Aspergers and Relationships

This is the first time I have written about my relationship on my blog. It is a private part of my life and I checked with my boyfriend, out of courtesy, whether he was happy with me writing about our relationship on here. I feel that I have discussed many other topics on this blog and I feel that covering the topic of Aspergers and relationships would be beneficial to a lot of my readers so the time has come to address this area.

My boyfriend and I have been together for almost five years-our anniversary is on Monday. We met at work while both signing a petition against a rent increase in the hostel where we both lived at the time (I still live there-he moved out when he left the organisation). Unusually for me, I felt able to speak to him with ease the first time I met him-usually I have to get to know people first to feel comfortable with them. The first evening we met, we spoke for two and a half hours before we went our separate ways. Ten minutes later, a note was slid under my door which read “Let’s keep in touch” followed by his mobile phone number. The rest, as they say, is history. Our first date was a couple of days later and we have been together ever since.

Prior to our relationship, I never thought I would be successful in the area of romantic relationships. I was a late starter in this area compared to my peers. In fact, my current boyfriend is my first serious boyfriend and I was twenty two when we got together. My failure to find love at an earlier age caused me great distress when I was single. I used to be incredibly self pitying which, looking back now, is cringe worthy. I saw everyone around me finding girlfriends and boyfriends with ease and I wondered what it was about me that made this an impossibility. The more anguished I got about my lack of a relationship, the less attractive a relationship with me probably seemed to any outsider observing the way I behaved. University was a phase of my life where I often felt depressed anyway-the lack of a man to share that with just made things worse. I was unbelievably happy when I met my boyfriend and could finally settle down with someone.

I am going to be brutally honest here and admit that Aspergers does add an extra layer of complication to our relationship (my boyfriend does not have AS). Reading non verbal communication has never been one of my strong points so I have to work twice as hard as most people to pick up the subtle signals from my partner. I am often naive to social context and don’t pick things up which are usually obvious to everyone else, such as the social nicety of typing both of our names in a text to let my family know that we have arrived safely in our holiday destination. I will type “I have arrived safely” because, in my mind, my family know that the two of us are travelling together so should automatically know that, if I have arrived safely, he will have arrived safely too. I guess that’s where the whole theory of mind thing lets me down. It took me a while to realise that I should include both of us in the text and I still do sometimes forget. It’s like my brain automatically writes “I” without thinking to add my boyfriend’s name too. Like any couple, we have our differences and these can be difficult for the other to comprehend. He has said to me in the past, “Every time I think I understand you, you do something else which makes me realise I still have so far to go to understand you”. I don’t think that Aspergers has affected our relationship in a negative sense-I just feel that it is an area which means that we both have to work slightly harder at our relationship than a lot of couples. It is hard for me to understand how he thinks a lot of the time and it is equally as hard for him to understand how I think but we work through it and have a lot of fun and good times too. I appreciate our relationship every day and I appreciate how hard he has worked at understanding the way my mind works. I know that there are aspects of my condition that make me far from the ideal partner-when I am tired, my tolerance for social interaction drops to the extent that I can’t even manage our daily phone call and will just send a quick text saying “Good Night” instead, and I like my own space a lot too. However, I believe, and I’m sure he will back me up on this, that there are also aspects of my Aspergers that make me a pretty good girlfriend to have, such as my strong sense of loyalty to those who are dearest to me and my strong sense of justice. I like to live by the rules because it’s the right thing to do and that means that I always treat him fairly and the way that I would want to be treated. In more humorous ways, I am a cheap date as I don’t drink (the AS made me totally immune to peer pressure at university and, as I have hated the taste of almost every alcoholic drink I have ever tried, I have remained teetotal since the age of sixteen when I got tipsy on half a bottle of Bacardi Breezer-I am obviously a real lightweight which is another reason for me to avoid drinking) and my attention to detail means I am also a very efficient proof reader of the documents he asks me to look over on a fairly regular basis.

