HOW WE CAME TO BE… A DISASTER
WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!
THIS IS LONG. I don’t mean the sort of long that I have apologized for in the past either, this one is going to take a couple cups of coffee to get through! Unless you are seriously intrigued by the post WHO ARE WE (Part 1) and want to know how we came to the place of an unhappily married Aspie/NT couple (inspiring the change that turned it around) you should avoid this post.
I think it is important to share this glimpse into our lives to be able to fill the gaps of how we first became infatuated and then fell in love with one another; only to find ourselves equally paralyzed in the middle of a shit-storm we could NOT find our way out of.
While this is about our personal journey, you may find yourself reflecting on your own relationship and identifying similar behaviors, thoughts, and actions from your own past. You already know how the shit-storm ended for us (or if not, please keep reading my posts), so if you are not that into reading about another person’s story… you definitely want to click out of this immediately.
If you have found the end of the internet and got nothing left to read: give it a whirl.
You probably have to begin with part 1 to make sense of where I pick up in this story…
JUST LIKE MAGNETS
When John and I first came together we had a magnetic force that sucked us right into one another the moment we got close. Within six months of him moving down to Florida, it felt like the magnetic force that once drew us together was propelling us further apart. The harder I tried to close the gap, the stronger I felt resistance. It became clear to me that one of those magnets would need to turn over if we were going to ever become close again.
I assumed he was the one who needed to do the flipping. At the time, I had every reason to believe this.
SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG
I knew pretty early on that there was something inherently different about John, but I could never quite place it. Honestly, I never wanted to in those early days. John kept me sane and alleviated the grief I was going through (or helped me avoid it) and I did not want that to end. I was too afraid to risk losing the man I needed that I knowingly refused to dig any deeper than the surface of why he appeared to be hiding a whole lot about himself.
I knew that his explanations of his “work” in Michigan (prior to moving in with me in Florida) did not add up, I knew that his dismissive responses to questions about previous relationships were suspicious, and I also knew that a ton of other things he had given me short or contradicting responses to about his past did not make sense. The problem was, I needed John so much (or I would surely be swallowed by suppressed grief) that I was too fearful I would uncover something that would make me want to leave him. That fear caused me to never grill him when he gave me short answers or attempt to point out inconsistencies in things he said.
THE “HOLY SHIT” MOMENT
I still believe the moment I finally began to pull the wool back from my eyes came in the form of an acute bout of gastrointestinal distress. John and I had only been living together for a few months when one morning, out of nowhere (while sitting in a class for nursing school), I began to feel queasy. I excused myself to the bathroom and began to vomit like a scene from The Exorcist. It felt like the plague had just hit me. I sent John text messages telling him I was sick and wanted to come home. He suggested I stick it out because I had an important test I needed to take notes for (I thought this was insensitive). After telling him I thought I was dying, I reluctantly drove myself all the way across town (stopping to vomit on the side of the road) in a distressed scurry to my condo. I recall wanting to ask John to come and get me, but never spoke those words aloud… despite not telling him what I wanted, I still found myself angry and hurt he did not respond, “You are in no condition to drive baby, I will come get you.” When I finally made it home, John was lying in bed watching television. I plopped down beside him (after vomiting again) and began to whine like a pathetically ill puppy.
When it comes to being in pain, I am the toughest of the tough. I even walked on an injured ankle for 10 months through my first nursing program to later discover over half of my talus bone (weight-bearing bone in your ankle) was literally rotten (necrotic) and the decaying tissue had to be surgically removed. When it comes to being nauseated however, I am the biggest baby who ever existed. I want to be coddled and I want someone by my side to rub my head and tell me I am not going to die until I fall asleep.
When I fell into bed that afternoon, John immediately jumped up with his hands in the air as though he were telling someone to stop before they drove off a cliff… and said, “You’re sick, don’t touch me!” I begged him to lay down beside me repeating, “I’m so sick, please stay with me, I need you or I am going to die.” John replied, “You’re not gonna die” and then got dressed and walked directly out of the bedroom. I heard the front door shut and after wondering where he had gone (maybe out to smoke?) I realized his cell phone was still on the nightstand. I was too sick to chase after him and had no idea why he just abandoned me when I needed him so desperately. I was feeling pretty unloved on top of the sickness, but eventually fell asleep.
About an hour after he left I was awakened by the front door. John walked into the doorway of our bedroom, threw a few bottles of Gatorade at me, reached in the room (without moving his legs), turned the television on and said, “Drink that, you need to hydrate, watch some tv and you’ll feel better.” With that, he closed the bedroom door and I did not see him again until the evening. The minute he closed my bedroom door that afternoon, after begging him to stay by my side, I thought to myself, “Who does that?!?!?”
My next thought was: “HOLY SHIT, I think I am living with a psychopath!”
It was in that moment that I first considered my boyfriend was a sociopath. Every single action that seemed “off” to me in the months we had been living together began to replay in my mind. All of the things that caused me to have an odd feeling that something was different about him began to set off alarm bells that I could no longer ignore. This moment began a horrific downward spiral of fear and a constant questioning of his actions, words, motives, and intentions in every day that followed (for years).
Later that night when I finally stopped vomiting and was beginning to feel better, I asked John why he left me after I had pleaded with him to stay. I was prepared to analyze his response and catch his sociopathic-self in action. John responded, “You were sick. Staying with you wouldn’t make you better, it would only get me sick. There is no point in both of us being sick. I got you stuff to get better.”
I rolled over (angry) and went to sleep for the night.
I never spoke of that again until right now.
As I write this, John’s response to me (now) makes perfect sense. I did not describe to him why I wanted him to stay by my side that afternoon. I didn’t tell him that when I was a little girl and got sick like that, I would lay on my father’s stomach and he would rub my head until I fell asleep. I didn’t tell him that my father always made me feel safe when I was afraid and that when I get nauseous, I feel afraid. I did not vocalize that even as an adult, I want the man in my life to respond the way my father did when I was little. I didn’t tell him that if he had done that, I would have felt safe and loved or that I would have preferred that action to his chosen treatment option (which actually did make me better). I didn’t give him the chance to tell me that when he is sick like I was, he doesn’t want anyone to touch him; that all he wants to do is drink fluids and distract himself with television. I did not realize at the time that John responded to my illness the way he would have wanted to be treated.
TREAT PEOPLE THE WAY YOU WANT TO BE TREATED!
Isn’t that what we repeat over and over again to our children when we are trying to teach them to act compassionately? I could not see back then that my boyfriend behaved in the most compassionate way he could for his sick girlfriend and he did exactly what he was told to do when you want to show someone you love them. I had no clue what Asperger’s syndrome was and zero knowledge on how John’s perceptions altered from my own.
How could I have known that he would never pick up on my inner thoughts and feelings unless I explicitly stated them?
Despite John treating me in the most compassionate way he knew how to during my acute illness, I perceived the polar opposite. On my bed that evening, I did not have the wherewithal to realize my boyfriend was trying to treat me in a loving way and take care of me. I thought John’s response was cold, selfish, and completely indifferent to my feelings. In my mind, his rationale for leaving my side when I needed him was the reply of a man who had no empathy. The only humans I knew of that lacked empathy WERE PSYCHOPATHS.
LET THE WALL CONSTRUCTION COMMENCE
Around the six-month mark of our life as a couple in Florida, the fun times that brought us together stopped being so fun. I was beginning to think I made a terrible mistake with John and I was over-analyzing ALL of his behaviors as that of a potential sociopath (I had him under a very unfair microscope looking back). I was going to nursing school full time and was inadvertently forced to take a part time nursing job (I was already a licensed nurse going to school for an advanced degree) because we had moved into a condo we could not afford (on his urging) on my pay alone and John did not appear motivated to look for work. He always had an excuse for why he couldn’t get a job, like pointing out that we would never see one another if he worked full time during the day (I took evening classes) and I would make three times as much as him working part time than he could ever make (in Florida) working full time. He also pointed out that my evening school hours would prevent him from transporting my daughter to/from school and her after-school martial arts program. The condo we moved to was across town from the school she was zoned for previously, so he seemed to have a logical argument with that one… but I still resented him for not working every time I had to awaken for school, tired from working the previous night.
My parents (and older sister) had been exceptionally amazing with my daughter “B” before John moved in. They went out of their way to work around my schedule and pick her up from school and after-school programs. They would keep her with them for long hours when I worked and were always graciously there to assist me in navigating the challenges of being a single parent. Now that there was a perfectly functioning adult living with us who could share the adult responsibilities I had, they were not as inclined to offer their assistance. This was predominantly because they resented the additional stress John seemed to place on my already-chaotic life.
