Ok. I’ve got several drafts written—rabbit holes, really—talking about life and impacts and discovery of Autism Spectrum Disorder/High-Functioning Autism. But today, we sucked right back into the cycle (oh, I’ll talk about the cycle), and I’m just not feeling it. Maybe I’ll back up and start from the beginning-ish.
He and I had a whirlwind relationship. I had been back in the States, staying with my parents in Pennsylvania, after living in Prague for three years. I was hanging out in PA, working and planning my next move—I thought I’d take off for Thailand or Spain next. He was in Pennsylvania, having just returned from two years living in England for work. He was spending a month visiting and staying with his mom and stepfather before heading out to Los Angeles for a new job. We met online, because that’s how I tended to meet everyone back in the day. I didn’t really know or have anyone left in my home town to hang out with, so I went to my old internet stomping grounds to meet people. Within two days of meeting face to face (after a few back and forth messages on the “hedonist” dating/social site), he was asking me to drive to LA with him. I pretended to resist for a few days, since I had just started dating someone else long distance, after all… but if I’m truly honest, I always knew it would be him.
This whirlwind thing wasn’t new to me—I’ve always been the impetuous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, try-anything-once, fear-nothing sort of person. I threw myself headlong off a cliff into pretty much every relationship with anyone I was really interested in. (Did I mention I have ADHD? I’m always at one extreme or the other. I’m obsessed or disinterested with nothing in between, whether it’s a language, a hobby, or a person; I’ve never been able to fake interest or stick to things I’m not 150% into.) But my husband is NOT that type of person. A late(ish) bloomer, he dragged himself around in a half-hearted relationship with the woman who became his first wife, and then half-assed it for a few years with the girlfriend after he got divorced… and then he met me. He pursued me so hard, I can’t see how I could have said no, even if I wanted to. (I did not want to say no though, so, ya know.)
I’d always wondered about myself as the “outlier” in his life. If you meet him when he’s “on,” he’ll portray himself as an adventurous risk-taker who’s up for anything. But he is not. He is slow and methodical. Purposeful. A planner. He’s never done anything without thoroughly thinking it through or without it being part of his “grand plan” for life. (This “risk taking” public persona versus the reality was only the first of many realities I’d have trouble reconciling.) Once we realized he has Autism Spectrum Disorder, it suddenly became clear: I’d read something that said (paraphrasing here) men with ASD treat dating and partnerships like a job interview, and while they may date around or engage in pseudo-relationships, once they find the “right candidate,” they stop the search and “hire” that person immediately—someone who can and will help them manage their lives, act as an “executive assistant,” of sorts, who will take on particular caretaking burdens and who is also maternal, strong, and nurturing. (It might be worth mentioning here that various research cites only 5-9% of men with ASD get married.) This absolutely explains why he “had to have me.” His ex-wife and ex-girlfriend were not… well, they weren’t me. I’m not saying that in any sort of bragging way— I’ve always been a helper. I’m a problem solver, I have an uncanny ability to read people and see how situations unfold, I think fast on my feet, and though I’m not particularly fond of “leading,” I’ve always been really, really good at taking charge and getting shit done when it needs to be done.
As for the maternal and nurturing part? In spades. Though thanks to issues from my childhood, I tend to OVER nurture and put far more importance on the lives and well-being of people I care about than myself.
Part of me thinks, “Wow. He only pursued me because he sensed that I’d run his life for him and make him the center of mine.” But other parts of me know it’s so much more than that, and after being resented for my caretaking abilities in other relationships, it’s not such a bad thing to be chosen for them. Also? He and I both know that I am the only person he’s ever known who had the tenacity and awareness to hang in there and figure this shit out. I knew there was something, and I was not about to stop until I solved it.
We’ve realized that his mother was also autistic (and it’s astounding that no one noticed it, because it was pretty severe). Since he grew up with her strict routines and habits while seeing how much it affected her if something caused her to have to deviate from those routines, he always had it in the forefront of his mind that he didn’t want to be bound by routine. He said he always worked hard to make himself do something “different” or deviate from his habits when he could. While we laugh about what he considers “deviating from routine” or “doing something different” versus what I call “different” (I’m a little bit like chaos personified, in my natural state) he did have an awareness of wanting to push his limits. It’s very possible that his conscious effort to break from routines, even in small ways (which are not small to him) have had a lasting, positive affect. But having that awareness, he was also very drawn to my more “carefree” ways.
I moved to LA with him. Long before we knew about the ASD, I’d always characterized the first years as extraordinarily confusing. That’s what I remember most—being confused. I was confused about his reactions to things or how quickly he got frustrated and angry, certain behaviors, and the way his personality would shift whenever we went out and socialized. Once in a while, something would happen when a friend of mine was around, and I’d pull them aside to say something like, “You saw that, right? Did that seem weird or over the top to you?” They’d always say yes. I started dismissing or explaining it by deciding he was a serious type A personality. I’m a curious person, I love to dig into what makes people tick, and being in a relationship with him, I wanted to learn and understand him. But my questions and attempts to understand him always made him anxious and caused him to lash out.
