Skip to main content

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.


Stat Mama 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...
Anonymous 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.

無産階級 said…
Awkward but beautiful love. This post brought my tears.
Anonymous said…
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.
Anonymous said…
Great post on sudden withdrawn of Asperger in a relationship.
Out of many good points you mentioned, social blindness and/or lack of theory of mind come in my mind as a cause of sudden withdrawn.

It seems for many Aspergers, its difficult to imagine or aware that their behavior, in this case a sudden withdrawn in a relationship, can hurts his or her partner tremendously. Particularly many Aspergers are caught up with own needs or fixated with a rule they are familiar, built a wall or harness to prevent them to look their behavior in others' view point.

Also, I notice some aspergers freeze when they face an unfamiliar problem, and choose to do nothing about it even thought they might (I have to emphasis the "might") wish to solve the problem.

KAW said…
I have been in love with a man who is obviously on the spectrum, has not declared this to me and really struggles with maintaining relationships. He has panic attacks every time we get a bit closer, then starts some silly argument as an excuse to put the breaks on our courtship. This roller coaster has been going on now for almost 4 years. It is very obvious to me that he likes me a lot, he just can't take the next step, no matter how easy I make it for him. He usually turns up again out of the blue like nothing has happened and then it starts all over again. I feel really sad for both of us, we are older and finding someone you really like and care about at this stage of life is amazing, but to just stagnate and waste time is frustratingly sad! I hope he eventually get the courage to proceed.
Dom's Mom said…
@KAW same, but its only been 2 1/2 years although its tough to put an exact time to our relationship. The first year was only seeing him once a month. The second year bumped to every two weeks, then once a week to twice a week then BAM for a month of silence. Patience seems to be the main catalyst through dealing with the silence, but it is so difficult because I never know if I should contInue to text through his radio silence. I like how you said "It is very obvious he likes me a lot". I have yet to get an I love you, but I know he cares about me. Every single dating book including "He's Just Not That Into You" goes against the rules regarding a relationship with an asperger's man. The thing that gets me through every day and why I continue with this man is for all the amazing things I learn about myself through him and our interactions. I'm not ready to throw in the towel, but I sure test the limit.
KAW said…
Hi and thanks for sharing! Last time we saw each other he said “I wish everyone would just leave me alone!” He was clearly having a very low patch and had been spending spare time running, like Forrest Gump. I told him I was sad that I missed him and he stopped and had a think about that and said “ please give me space, I will come to you when I’m ready to! And promised this. So now I just respect he’s wishes and become the lady in waiting again.
Lizzie said…
I'm not and my bf of 3mths fits AS to a T. I took 2 AS online tests as myself to use as a control and I came up low spectrum AS but when I very loosely applied his characteristics to the tests;(meaning that even if he strongly exhibited a behaviour;I choose a medium option on the test);...his scoring turned out to be the max limit of points. So,every single post by a NT here fits my experience as if I have just written all of the posts myself but have no recollection of writing them..or,rather,the some posts seem to b my identical truth at the stage of the relationship I'm at currently;others seem as if they will be my story as well in the future. The only hope I can see;is if I can figure out how to bring up the topic of AS and then ask him to b evaluated if he has never heard of it or been diagnosed. I understand a dx is not a solution in itself;but it would help both of us,whether we stay together or not: If he understands that he has AS,then he may b more susceptible to trying to consider that my issues may be valid bc my thought process different from his;...just as I would benefit from understanding which of his characteristics may b attributed to AS,and then maybe we can go to therapy in order to learn how to effectively communicate,in order for our relationship to not deteriorate further. I realize there's a huge risk that approaching him with a suggestion about AS,could in itself terminate the relationship but I'm so worn out at this point with holding my breath worried he will just suddenly detach completely...since I've already seen previews of that kind of behaviour. I'm from an emotionally and physically,sexually,abuse childhood,have low self esteem again since one month into this relationshiprat 51yrs old have now expetienced for the first time in my life;being rejected sexually, not once,but 3X!!!! within 2weeks! my feelings are easily hurt but don't feel enough worth about myself,n order to give my own feelings validation. I've actually found a local Meetup in Atlanta on Meetup dot com, it's a free national website)for NT partners of AS people.

Popular posts from this blog

Why Do Aspies Suddenly Back-Off in Relationships? (Part 1)

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is why an aspie (or suspected aspie) suddenly goes "cold" and backs off on an otherwise good relationship. It's a difficult question and the answers would vary considerably from one person to another and would depend greatly on the circumstances. Nevertheless, I'll try to point out some possibilities. Negative Reasons I generally like to stay positive on this blog and assume that people are not necessarily "evil" but simply misguided. Unfortunately, I do have to acknowledge that there are some people out there who take advantage of others. I read a book a few years ago on "sociopaths in the workplace" and I was stunned by the figures. They suggested that sociopaths were so common that most workplaces (small business) had at least one or two. The fact is that there are lots of people out there who really feel very little for others and who are very manipulative. I'd like to say that aspies aren

Aspie Myths - "He Won't Miss Me"

I apologise for the excessive "male-orientated" viewpoint in this post. I tried to keep it neutral but somehow, it just works better when explained from a male viewpoint. Here's a phrase that I've seen repeated throughout the comments on this blog on several occasions; "I know that he won't miss me when I'm gone because he's aspie" Today, we're going to (try to) bust that myth; Individuals I'll start off with a reminder that everyone is an individual. If all aspies were completely alike and predictible, they'd be a stereotype but they're not. Each is shaped by their background, their upbringing, their beliefs and their local customs. An aspie who grew up with loud abusive parents has a reasonable chance of becoming loud and abusive themselves because in some cases, that's all they know. That's how they think adults are supposed to behave. In other cases, aspies who grew up in those circumstances do a complete about-fa

Time Management on the Autism Spectrum

One of the things that people on the spectrum do really poorly is manage their own time. This is because people with autism often suffer from poor executive functioning.  They have difficulty planning out their day or estimating how long a task will take. They're also very easily distracted.  Time management is a critical skill, particularly after your child had left school and is expected to take charge of their own day. In this post, I want to look at some of the reasons why time management fails and some of the changes we can make to train ourselves to be better at it. Who Manages Your Time? In your formative years, you do very little time management and it's usually your parents who set alarms and cajole you out of bed, harass you into getting dressed, slog through the breakfast routine, push you into the car and drop you off at school. Once at school, you're at the mercy of the timetable but apart from getting the right books to the right classes on time,