My family had been incredibly apprehensive of John shortly after we deemed ourselves a couple. They were understandably concerned about our fast decision to live together as well. In an attempt to not upset their already emotionally fragile daughter (in the wake of her grief for having the “love of her life” commit suicide), while also treading lightly to not compromise their ability to see their granddaughter/niece as often as they wanted… they tried their best to limit their full opinion about John and us (out loud anyway). With exceptionally keen cognitive empathy, I had little difficulty seeing through their hidden comments, questions, and nonverbal communication and I knew exactly how they felt about him. With this air of displeasure in my choices lingering, I began to alienate myself from the family I had desperately clung to for support only months earlier.
Soon, every aspect of my life began to feel like a heavy brick to carry. Being financially maxed out and having to get a job: brick. Being a full time nursing student with weekly exams and taxing clinical rotations: brick. Being far away from my daughter’s school and 30 minutes from everything that was once nearby: brick. My boyfriend being emotionally cold and closed off: brick. My boyfriend not working: brick. My boyfriend not helping out around the house very often: brick. My constant worry about my daughter’s emotional well-being: brick. The unspoken tension with my family: brick. My unresolved guilt, anger, and paralyzing grief over Jeff’s death: abnormally heavy pile of bricks.
Not wanting to carry the weight of all these bricks around daily, I began placing them at my feet. I had begun building an imaginary wall around myself that would prove problematic in removing over the years that followed.
ISOLATION FROM FAMILY AND FRIENDS… CHECK
Everyone is quick to point out that their Asperger husband caused them to alienate themselves from the family and friends they had previously been close to. They talk about this so often that it is one of the reasons neurotypical wives blame their Aspie spouse for destroying the life they used to have. I resented John for the same thing within a year of living together and it has only become obvious (in the last nine months) that I needed to begin placing the blame where it rightfully belonged; on myself.
It was never John’s fault I withdrew from my previous life.
I knew I had ignored warning signs about John when our love was first developing, but I began to blame him for my choice to do so. I knew I had consciously avoided learning who he “really was” before allowing him to move in with myself and child, but I began to identify this as John’s fault as well. I felt guilty that I had not been more cautious before proceeding in our cohabitation (as a mother) and I did not want my family to know I felt this way or had my own concerns about the man living with me. The last thing I wanted was to be told I was a bad mother or was not putting my daughter’s best interest above my own (but damn if I wasn’t starting to consider that myself). In the early days of our courtship, I had rapidly admonished anyone who began to vocalize concerns about John to make them stop talking about something I did not want to acknowledge myself. I shut them up so many times when I was in my state of ignorant bliss that my pride would not allow me to admit to my family that I was becoming equally nervous I may have made a huge mistake.
I did not realize it at the time, but I still had so much underlying bitterness tucked inside of me toward my family for the times I tried to scream out that my first husband (Jeff) wasn’t “well” but my fears fell on deaf ears. I tried for so long to tell people (Jeff’s parents and my family) that I was afraid he would hurt himself, or that he needed help… but felt entirely ignored by everyone around me. Jeff always appeared to be so happy (manic) and made everyone laugh; he was such a smiling goofball that the private life I experienced, whereby he was depressed and locking himself in the bedroom with a gun in his hand… no one else could believe. No one else could see that this man was suicidal 3 months out of the year (or I suffered an incredible amount of anxiety and fear trying to keep him alive during those months) so they found it hard to believe the happy-clown they all knew could possibly fall into such periods of darkness. Looking back, I can empathize with why they didn’t buy into my fears… all they saw was an anxious/panic-attack-stricken woman who was separating from her husband one day (for reasons they did not understand) and falling into his arms the next. I never really shared the “details” about why I was so afraid because I didn’t want them to hate Jeff either. All anyone could see in the two of us was a highly emotional and dramatically in-love couple that just needed to “grow up a little,” and everyone thought we would.
By the time John and I came together, I found myself frequently reflecting on all of the times I had vocalized a strong opinion about the man I loved back then, but was told there was nothing wrong with him and I was being “dramatic.” My family (and Jeff’s mother) had also suggested on too many occasions that perhaps I was just imagining things out of paranoia. I kept thinking about how I used to toil with the reality I had in my head about my husband versus the family’s perception of our reality; how that caused me to doubt (and ignore) my own gut feelings about the man I loved for many years. Ultimately, I had to submit that my gut instinct was always right about Jeff when he put a gun in his mouth and removed all doubt (for everyone).
This reflection and subconscious animosity toward those who I felt “failed” me in the past with their incorrect opinions, enabled a breeding ground of stoic defiance when it came to my relationship with John. Every time my family hinted at anything negative or suspicious about John, I solidified my gut instinct that he was an incredible man that I was destined to be with. I refused to consider anyone else’s thoughts about this man that I had fallen in love with, who I believed deep in my core was uniquely perfect for me. The moment someone suggested otherwise, I came at them with some pretty unfair reminders about how they were “wrong once before” and maybe they should stop trying to manipulate me into believing their inaccurate judgements this time around.
Ouch… that guilt-trip had to have hurt them a lot and cause them to not openly disclose how worried they were for my mental health.
I passionately and aggressively defended my relationship with John to everyone around me during the early stages of our union. By the time my own fears about John began to present themselves, I was not willing to concede to the fact that maybe it actually was ME who was wrong this time. The more my family attempted to get their messages across to me, the more I purposely fought to prove John was far more amazing than the man they were seeing on the surface. I became so preemptively defensive about John that my family became even more concerned about my emotional stability and who John actually was.
None of us openly discussed this though… it just lingered in uncomfortable nonverbal messages as each day passed.
All of these unspoken things between my family and I (that we all could see in one another) became this gigantic elephant in the living room each time John and I were with them. Mind you, John had absolutely NO IDEA any of this was going on beneath the surface. The moment we were in one another’s vicinity, I would feel uneasy and anxious. I would be on guard at all times that John might say something inappropriate (as he sometimes did) or something that sounded rude (as he often did). I would panic when he would bury his face in his cell phone through an entire family dinner; looking into his lap in lieu of joining our “playful” dinner conversations. My family (particularly my father) thought this was highly disrespectful and he was not interested in any excuse I made for why John did this (I wasn’t even sure at the time why he did this, or why he continued to do it despite asking him to stop multiple times).
NOW I “GET IT”
My family speaks in tongue. We are the most animated and loud group you could put in a room together. We have our own twisted means of amusing one another that often includes pointing out other people’s flaws to make light of our own (which we are fully aware of). We say mean things to one another in jest, and while we perceive our social gatherings as a time for lighthearted banter, I imagine we create a pretty intimidating environment for outsiders who are unfamiliar with our sarcastic and peculiar humor. My first husband used to say that my father made him feel like he was Ben Stiller in the movie Meet the Fockers (if that gives you an idea of how a neurotypical man perceived his place in my family). Looking back on it now, I can’t believe John ever agreed to return to my family’s home after his first few encounters there. It is astounding he agreed to go back for more even after I told him all of the unspoken things my family were really thinking about him and us. Add to it my constant nagging for him to stop acting “so rude” when he was there and I imagine I must have compounded his social anxieties with my family in a debilitating way.
John must have truly loved me to continue accompanying me to my family’s home back then. Unfortunately… it would take a long time for me to comprehend the strength of character and commitment toward the woman he loved in all of the encounters I found so damning at the time.
NOW, I know that I unintentionally took John into the lion’s den repeatedly and instead of being there to protect him, I made it even more frightening. I kept bringing him into the “Ultimate Aspie Nightmare” each time I took him to one of my family gatherings when we lived in Florida. I forced him into an unfamiliar environment where the social communication was beyond confusing; we spoke loud, rapid, and with hidden meaning in our words. We jumped from subject to subject, appearing angry one moment and laughing the next. We made mean comments about people that only our group could understand (via our nonverbal language with one another) were not mean at all. John could not have known we were being sarcastic or self-deprecating and often meant the opposite of what we were verbally articulating.
For instance, I might say, “Did you see Amanda and her how fat and ugly she got?” My sister might respond, “Oh yeah, what a hideous heifer, she should try to eat healthy like I do!” Only, my sister may have been smiling as she stuffed a piece of cake in her face and the whole family might have known that Amanda just lost fifty pounds and looked amazing. Since John could not neurologically make sense of the nonverbal language we were using and didn’t know my family well, he could not realize we were being ironic in our speech. In a situation similar to that, John might later comment to me that we were really cruel and abnormally judgemental about other people when we got together. I would not be able to make sense of why he did not realize we were actually joking. I never considered that he didn’t understand we were laughing about how our own diet and absent self-control was preventing us from emulating the incredible willpower and dedication to change that Amanda displayed. It never occurred to me that John didn’t realize we weren’t insulting her, we were highlighting how impressed we were with her self-determination. So when John randomly commented that my family was mean, judgemental, or gossipy; I would find myself angry at him for insulting my family. I might even accuse him of being a hypocrite and try to point out what an asshole he could be toward other people. (FYI: Amanda is a made-up person)
Every question John was asked by my family in those early days came at him in an obscure way and he could not keep up with what anyone was saying because he had not learned the underlying way we were using our words. John was able to often identify when his own family said something that sounded judgmental, but knew they were good people and was able to look beyond the choice of words they used in conversation (even if they still baffled him). This bizarre way neurotypicals use sarcasm often causes an Aspie to think that saying “mean” things about people is a way to get others to laugh. Since John never learned the context of “how” we poked fun at others (and that we did not do it in a hateful way), he often tried to do this himself… he just came across like a jerk when he tried it though.