We didn’t have a “normal courtship” period nor the “blissful honeymoon” period that usually comes with a new relationship and living together. (This is something that I’ve actually seen mentioned a few times in different books about relationships with people on the spectrum.) Clearly, we did things differently, but it was more than just the whirlwind-ness of it. Looking back, I realized he pursued me in a practical way. He made his intentions clear, but then I took over and propelled the romance part, so to speak. I am an extremely emotional (more on that later), passionate, physical person who—as I mentioned earlier—does things 250% or not at all. Over the years, he’d reminisce on those first few weeks and all the things we did. We had an exciting first few weeks, it’s true: but the reality is it was me who made it all happen. (Please don’t read any anger or bitterness into that statement. It’s just a statement of fact.) I was excited to share things with him, so I drove us to Philadelphia on multiple occasions. We spent the day at the art museum and, for New Year’s, I took him to a tiny little Italian restaurant in the Italian Market area that was known for it’s opera-student servers and the many mafiosos who had dined there. (The opera students were key. Throughout your meal there, you’d be “interrupted” a couple of times when a server would stand in the middle of the room announcing the name of song they were about to sing. Not just any song, but an aria. Often in Italian or German. It was always exciting to hear your own server do the singing.) When I said I was going to “take him to Victor’s for New Year’s,” he took that very literally. I drove us down to Philly and then paid for our very lavish New Year’s dinner. Including the tip. I was fuming a little bit over that one—his salary was more than double what mine was. But I told myself I was being ridiculous. We had a great time, after all. And why shouldn’t I pay since I had come up with it? I supposed I just expected him to at least pitch in for the tip or to offer to chip in.
I came up with a million things for us to do. Sometimes that meant just sitting in Rittenhouse Square, surprised to find ourselves talking about wanting kids some day. He said he’d never done that before, nor had he ever WANTED to have kids with anyone.
I flew out to LA with him when his month in Pennsylvania was up. I was only staying for a week over Thanksgiving, and during that time, he asked me to just move across the country for him. I said yes, and when the week was up, I flew back to PA and gave notice at work. I didn’t officially move for two months, and during that time, we flew back and forth a handful of times to see each other. I picked him up at the airport once wearing garters and lingerie—when he came out to baggage claim where I was waiting, he barely brushed his lips against mine as he scanned the area to see who was watching. And as we waited for his luggage, I lifted the hem of my dress up to show him what I was wearing underneath. He laughed nervously and said something dismissive as he anxiously looked around. Well, that’s weird, I thought. Maybe he’s just tired. There were several instances of me just doing what I do—being affectionate, being playful, dropping hints of “what’s to come” or being carried away by the hormonal surge of a new relationship and the sexual tension… they all just kind of fell flat. (For the record: this was a huge issue for the first part of our relationship, and it’s quite common for autistics to struggle here—partly because of a lack of interest, partly because sex is very much about going with the flow and “reading” the other person, and partly because of sensory issues. Without doing the “TMI” thing, let’s just say I come on pretty strong in this department, too, and I can see how I can be “intimidating.” But the second part of our relationship—well, I guess we’ve “learned” each other over time, and it is one area of our relationship that does not need to be worked on in any way.)
When we moved in together, that was it. It was as if he accomplished the task of bringing me in, and now… back to the business of life. No “honeymoon period,” no laying in bed for hours on the weekend, excited to just be together. I excused a lot of his behavior with the demands of his job… which allowed his job to take front and center in our lives. His career was everything. And I mean everything—when we eloped a couple years later, it was 150% scheduled around when he felt it was “ok” to take a day or two off of work, since they were in the middle of a crunch period. (Even though we were on a tight schedule, ourselves, because we wanted to do it before my due date—I was 6 months pregnant when we got married, and if he could have somehow dictated when my son was born, he would have!) I put myself on the back burner, and began tip toeing around his anxiety, his work, his stress, his being tired, his family drama, his need to “network,” and the fact that he tended to get really upset or spin out if I attempted to get him to talk to me in any sort of real way. I had always been really social and loved to talk to people, but his way of socializing—which I now recognize as one of the “characters” he put on as a coping mechanism—kept me shrinking and quiet in the corner.
Hold up. You’re wondering what the appeal was now or why I stayed? I’ll talk about the infamous cycle in a later post. But the quick summary is that: it wasn’t all bad. Not at all. There were moments where I could see the “real” him (I just didn’t know that’s what it was at the time). I also, because of my own history, took responsibility for all the “bad.” I kept thinking, Here I go again, and thought that if I could just stop doing x, y, or z, it would all be ok. I was raised to believe that I was always the problem.
We connected in many ways, but we were emotionally out of sync a lot of the time. There was a part of me that always sensed there was a huge piece of the puzzle missing, and I knew it was the key to finding more consistency and making the swings from good to bad and back again less extreme. Since we’ve discovered the ASD, there’s been a HUGE improvement in our relationship. The good moments have increased dramatically, we’ve had more conversations and moments of connection in the last couple months than we have in years, and we move on from big blow ups much quicker. After some other things came out a few years ago, he’s made giant strides in prioritizing family over work. Mostly, it was just wildly inconsistent. But also, wildly extreme. The bad was bad. But the good was really, really good.