"....

Anonymous said...

In my case my significant other's bewilderment about what "love" is has been intensified by the fact that I am much older than he is, so I don't fit the script for a conventionally appropriate partner in a love affair or relationship. This is not a church marriage to a stay-at-home wife and mother. Yet he courted me, initially, because he clearly wanted a partner. Having gotten me emotionally involved, he doesn't quite know how to think about or identify the actual rather intense relationship we have.