John could not decipher that type of humor, and he certainly could not do it with my family. He did not know who my family members were in the past, so he did not know if they were good people, or kind people, or people he could trust. When my family asked John a question, he answered their question directly. Not knowing they were often asking something different with the words they chose, he would frequently come across as being sarcastic or rude himself (that’s irony right there). Looking back, I cannot imagine how torturous it must have felt to remain in a social gathering with my family. It is no wonder he buried his face in his phone each and every time he sat down for a meal with us.
Oh, how that man must have adored me to continue subjecting himself to that misery over, and over, and over again!
WE WERE SO IGNORANT
During those early days (of course) none of us knew a damn thing about John having Asperger’s syndrome. My oldest sister was the most challenging for John to be around (and vice versa). She was still in a lot of pain over the loss of Jeff (her “brother”) and she did not care for the insertion of John in our lives… at all. My older sister and I had a rocky relationship with one another in the previous two years that was absolved when Jeff died and became strained again when John moved in. She seemed to feel like everyone was betraying Jeff by allowing John to “fill his void” so rapidly, so she egged on a lot of the family’s concerns about John in those early days (even if unintentional and I do not fault her for this).
Around this same time frame my younger sister was dating an incredible man named Michael (now my brother in law) that she had been friends with since they were teenagers. Everyone always loved Michael (who adored my little sister) and we would try to force her to risk their friendship to try dating him. My father was ecstatic when they finally began a relationship, and since it was around the time John and I also got together, there became an unfair comparison of the two men when we were all in a group together (with me doing it the worst). Michael was sweet and gentle; he treated my sister like a queen and went out of his way to earn my parents respect and faith in him. John rarely spoke and never showed those nonverbal acts of regard toward me that suggested he loved or respected me when he was with all of us.
John and Michael got along wonderfully from day #1 and while John felt at ease when Michael was present, I rapidly began to feel the opposite. Michael was someone John could talk to that seemed to like him in the group. He was another outsider to John, who did not realize Michael had been coming around for years before he and my sister became an item. John indicated to me several times that he didn’t feel like such an alien when Michael was there and would often point out that Michael was the only other “normal” one in my family.
I felt exceedingly uncomfortable whenever Michael and John were both around with the rest of the family because I became hypersensitive to everything Michael did to display affection for my sister that John was not doing. I began to develop my own unintentional comparison of the two since my sister and Michael were also two of the only people John and I ever went out with socially. The more Michael treated my sister like the most beautiful gift he had ever been given, the more I became acutely aware and resentful that John did not treat me the same.
As time progressed, I continued to drive a wedge between myself and my family because I didn’t like the way I felt when John and I were with them. I blamed my own choice to alienate myself from them directly on John, who was actually putting himself through hell to be supportive of the relationship we had. The more I pulled away, the more I began to perceive John in an unfairly negative light. It did not take long for me to begin placing expectations on how John should be behaving as my boyfriend and then resenting him when he could not meet them.
John never knew all of these things were going on inside my mind, and while I thought he picked up on my hints, suggestions, and comments about those around us or things I wanted… he missed everything I was trying to tell him. Sometimes I would snap at him and say something mean about how he was a dick and I wish I had someone like my sister did. Since he had no idea what I was emotionally toiling with, or what he was doing “wrong,” a comment like that was unnecessarily cruel and hurtful. Despite my only communication with John about how increasingly resentful I was becoming being expressed by every nonverbal method possible… he never heard a word of it (because I never actually said a word about it!).
As this resentment grew, so too did this nagging thought that he had “tricked” me into this unequal relationship devoid of emotional reciprocity. Despite my brewing anger, I dug my heels in. I was determined to hide the fact that I was a fool who had been duped by this man I thought I loved; I would not allow myself to admit defeat to my family or self.
Deep inside I knew that my ego was causing me to remain in an unhappy relationship that I did not understand, but I had too much stress in my daily life to dive into my own faults and risk a personal collapse. I chose to focus on the tangible flaws John had and things I felt he was doing “wrong” instead. I managed to convince myself that if I could just get him to do A or B, then things would get better. I became preoccupied with the alphabet of failures on John’s behalf that were “fixable” and put forth great effort in making him see them.
THIS DOESN’T FEEL LIKE A PARTNERSHIP!
I had always been a very clean person and kept an impressible tidy home (military habits) so I was put off by how dirty John could be. He was strange in his idea of clean, as our floors (all tile) were always meticulously kept up by him, but our bedroom looked like a bomb exploded day after day. To me, John was sitting at home all day living the good life, not lifting a finger, while I was at work or school. For those of you who do not know, nursing school is work because these students are literally going to hospitals working as a nurse for their clinical rotations while also trying to absorb mass-amounts of information enough to pass weekly exams. I would fight with John over the housework day after day from getting him to fix things, do laundry, or just cleaning up after himself.
What I did not realize at the time, was that I never discussed with John why I wanted things clean and organized (how they reduced my feelings of stress) and I never actually told John directly what I expected him to be doing when I was at work or school. I would just come home and make sarcastic comments like, “I see you were working hard today” while looking directly at a pile of clothes on the floor with a facial expression that indicated I was angry and wanted him to get off his butt and clean immediately.
John did not see my facial expression (he couldn’t) and he did not pick up in the sarcasm of my comment or the tone and pitch by which I said it. A comment like that would just seem like a weird statement that made little sense to him, so instead of bringing up the fact that he did not have a job, he would not investigate what the hell I meant any further. I would assume John knew exactly what I meant by my comment and perceive his lack of action as a purposefully defiant behavior to let me know he was absolutely indifferent to how I felt.
The longer these “missed” messages went on (but I thought that John was getting them) the more hostile I would become until I eventually snapped at him with something nasty. I might tell him he was a selfish, lazy asshole, or suggest that he was using me and obviously didn’t care how I felt about anything. Uncertain where my comments were even originating from, John would respond with such defensiveness and hostility that we could not even discuss a minor issue without a major argument ensuing. No mutual agreements were ever reached between the two of us so they compounded onto one another day after day, month after month.
Sometimes, after a particularly hostile argument, I would come home to one part of the housework I complained about being done while the rest had gone untouched. I could not grasp why he would only do one of the five things that I had been bitching about, so I felt irritated even when he did show some initiative.
John received zero positive reinforcement from me for anything he tried to do to make me happy and therefore… stopped doing anything positive.
Of course, NOW, I realize that whenever John attempted to do something nice for me or our home, I still found a reason to fight with him and tell him he did something else wrong, or it wasn’t “good enough.” Rather than invite another unpredictable fight for unintentionally screwing something else up, John chose to take his chances that I would come home and not be unusually angry with the messy house I walked into. Since the house was dirty when I left (and I didn’t seem mad when I left), it made sense in his mind to not risk a fight by doing “the wrong thing” while I was gone. His bizarre behavior makes sense if one considers that he had no flipping clue what was going to trigger my next breakdown.
Do you think I was able to comprehend this rationalization for his actions back then when I had zero knowledge of Aspergers or cognitive empathy? Not a chance in hell. Even when I did learn about Asperger’s syndrome, it would take many years before the cognitive empathy deficit John had made those actions seem appropriate at the time.
BUT, JOHN WASN’T ALWAYS LAZY… RIGHT?
John drove B to school and picked her up as much as I did, but outside of that, he had no responsibilities at all in his new life. From what I understood about his life before moving to Florida, John had worked in heating and cooling as a day job and had a ton of side jobs he did through word of mouth (refinishing basements, building decks, etc.) whereby he was always busy, and always working hard each day. John was (is) an incredibly talented man and I had seen the things he had built and entire houses he had gutted and transformed into meticulous beauties… yet I could not get him to even hang a curtain in our new home (despite asking repeatedly). I knew he had not lied about his skills and previous accomplishments since his parents and family were quick to point out many things John designed and built independently when we were visiting Michigan with him. I believed he had to have had a job when my first husband lived with him the years prior to our relationship because Jeff used to tell me all about how he wanted to do what John did for work or how he had spent the day at John’s job-site helping him. Jeff used to go on and on about the money John made and even credited John with sending money to me when he couldn’t afford to (to help pay for B’s activities or buy us groceries). Jeff was exceptionally fond of John and envious of his talents and “career” and made no bones about how much he wanted to emulate his best friend.