I have met a lot of people with Aspergers, particularly in online forums, who believe that people with Aspergers would be best off dating and seeking relationships with other people with Aspergers. I have mixed views on this. I think, on occasions, it works brilliantly and there are lots of couples where both people have Aspergers who are very happy together. It must be a relief to have a partner who has a deeper understanding of how your mind works without having to explain why this is. However, I think there are also many potential pitfalls that not everyone thinks about. Firstly, I think, for me personally, if I was single and on the look out for a potential partner, some Aspergers traits, for me, would be intolerable to live with. I know that this sounds harsh but, despite being an obsessive person myself, I don’t tolerate other people’s obsessions well if I have no interest in them. If we had our own separate spaces to pursue our obsessive interests in peace, it could work but otherwise I think I would become very stressed very quickly. Also, there is no guarantee that, just because you both have Aspergers, you’re going to be compatible, which is something I think a lot of people forget. A lot of people with Aspergers have strong characters and are very strong willed which means that, quite often, they can wind each other up. I also think that, for me, I need someone without Aspergers to keep me calm. I am a naturally anxious person and I think a lot of people on the spectrum have their own issues with anxiety which can make it hard, in my experience, for them to be able to view another person’s anxiety objectively and deal with it calmly. I am also fairly stubborn-once I have something set in my mind, there’s no shifting it. My partner will often agree to disagree in cases where we have differences of opinion but I can imagine, if I was in a relationship with someone whose characteristics of Aspergers were similar to mine, our differences of opinion would be loudly debated over and over again because neither of us would be willing to back down. I know, of course, that there are people with Aspergers who are introverted and quiet and a relationship with someone like this may have worked well for me if I was still single now.

I am not saying that those of us with Aspergers make difficult partners and that dating us is impossible-that is not true. What I am saying is that, for some of us, including me, relationships work better with people who are not on the spectrum because of the fact that they tend to be a lot more socially aware (my boyfriend is amazing at reading non verbal communication and reading context) and so provide the ideal support for our bad days and are able to talk us through why social situations go wrong sometimes. I am not saying that a relationship between two people on the spectrum would be doomed to failure-that would be foolish to assert because there are many successful relationships where both of the partners are on the spectrum. I would not be averse to a relationship with someone with Aspergers if I was still single-all I am saying is it shouldn’t be assumed that a relationship with someone else with AS will work because you both have AS-you need to be compatible together too. I have a low tolerance level for a lot of minor personality traits and this is something I am working on so that I can tolerate more personality types. I am never nasty to anyone I can’t tolerate-I just get incredibly stressed and flustered around them because they trigger me all the time. If I was in a relationship with someone who had an equally low tolerance of certain traits, I can envision a lonely life ahead. Luckily my boyfriend can pretty much talk to and interact with everyone he meets, an ability that I envy but that I know is necessary in life and so I am happy that he is blessed in this way.

A lot of people with Aspergers find making and keeping relationships difficult. For most people, it does get easier in time. Maybe I have watched too many soppy movies but I genuinely believe that there is the right person out there for everyone. I don’t mean an instant soul mate-a lot of couples are incompatible in some ways but I mean meeting the right person who is willing to work through the issues and we must also work through the issues. Yes, Aspergers makes it extremely difficult to get it right, socially speaking, and we can make embarrassing mistakes but we need to try and meet our partners half way, metaphorically speaking. It is hard for us to understand how someone who isn’t on the spectrum thinks and sees the world but it is just as hard for them to understand the way an individual on the spectrum sees the world. All we can do is try and educate each other. Sometimes it won’t work and the couple are just too incompatible to remain together but eventually you will find your ideal partner. All relationships need working at as that’s what needs to be done if you want to hold on to that special person in your life-Aspergers might make that work a bit harder but, if both partners love each other and are determined, it will work out in the end. There will be someone out there who doesn’t get fazed by the social mistakes or the need for a quiet place to destress or the fact that our ability to read non verbal communication isn’t too brilliant. There will be people out there that fall in love with our honesty and loyalty, even if we find it hard to verbalise our emotions. I love my partner so, so much and I feel truly blessed to have him in my life. It’s not always easy but ours is a relationship worth working for. We work hard at it together and appreciate each other deeply. It should be remembered that it is better being alone than being in the wrong relationship. There are some people out there in relationships with people with Aspergers who moan constantly about how embarrassing their partner is and how much hard work they are. I am lucky that my boyfriend does not see me in this way. Nobody is forcing anybody to be in a relationship with someone with AS-surely, if you loved them enough to enter a relationship with them, you love them enough to appreciate their Aspergers. Playing the martyr is not helpful. I am very aware of how difficult Aspergers can be in a relationship but keeping the relationship going should be a mutual effort. A lot of people with Aspergers do desire romantic relationships and, with the right people who are willing to get to know us for who we truly are, we do make good partners. We all just need to give each other a chance.