I could not make sense of how John was this hardworking and talented man before he met me, yet ceased all of these efforts after moving to Florida to be with me. None of his behaviors were adding up; how could this man willingly opt to appear lazy and unmotivated when we had only been together for a little over a year and he had only lived with me for six months?
My common sense told me that any narcissistic or sociopathic man that was trying to manipulate and use a woman, would start out trying to impress her and utilize slow tactics to take advantage of her over time. John appeared to feel no obligation to impress me and even less obligation to address the fact that he wasn’t putting in any effort to do so. His behavior did not fit the characteristics of a manipulative person, nor did it fit into the knowledge I had about his work-history before he moved down. The harder I tried to explain his actions, the more confused I became. I knew something was missing from the real reason he wasn’t working and trying to “man up” the way I had always seen from men in the past and had come to expect in our gender-stereotyped society.
It did not help that my family was constantly picking at me with questions about John’s employment, asking when he was going to get a job, whether or not he was contributing to our life, why he was being lazy, etc. Between my own bewilderment about John’s absent motivation to step up and begin contributing to our life and future financially (and in the home) and my embarrassment every time my family questioned me on this… I found myself angry and frustrated on most days. Since I had no reasonable explanation for how John was behaving, I felt I had no choice but to believe he was purposely trying to take advantage of me, and therefore, must not respect or appreciate me at all.
This ignited a hostile and bitter anger inside of me.
Sadly, I can go back to those days now and feel regretfully sympathetic to what John must have toiled with at the time. He was paralyzed in the ability to initiate the employment process and despite feeling pretty shitty about himself and the role he knew he was supposed to fill… he was far too anxious and insecure to take action and initiate change or progress in his professional life. John had to sit there day after day and pray I would not discover his truths; that I would not realize he was incapable of navigating the social skills required to interview for a job, or establish a working relationship with people he did not know. He had to sit there and pray he would make it through another day without me bashing him for being a “lazy mooch” when he knew that was not what he wanted to be. Unfortunately, he rather I think that about him then tell me the truth about his limitations or discover he wasn’t “normal” and leave him. It is not lost on me (now) that John didn’t know “what was wrong with him” at the time either; he had failed to find an explanation for the social difficulties he had throughout his entire life… so how could he begin to explain them to me in a way that would not make me want to haul ass?
John wasn’t lazy or incompetent, he was afraid. John must have lived with so much fear back then because he didn’t want to lose me, but he was caught between a rock and a hard place. If he told me he had never had a real job in the traditional sense (despite working hard any chance he got) I might think he was a loser and leave. If he kept sitting around doing nothing every day, I might also think he was a loser and leave him. John was desperate to not lose me, but he had no clue how to get around the position he found himself in. He tried his best to make excuses I would buy into, or deflect the topic of him working in the hopes it might buy him another day or week to “pull himself together” and overcome a social anxiety and self-critical paralysis that had existed since he was a child. He opted to just take it day by day, hoping another option would magically present itself and he would be able to show me he wanted desperately to work hard for our family and how much he valued us. He sat back and prayed something would just fall into his lap that would serve to mask the truth about himself and not jeopardize my love for him.
Unfortunately, those he knew and trusted that had historically helped him overcome the social deficits he had, those who helped coordinate work for him over the years so he could utilize his talents and earn good money… now resided across the country in another state. He existed with the debilitating stress every day of knowing he may have no choice but to go out into the socially cruel and unforgiving world that made him feel like a failure all his life. The last thing he wanted was for me to see what a “failure” he was, so he just waited. He waited and prayed something would come along to mitigate the two shitty options that stood before him.
I didn’t know any of this though. I didn’t know how frightened he was of losing me. I didn’t know how humiliated he was at the thought of failing. I didn’t know how exhausted he felt every single day as he mentally tried to work out a way around it all.
I just felt used, resentful, and stupid.
BUT I SET THE STAGE FOR STAGNATION & RESENTMENT
When John and I originally talked about him moving to Florida, I was the one who told him, “I am going to be getting paid my full salary while I only have to go to school full time and finish my nursing degree. If you moved down, you wouldn’t have to work for a while, you could help me with school and we could spend a lot of time together. It’s the perfect opportunity for us both to enjoy our life and I want you to know I don’t expect you to jump into working right away. I know you would need time to settle into this huge change you are making to leave everything you know behind.”
I realize now it was my explanation of what I would expect of John when he first moved down that eased his anxiety enough to choose to forgo his previous life of predictable routines and security for the life he wanted with the woman he loved. John was presented with a perfect opportunity whereby, he would have a significant period of time to secure my love… without any pressure being placed on him to figure out how to “be independent and take care of a family” the way he wanted to. Whether or not John truly believed he would magically conquer his social anxieties and begin progressing as an adult with regard to financial stability and a career… or whether he thought I would just be happy he was there and never push him toward such a thing… he was given the promise of time before he had to worry about any of that. He knew he didn’t want to lose me and ultimately, I do not think he looked beyond the initial time I was promising him because he really hoped it would just work itself out. The response I received from John when I presented him with my initial plan and expectations if he moved down was: “Come on Kara, do you really think I am going to be a bum and not work when I move down and just let you pay for everything? Of course I will get a job, it just might take a while for me to find one in a new state.”
I would maliciously use his words against him more times than I care to admit in the years to come as I reminded him that he “promised he would be my partner and wasn’t contributing to any of the adult responsibilities we had” and that he “lied to me!”
In the beginning, I was perfectly content with the plan we agreed upon and expectations I had laid out before him. When we moved into the old condo in a wealthy neighborhood so we could come home to a “vacation-feel” every day, and I could lay in his lap on the docks listening to the water (like we imagined that night in the hotel where we had our first kiss)… I was happy with our choice to move into a new home we could share in our new life together. Everything seemed like a mature decision at the time because I believed that Johnwould be getting a job soon to offset the cost of living in a location that exceeded my sole financial means. When that prospect appeared to be slipping further and further away, and I was the one picking up the slack for his failure to live up to his promises, I felt incredibly betrayed.
I truly believe in my heart that John began our life together with the most optimistic and pure intentions. I believe he honestly thought he would be able to live up to his words at the time he said them because he was high on life and finally making adult decisions that he never imagined he would before meeting me, like committing to a long-term relationship, moving across the country, and taking on the role of a stepparent to my (then) 11-year old daughter. I do not doubt that he imagined he would also be able to brave the task of finally tackling the career-aspect of his adult life as well. He assumed he would be able to accomplish this with the same passion he had to make all of those other difficult choices, and it is perfectly understandable why he would have believed this.
Unfortunately, when John finally realized he was not ready to step into the social world that he was certain he would fail at; he froze.
BUT, I DON’T CARE ABOUT MONEY….
It was never the fact that John was not working outside the home to make money that bothered me most, it was the fact that he did not appear to offset his unemployment by picking up the slack in our home so I did not have to. It was also the fact that he never verbalized any intention or appeared to be working toward changing any of it and I did not understand why. If I asked him about work or his future plans, he would answer simply and then avoid me if I tried to probe further; “I’ll go look tomorrow” or “I’ve got some jobs lined up in Michigan next month so I can’t look for a job here and then leave it, I will get a job when I come back.” These were some of the more common responses I would get from him to avoid stepping out into the unknown. If I questioned his previous working experience (which I had begun to by that point), John would find a way to pick a fight with me so the subject got buried beneath another topic entirely.
After every stupid fight, there was no resolution. John did not return later to calmly sit down and talk like adults, which he would promise to do if I would agree to sideline a discussion at that moment. John’s behaviors left me dumbfounded and frustrated.
As time wore on, I became worn down.
SO, WHY DIDN’T I JUST END IT?
What really stopped me from kicking John out that first year after he moved in with me was that we would still have those Wednesday nights where my parents took B for the night and John and I would go out on “dates” together. On those nights, John and I would drink alcohol and act silly like we had the first year we began our long distance romance, and I would feel happy again. We would laugh so hard our stomachs hurt and we would smile from the start of the night until we fell asleep. Sometimes we would go out to a bar down the street (we lived next to the tourist area of Clearwater Beach) or we would go fishing until the early morning hours. John would tell me he loved me and he would say things that I had been wanting to hear the entire week leading up to that night. Things like, “I was never happy until I met you” or “I’m sorry I don’t have a job, I will do XYZ because I really want to take care of you.” He would tell me I was beautiful, he would seem jealous if another man tried to talk to me, he would hold my hand and hug me without being asked, and he never took his eyes off of me… even if a gorgeous woman walked by or tried to talk to him. When we went out together on our date nights, John always had 100% of his focus on me and made me feel beautiful and cherished in a sea of strangers our age.
John would get hit on by women all the time; I mean… ALL THE TIME. When we went out to a bar, John caught the eye of a dozen women each time and my cognitive empathy skills had zero difficulty deciphering exactly what those women were thinking! I began to relish in the times I could just stand back (having left his side to get a drink or use the bathroom) and watch as he (sometimes rudely) blew these women off (some of them abnormally gorgeous) or announced he had a girlfriend with a look of pride. In feeding my insecure ego, particular the severity of insecurity I felt in the week leading up to our nights out whereby he showed little regard for me; those actions always made me feel desired and loved on a grand scale. Every once in awhile on our Wednesday nights out, he would even answer questions about his childhood or a past girlfriend, or even talk to me about the emotions surrounding Jeff’s death, something we had curiously stopped talking about altogether (which likely complicated my grief process and underlying emotional liability).
I did not know at the time that when John was not put at ease with alcohol, he was in a constant state of hyper-aroused fear. John was devastatingly paralyzed by his social fear almost every day that we spent together. He was always afraid of disclosing too much about himself that could cause me to run from him and he was continually scared he would do or say the wrong thing and push me away. This fear made him choose silence when he did not understand my words, thoughts, emotions, questions, reactions, expressions, or behaviors. He opted to say nothing in lieu of saying something that might make me stop loving him. All week long John’s behavior, from appearing lazy with housework (afraid to set me off and do something wrong, or having no idea I even wanted him to do something), to not looking for work (social phobia and lack of self confidence), and minimal communication (difficulty navigating my thoughts and intentions and the fear he might say the wrong thing) ALL made him seem like a bizarre and unflattering character throughout the week.
On Wednesday night though… John had alcohol in his system. Sometimes we had only a few drinks and other times we behaved like youngsters on our 21st birthday, staying awake all night drinking and being silly. He never acted drunk or got belligerent or mean; he never started telling wild stories and lies like a lot of the drunken fools I’ve shared drinks with over the years did. John acted like John, but he had this quality that I never got to see during the week.
I could not connect the dots back then as to why alcohol seemed to make John act more… human… I just knew it did.
John had empathy when he was drinking, and it was real. This caused a lot of confusion for me during the times I tried to convince myself that he had ZERO empathy and was near-robotic in his emotions. Over the years I would feel so angry at him and his apparent indifference to my tears that I honestly thought he was incapable of processing empathy at all. When I would settle into this belief for long enough to begin prepping myself to leave our relationship, I would always go back to those Wednesday nights in my mind. I would try to figure out how he could lack empathy altogether, but suddenly acquire it once he had a few drinks. It did not make any sense to me because if someone does not have the capacity to process empathy or behave in an empathetic way, no amount of alcohol is going to magically create that, and I knew this.
It was because of those Wednesday nights and the times I was able to see John for who he really was inside, that I inevitably came to the place I am today and decision to keep trying. I could never bring myself to give up on a man that I knew in my core, had emotional empathy. This deep-rooted knowledge did not bring me closer to understanding what was happening back then, but it did motivate me to keep my heels dug in while I continued to search for answers.
Those Wednesday nights kept me believing that someday, he and I would have so much more.
BUT, HOW COULD ALCOHOL CREATE EMPATHY?
With alcohol comes a loss of inhibition and fear. Giving John beer made him feel relaxed enough to let go of his constant fear of losing me. Giving John alcohol made him feel safe enough to speak. Knowing that I was also drinking (and had a terrible memory the next day to specifics even if I only had two glasses of wine), John felt comfortable that even if he screwed up his words or said something stupid or too honest; there was a good chance I would not readily recall it the next day. He also knew he could deny it and say I was too drunk to accurately remember what he said, or that he was so drunk he was talking nonsense. Either way, John’s guard was dropped low enough to chance honest communication when he drank and he had a default to excuse himself if that honesty ever made me think less of him.
Every Wednesday night I would become acutely aware that I was missing only a few pieces to solve the puzzle that was my peculiar boyfriend. Every Wednesday night reignited my desperation to locate those pieces and uncover the complete puzzle image. Once a week, John and I had an entire evening of being in love. Once a week, I saw the side of him that had me smitten from the first day I met him. Once a week, John would behave compassionately toward me; he would talk to me, and he would remind me that he was not a robot incapable of empathy. Once a week, I would choose to forgive and forget all of the crushing missteps we took in the six days that came before. Once a week, I would fall in love with John all over again and pray that when I awakened the following day, that man would still be lying beside me. Once a week, the voice inside my head became demonstratively loud as it screamed out, “Do not give up on him, he is amazing and exactly what you need in your future, listen to your gut Kara!” Once a week, I believed we were fated to one another and our lives were meant to be happy.
Of course… everything would just go right back to the same old thing the next day and I would hop right back on the roller-coaster ride of insanity.
BUT, THEN IT CLICKED…
One night while at work, a coworker and I went outside to get some fresh air and take a break from the patients we had been caring for all evening. This coworker was having a particularly rough week related to her 9-year old son and his behavior problems at home and in school. While I welcomed her to vent (and intended to return the favor by venting about John), she began to describe her specific hardships. She spoke in great length for some time about her efforts to get her son’s school to understand his “disability” and of the emotionally exhausted mental state she found herself in trying to help him without any support or beneficial tools to make sense of his bizarre behaviors. I listened to her for a while without much empathetic connection, as my daughter never presented a parenting challenge for me and was actually (I felt) an abnormally gentle, helpful, compassionate, and intelligent child (she was only a few years older than my coworkers son).
With my best effort to be attentive to her words, I found my mind wandering while she spoke. I thought about John at home watching movies without me, playing video games, or making the house I worked hard to clean that afternoon a disaster and wondered what I was going to walk into when I got home in the morning. I was thoroughly engrossed in my own emotional exhaustion the whole time my coworker was spilling her guts to me. Just like in a movie where a person gets tunnel vision and is able to hone in on a conversation in the distance and hear words being spoken aloud like they were slowed down and abnormally clear… my focus began to suddenly close in on what my coworker was saying. I instantly found myself fully engaged in everything coming out of her mouth as she spoke of her son’s rigid morning routine with breakfast, his avoidance of emotionally-charged communication, his disregard for her requests to clean up his toys only to turn around and vacuum the house without being asked once she had yelled at him and cried that he was stressing her out. I heard every word she said about her son and found myself near tears when she said she questioned whether or not he had the capacity to love her. She talked about how he thwarted any physical contact like hugging and did not seem to care when other children and adults were hurting… that he just walked off and played with his cars in the corner, seemingly oblivious to the suffering of his own siblings or family. The moment she told me he seemed “indifferent” to human emotion in general and she was worried he was going to grow up to be a sociopath, I found myself blurting out:
“Wait, what did you say he was diagnosed with again?”
All of the behaviors she was describing sounded unnervingly similar to my adult boyfriend. In that moment, John’s behavior seemed to finally have a name! That was the longest night shift I ever worked as the clock slowly moved forward enough for me to run home to Google-search the words: Asperger’s syndrome.
THE OBSESSION BEGINS (For me and me alone)
I left work that morning and began researching everything I could find on the topic of Asperger’s syndrome. I purchased every recommended book with the “bible” of them being, The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. I spent the next few weeks researching, reading, and highlighting every single similarity to John that I could identify with. Within the first hour of reading about AS, I was convinced beyond any doubt that John had this Asperger-thing. Within a few weeks, I thought I was a subject-matter expert about how Aspergers must have presented itself in his childhood. I began to write down one “characteristic” after another and then follow them up with pages upon pages of how John had displayed similarities.
The only glitch in my new discovery (which felt like vindication and relief all at once) was that I could only find vague information to explain how these characteristics and behaviors develop in the first place for Aspie children. I found tons of examples of how they presented themselves, yet very little information on why. Although this was before AS was lumped into Autism Spectrum Disorder, it was still discouraging that while I thought I had initially stumbled upon the Holy Grail; the search of adults with Asperger’s syndrome came up with even more confusing or vague information, none of which seemed to present an immediate fix to my relationship struggles. By the time I got around to searching about Aspies and their “Neurotypical” spouses (which I realized I now had a label myself), I was left with a rather grim outlook on what this diagnosis would mean for John and my future.
Overall, my search of adult men with Asperger’s syndrome only managed to produce a flurry of some seriously jaded and pissed of spouses married to one of them.
But still… I had finally found a name for what was “wrong” with my boyfriend. I was convinced if I could get John on board with reading about it, he would (somehow) magically undo all of the negative behaviors he developed because of it. That was my identified solution to saving our relationship and for a hell of a long time, that became my sole mission in life.
OK, TIME TO GET JOHN ON BOARD…
One night I asked John if he would be willing to listen to me for a moment. He reluctantly agreed and I read to him a little about Asperger’s syndrome and then waited for his response. I had been information-gathering for over a month, prepared to engage in mind-blowing discussions with him when I finally found the right moment to bring it up. I honestly thought I had just given my boyfriend a radical epiphany-worthy piece of information and I was as excited as a child on Christmas morning to receive the gift of his response. John replied, “Yeah, I guess that sounds a lot like me.” He showed absolutely no interest beyond that half-assed confirmation in my diligent research.
Never had I felt so deflated in a response from someone as I did that night. I comforted myself with the thought: “At least he did not argue my discovery, that’s a start.”
I really assumed that John just wasn’t ready to “take it all in” at the time. I sat back with as much patience as I could muster and anxiously waited for him to seek me out to have a heartfelt discussion about Aspergers. I waited for the day he would thank me for uncovering something no one else could tell him all of his life. As narcissistic as that may sound, I was really proud of myself for connecting the dots when my coworker spoke of her child. My reading indicated that the majority of women did not realize their husband’s diagnosis until their adolescent child received one; at which time they subsequently became aware their husband was the same way.
I patiently waited for John to come to me and talk about what I uncovered. I waited… and I waited some more. After about a month, nothing ever came of it. During the month of waiting, I found myself more understanding and less argumentative with John. I tried to become the girlfriend he needed (who understood him) and hoped he would become motivated to do the same. We got along wonderfully and John seemed happier than he had been in a long time. It did not occur to me at the time that John was far happier in our daily existence because I finally appeared to be happier. It was my cessation of complaining about him, pointing out his wrong-doings, and positive attitude in general (indicating I enjoyed his company again) that made him feel less anxious around me and more communicative. I (on the other hand), thought that John was spending his days researching Asperger’s syndrome and that he appeared happier because he was beginning to uncover why his life had been so difficult and was working harder to communicate effectively with me.
What an idiot I was to assume he was interested at all in this diagnosis I wanted to affix to him. How terribly I set myself up for disappointment when I eventually realized he had not cared one bit about Aspergers, he was behaving different only because I WAS BEHAVING DIFFERENT! Of course, I didn’t know this and kept imagining some fantasy world where my boyfriend was using his spare time to investigate AS and I eagerly waited (with a daily smile to indicate I was on the ready) for him to approach me with everything he had learned.
Eventually, I accepted that John was not going to do this independently. I thought his reluctance was directly related to his Asperger’s syndrome and difficulty initiating a conversation… so I decided I would have to go to him.
BUT, WHAT APPROACH WILL WORK BEST?
I became obsessive over the Asperger diagnosis. Like so many other people, I felt like I finally had answers that made sense. I was relieved to know my boyfriend wasn’t an asshole; he just did not realize he was being mean or insensitive towards me. I was so excited to remove the notion that John might be a sociopath from my mind. I also truly believed this discovery would result directly in John’s motivation to enact change in our relationship. I had so much relief and empathy for John the more I read and I began to transform all of the anger and resentment I had into sympathy, guilt, and sadness for the life John had lived before me. I wanted to ask his family if they had ever heard of Asperger’s syndrome so they could confirm what I already knew to be true in my heart (but we were not close like that, so I did not reach out to them).
I spent weeks attempting to directly engage John on the (not yet official) diagnosis, but he had no interest in these attempts and dismissed them as quickly as I brought them up. The more he dismissed me, and the only thing I was interested in talking about, the more we began to argue again. We continued to fight, but it was a little less painful and personal to me since I now had more patience and tried to look for hidden reasons behind his words and actions that I could attribute to his AS in lieu of him purposely being a jerk.
John became increasingly irritated with my obsession to talk about Asperger’s syndrome and before I knew it, our once-happy Wednesday nights together turned to the day of the week John dreaded most.
WITHOUT WEDNESDAY NIGHT… WE WERE IN BIG TROUBLE
Our Wednesday nights were our time to reconnect (via alcohol making John more verbal). Once I became focused on Asperger’s syndrome and convinced myself that his acceptance of it yielded the answers to our disconnect, as well as the only possible solution to remedy it; I tried to initiate clever ways to get John on board with my obsession. I would start off our Wednesday date nights as we always had; laughing over light topics and sharing a few drinks. Once I thought John had enough alcohol in his system to let his guard down, I would nose dive right into the topic of Aspergers. The more he tried to evade the topic, the more I began to press him to discuss it.
Since John had historically been more responsive to me when he drank alcohol, I saw Wednesday night as my only chance to get him to communicate about this life-changing information that could save our relationship. John did not appreciate my unwavering efforts in this. The more he declined discussing it, the more anger I began to feel toward him.
How could we get better if John was not going to acknowledge what was wrong?
To me, John being on the same page as me was the only way we were going to begin to move forward. I believed he had to read at the same pace I was if he was going to start changing his ways (what a silly fool I was). I became so dedicated in convincing John to educate himself about AS that I pushed him further and further away from engaging in any conversations with me. The moment any hint of a topic about emotions or human behavior came up, I would use it as a means to inject how having Asperger’s syndrome might cause misunderstandings and then associate it directly with his previously negative behavior.
Before I knew it, I was attributing every single step John took and every single word he uttered to his Aspergers. Before John knew it, he had begun to associate my ingestion of alcohol with me trying to force this Aspie-thing on him and our subsequent fighting. When we drank, I incorrectly assumed I would find a way to get through to him while his guard was down. When he held strong in refusing to engage in this topic regardless of how much alcohol he swallowed, I became vocally aggressive toward him and began unleashing all of the things he had done over the past year to violate my sense of security, trust, and stability. I became hostile that he would not validate my previous hurt by educating himself and I made every effort to ensure he knew that refusing to discuss the matter indicated to me that he did not love me!
With my antagonistic accusations came John’s surmounting defensiveness. In no time we were going tit for tat in a display of whose anger could trump the other. We created a dynamic so hostile that the tension in our home began to build at an alarming rate that neither of us seemed motivated or willing to disarm.
At no time did I ever comprehend that I was talking to John in an abstract and confusing way when I did attempt to touch on the subject of AS. At no time did it occur to me that I was trying to force so much information down his throat at once that he was still choking on my first sentence and what it meant before I began vehemently cramming more in his face to swallow. At no time did it sink in that I was going about it all wrong, or that I actually had no idea myself what John’s Aspergers actually meant for our relationship. At no time were either of us willing to back down on accusing the other of being a bully or proving that we were the one deserving of an apology.
Uncovering Asperger’s syndrome initially became the catalyst for further decline in our relationship because neither of us had a clue what to do with the discovery.
John would later share with me (in the last year) that he DID look into Asperger’s syndrome in those early days but what he uncovered compounded his feelings of inadequacy and fear in a tragic way. John found the same things I did… a ton of people who were angry and bitter about Aspie men who effectively labeled them wrong, cruel, and incapable of loving or being empathetic. John read article after article that dehumanized who he was and in no time, he chose to shut the door on it altogether.
How could I fault him for making a firm decision to permanently ignore a mass of men and women telling him he was incapable of loving me?
John read rants from bitter Aspies out there who defined neurotypicals as entitled, arrogant, insane assholes as well. Unlike me, John did not stop and consider what anyone suggested about the woman he fell in love with to be true. He read their words and rapidly discounted anything else those “Morons” had to say since they clearly, “Did not know his girlfriend.” He did not disagree that he likely did warrant an Asperger diagnosis, he just did not want to hear what a shit-bag it made him appear to the world.
As I was pushing for him to get on the same page as me, he was trying to burn the entire book before I got to the conclusion that advised me to “get the hell away from him as fast as possible and never look back.”
Thinking about that time in our life and my behavior, I am ashamed to know I bought into the rhetoric about my amazing boyfriend/husband all those years. I am also profoundly humiliated by the fact that he was always so in love with me he could not be swayed by anyone else’s opinion about those “like me.” I was everything to John back then, but I couldn’t see it. I had no idea how much he loved me then, and I am only beginning to really comprehend it now.
Eventually, with all of the research I had done, I submitted to the fact that the information wasn’t really helping me either. All the books and articles ever did was provide me with a checklist of common behaviors and similar experiences from others in my shoes. It initially enabled me to remove any doubt that John was an Aspie (without question) which helped to restore my sanity a little. It was cathartic to find that I was not insane in how I felt or imagining things and that there were many other women out there who shared in my experience and frustration… but none of it was helping me identify how to make our lives better.
After a while… it just became exhausting to read the same old story over and over again, retold by a new individual. I still felt saddened and sympathetic to each person’s pain, but it was all the same story and none of it ever produced a happy ending. All I could think was, “OK! I got it. There are thousands of other women standing in my shoes, but they are equally clueless on how to make their relationship better, so what the hell am I supposed to do now?” I could not find a single beneficial success story from the other side either. Not once did I come upon an Asperger man who shared enough insight and positive results in his life to motivate John into action. None of them had the power to convince my boyfriend that educating himself about AS would be worth the effort, and nothing I found helped me convince John to get on board with me to begin initiating a change.
Asperger’s syndrome is one of the few diagnoses in the history of modern medicine to offer such pathetic and useless amounts of information about it, despite over seventy years since it’s initial discovery. It continues to boggle my mind that outside of being unable to definitively identify a cause, there exist no proven-effective therapeutic treatments either. There is not one single identified “intervention” to manage the associated impact it has on an individual’s interpersonal relationships that is supported by anything more than “limited data.” This diagnosis is prevalent (as I came to discover through my own research) and impacts the lives of far more than the “guesstimated” 68+ million people worldwide thought to have it. In all of this time, professionals have become impressively worse in comprehending, identifying, diagnosing, and treating AS! They got so terrible at this task that they have taken the diagnosis back two decades to where it stands today.
Despite slowly realizing that seeking any degree of professional assistance or guidance (from those who had written on the subject of Asperger’s syndrome in the past) was utterly useless; I still believed the answers were out there (at the time) and I doggedly tried to convince John to join me in finding them. I continued to place the future of our relationship on his willingness to read a bunch of useless garbage from false-experts who offered only vague and generic advice. I demanded he read about couples like us despite ultimately realizing they WERE JUST LIKE US… they were failing couples who were no closer to salvaging their marriages then they were to running away from them (so this would have benefited John in no way if he had ever humored me and read about them). I even pushed him to read blogs and articles that really just amounted to a society who was incredibly nasty and judgmental about a term they failed to even describe appropriately; all they really ever did was tear those with the label to shreds and deemed them akin to the Ted Bundy’s of the world.
For a long time I kept throwing the book The Journal of Best Practices (etc.) by David Finch in John’s face and insisting he read it. While this is a great book and one of the few ways to offer a newly diagnosed husband an empathetic view of someone they can identify with… this book had nothing to offer in explaining Asperger’s syndrome any more than the other decent ones out there. It took years of buying and then throwing away, or deleting (in anger) copies of this book in print, audio, and as an e-book before I ever managed to get John interested enough (by threatening him) to finish a few chapters of it. I believed back in the early days that if I could find one single man my boyfriend could identify with… that this would inspire him to educate himself.
The truth of the matter was that no amount of reading, researching, writing, or talking to others with AS would have ever gotten John any closer to identifying what was going wrong in “our” relationship. None of it ever could have helped him any more than it helped me because at the end of the day… no one ever broke down what was different about an Aspie and NT brain function that led to everything else falling to shit. Not one single person ever narrowed anything down in a meaningful enough way to extract practical solutions to begin repairing the communication breakdown.
All the professionals I was demanding John agree to listen to back then had less of a grasp who he was then he had himself. Without a grasp on what was going wrong (specifically), there existed only a gaggle of licensed professionals charging money to deliver useless, impractical, and/or vague advice with absolutely no ability to prove a single relationship they “treated” ever went on to “thrive” in their marriage.
If a single licensed professional in existence ever identified any truly valuable information to offer, they would be diligently writing about it and forcing it out into the world in a profound way. If they had any “secrets to success” they would have tried with all of their might to corner the market on this because they had uncovered THE ONE AND ONLY PROVEN THERAPEUTIC INTERVENTION TO HELP AN ASPIE-NT RELATIONSHIP! All those jackballs ever had was the same regurgitated ambiguous babble that can be found in every single common “relationship” advice, or “communication building” tips out there. They had the same basic “secrets” found about any other diagnosis or relational hardship in the world. None of them ever had a damn thing to delineate the challenges an Aspie endures, which are actually far more specific and cataclysmic than anything a neurotypical could fathom.
Telling people to pay attention to one another and communicate more effectively is like telling a dehydrated person to drink when they have no idea where to acquire a source of fluid or what is causing their recurrent dehydration in the first place. Maybe that analogy is stupid, but so is the advice for Aspie-NT couples who are asking for help and receiving useless information (and it didn’t take long for me to realize that sad truth).
Of course… at the time I was demanding, begging and pleading with John to join me in researching, educating, and diligently seeking a thorough comprehension of Asperger’s syndrome; I had not lost faith in the mental health community. I ABSOLUTELY believed there existed professionals out there who had the power to help us. I wholeheartedly trusted that the answers existed and that John and I just needed to work together in find them. I even naively thought that the development of Autism Spectrum Disorder had inadvertently buried countless bits of data that could help us piece together the puzzle of AS. I kept telling myself that if we only focused my emotional energy and his intellectual capacity toward our efforts to weed through the crap, we would find the help we needed.
I would have bet my soul on the fact that there did exist happily married Aspie-NT couples who found the secret to success and that if we just looked long enough, we would find them. I wanted to find them so we could confirm that they weren’t just co-existing and tolerating one another; that they were truly in love and had a profound empathy and regard for one another; a mutually beneficial relationship.
I gave every bit of my heart and soul into trying to convince John that the only way we were ever going to find happiness was if he also believed in the existence of all of these things and equally invested himself in uncovering them with me.
I could not get John motivated even a tiny bit to hear me out, let alone begin an exhaustive (useless) search for hidden answers. I decided I would have to find a way to drag him to a professional who could convince him they existed. Back then… I had so much faith in the mental health profession to HELP us. I realized I was failing to reach John and I realized I could not make any of it better on my own. I thought obtaining an official diagnosis would be the first hurdle to overcome in my efforts, so I opted to go in search of a licensed professional who could diagnose him in the hopes that a true diagnosis would be the spark he needed to move forward in MY desire for help. I wanted John “to want” to educate himself, and I likely took years off of my life agonizing over the fact that he held no interest in doing this. At that point in our relationship, I knew I needed outside assistance, so I turned to the mental health community to provide it.
I believed these professionals would be our saving grace and I actually counted on them to make everything all better.
My God I was stupid back then.
I CAN’T FIX THIS MYSELF… I NEED HELP
Since all of the books and online information left me with no avenue to get John on board with me, I decided it was time to reach out to professionals for assistance. I put all of my eggs into the basket called, “Official Diagnosis” thinking they would undoubtedly hatch once there. In other words, I figured once John had a licensed professional officially diagnose him with Asperger’s syndrome, he would have no choice but to begin talking about it (once again, what a fool I was).
I had an exceptionally difficult time trying to locate anyone that could provide such an assessment and diagnosis for an adult. There seemed to be several therapists willing to entertain a childhood diagnosis, but when it came to adults it appeared they were of little interest to anyone. The last thing I wanted to do was find an unskilled professional who might misdiagnose John since I soon learned he had been awarded several diagnoses as a child that were only manifestations of his AS.
After reaching out via email to some of the select few therapists who advertised themselves as being “dedicated to working with Asperger adults” (but lived on the west coast of the U.S.), I received one name a couple times. I had finally found the right person to diagnose John who only lived two hours south of us; the only problem was that medical insurance would not cover this service and it would run well-over $2500 in total… just for a diagnosis!
Strapped for cash, I began picking up extra work shifts to pay for John’s diagnosis. The added work stress and my continued attempts to get John to talk to me about Asperger’s syndrome soon took a toll on our relationship that was so incapacitating it could no longer be ignored. Our fights became constant and increasingly nasty. One night while arguing I said something purposely vicious to John (insulting his manhood) and in turn, he spat in my face. This was it for me… something was going to change immediately or I was ending our relationship permanently. I decided to do something that was frightening to me because I KNEW it would infuriate John and considering I never thought he would degrade me in such a vile way (by spitting on me), there was a part of me that felt hesitant in pushing the anger he had inside of him. At the end of the day, I was so disgusted in him for spitting on me that I was prepared for our demise and went out on a limb with a final “last ditch” effort to salvage what was left of my own ego.
I chose to finally reach out to John’s family and tell them the whole truth about what was really going on in our relationship.
THE FAMILY IN THE SHADOWS
John had a sister one year older than myself who was a teacher. I decided to reach out to her and constructed a very long email (I know, shocking I would write something in great length) and took a deep breath as I hit send. I had met his family several times by then from both visiting Michigan (where they lived) and having them come stay with us in Florida… but I never spoke of the difficulties between John and I and he was on his best behavior in their presence. I typically do not have difficulty getting close to people, and John’s family was amazing in every way (truly kind and loving people) but there was an awkward distance between us from the beginning that I hadn’t understood. It was as though we all wanted to ask one another questions and share information about John but were afraid of rocking the boat and upsetting one another.
Since the fighting was incessant during that time and we were on the verge of demise, I took a chance and spilled my guts to his sister telling her all about our challenges and my suspicion of Asperger’s syndrome and asked her to please give me her insight, opinion, and any other information that could help us get through our difficulties. I was very fearful I was just going to anger her and she would reply to me with something along the lines of, “You are a bitch who clearly does not appreciate my brother, how dare you suggest there is anything wrong with him!”
I was desperate though and more than anything… I just wanted answers and information that John was not sharing. I also really wanted them to reassure me he was a wonderful guy deep down who was NEVER violent in any way. The spitting incident had me rocked to the core that he would eventually escalate to physical aggression and I had zero intention of sticking around for that experience.
To my relief, I received an outpouring of emotion, empathy, compassion, support, and information not only from his sister, but from his equally emotional mother. I received phone calls filled with tears and gratitude from his family because they felt as though I had finally given them the answers they always longed for. His sister reassured me that much of the fighting I described mirrored fighting she and John engaged in throughout their youth and that he was absolutely NEVER physically aggressive or violent, just quick to escalate verbal hostility in a way that never matched the reason behind it. She validated that he always had issues with empathy and that despite seeing this, she also knew in her heart he was a compassionate person without malicious intentions. She shared with me John’s challenges in executive function like initiating and maintaining employment and that he was an incredibly hard worker but his father had to coordinate almost every job he ever had. This explained why John did not want to talk about his previous working experiences and also why he would not seek out employment in Florida.
I heard stories of a desperate mother who loved her son tremendously and tried to go to the ends of the earth in search of a proper diagnosis for him but was met with dismissive explanations for his behavior and prescriptions to “fix” him. She was told he had ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and other childhood diagnoses that go hand in hand with Asperger’s syndrome. His mother cried as she recalled how she was always given different drugs to feed him and told that therapy was not recommended at that time and to “give the medications a chance to work.” She had sought out special education classes for him because he had so much trouble with social interaction, but was told those classes were only for children with “real disabilities.” She talked about how she had to set up playdates with her friend’s children and even then, John would usually isolate himself in a corner and play with his toy cars and stack them up or line them in order repetitively.
It was so awful to hear her pain when she expressed all of the love and agony dedicated to identifying why her son struggled so much and how, despite waiting months to see top pediatric psychiatrists, she was always given an explanation that did not fit. His mother sobbed as she shared the last time she begged for help and screamed out, “You’re wrong! Something else is wrong with my child, please… help him!” but got nothing in return that ever made his life better.
Without any answers and without any practical tools to help their son live a happy life whereby he could successfully interact with his peers and adults, his parents did what they could for him. They intermittently sought out professional help and kept up with medication therapies and school reports on his behavior, progress, and potential options for improved social functioning. They taught him discipline and tried to reinforce right and wrong. They protected him when he was too terrified to function and tried to withdraw from life and provided enough security and support to encourage him to progress in maturity and responsibility within a context he could acclimate to. They repeatedly failed at getting him to initiate work and independent achievements so they coordinated the opportunities for him and then ensured he followed through. John learned to be a responsible and hard worker and made good on commitments, but only if he did not have to initiate them himself.
Every seemingly normal and basic milestone a neurotypical teenager and young adult goes through were an intimidating challenge to a young man who only knew to anticipate criticism, blame, and character assassinations when he went at them unassisted. John’s parents did their absolute best to teach their child and adult son how to behave as a responsible and kind man and hold strong values with good moral character. They gave him a religious foundation and they served as examples of supportive and generous humanitarians. They tried everything, thoroughly exhausted themselves, and became emotionally drained in the process. John saw his mother cry a lot (according to her) but he still tells me he does not remember this.
How hard it must be for every Aspie parent who is in the dark and tries to do everything to raise their child well but cannot make sense of some of their behaviors and reactions to people and situations. How do you protect a child when you do not understand what is terrifying them?
While everything John’s mother told me about his life before meeting me was painful to hear, the most gut-wrenching of all was when she audibly sobbed as she choked this out:
(I am quoting this based off memory, but this was so emotional to hear that I am fairly certain I am close to being accurate in what she said)
“I used to fall asleep every night praying John would someday find someone who would love him. He is such a good man, he has such a kind heart. I prayed someday he might become a husband… or maybe even a father, but I cried myself to sleep every night thinking my son would never get this and it broke my heart, it just killed me. I didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know how to help him. I just wanted him to have the same opportunity everyone else got. John deserved the chance to just feel “normal.”
If that doesn’t break a fellow mother’s heart and stab the very center of what empathy entails… I don’t know what could.
Both John’s mother and older sister told me that they wanted so desperately to reach out to me in the past but were praying John did not have the same “issues” with me that he had with interpersonal relationships his whole life. They had a battle within their minds about whether they should question how John was behaving toward us or just stay out of it. On one hand, they were worried for B and my emotional stability living with John and felt guilty for not asking if we were doing ok; on the other hand they did not want to allude that something might be “wrong” with him… because what if, by some miracle, John finally “grew out” of his previously “different” behaviors.
Ultimately, they opted to pray for John and our “family” and remain silent because the simple fact that John had willingly chosen to walk away from all that was familiar to him his entire life to live with a woman and her daughter… to leave his family’s side (the only security he ever had) to be with this woman… at 31 years old, something had obviously changed for him.
When I consider that statement now… I cannot believe my husband loved me so much back then he truly walked out on everything that made him feel safe and everything that held meaning to him… he moved far away from the only people who ever loved him and believed he was a good person… and he did it…
If I consider everything I know today and reflect back on our life together in Florida, I realize I missed how hard every day must have been for John. I never acknowledged or appreciated how horrifically challenging it had to be to try to behave in a parental role, a partner role, and an independent adult role all at once for a man who never even had strong interpersonal peer relationships growing up outside of his family.
How rough it had to be to love me so much that he lived in sheer panic I would discover he was “not normal” and did not have a stable career or healthy adult relationships (not that he did not have girlfriends, he did… but that’s another story). John was likely so overwhelmed in that first year we lived together by this woman who moved a million miles an hour (and talked even faster) that he must have been exhausted mentally every time he went to sleep at night.
I just didn’t know these things back then.
I couldn’t appreciate all of the ways my boyfriend had shown me how important I was to him.
I saw the opposite of everything he was feeling inside because I was too blinded with my own narrow focus on how MY brain processed information, that I faulted John when I assumed his mind worked the same. I never considered he had a completely different and unique processing ability.
I just didn’t know, and despite wishing I could have a “do-over” and know everything I know today… I cannot. I realize I should not be faulting myself for this, as no one else was able to make sense of John either his whole life because he was such a contradiction to the stereotype of Aspies (that is unfair and often incorrect) that his social awkwardness was often mistakenly perceived as arrogance, indifference, or narcissism. John did not have his nose in books or talk in exhaustive length about computers or sci-fi related subjects (just to hit up the typical stereotype). No one who casually met John back then, or even today would believe me if I said he grew up feeling insecure and socially isolated by not only his peers, but society in general. John is just over 6ft tall with strong features and a well-proportioned body. He looks “strong” when you look at him and his general appearance is intimidating to men and women alike. Women tend to find him very attractive and his large crystal-blue eyes don’t hurt this (if you can get him to make eye contact long enough to see them).
When I met John I was instantly taken aback by how good looking he was, as were my sisters, cousins, and every other female family member who met him at Jeff’s memorial service. I watched many women develop nervous giggles when they tried to talk to him over the years and observed just as many men appear threatened in his presence. John has a deep and overpowering voice when he speaks and unlike those who speak of sci-fi and tech-related interests, John loves “traditionally male-endorsed” things like cars and the UFC (but God forbid you ask him how an engine works, or what a car noise is, because you are going to get an 18-hour long in-depth information session you will not be able to keep up with). His information-sharing is less boring when you sit beside him to watch a UFC fight and he not only spits knowledge about every fighter’s strengths and weaknesses, he can call damn-near every fight right down to the round and way a fighter will win or lose (barring some fluke-occurrence). For anyone who watches UFC, you may appreciate that for a very long time I really thought John was recording fights and then watching them with me (pretending they were “new”) to impress me. He would say everything Joe Rogan (the actual UFC commentator) said about 30 seconds before Rogan could get the words out. It is incredibly fascinating to watch a UFC fight with John and if he ever goes to a bar at night when a fight is on, you would never guess he had social inadequacies because he is “on fire” and everyone wants to sit by him. John educates himself about politics, current events, random trivia, independent films, etc. He knows “enough” about so many topics he can engage in short banter about damn-near anything you can think of and actually has facts and legit knowledge behind his words.
That is the thing about John. He truly comes across more like the “popular guy” that “got all the chicks” in high school than the stereotype he would have been thrown into if anyone could have known what was really going on in his mind. He shines in a bar scene because the women all think they are going to get him to go home with them and the men enjoy talking to him for hours about typical “male” hobbies and interests. He is mechanically-genius and can build a house from the ground up and do everything himself from pouring foundation to building the external structure, and he does it perfectly. He can do anything related to building from flooring to tiling, electrical wiring to plumbing. He can work with heating and cooling systems, design and build custom kitchens, bars, incredible decks and intricate gazebos, etc., and he does everything with meticulous craftsmanship. The list of John’s talents go on and on and none of the talents and interests John has deviate from enviable skills and hobbies that any “typical” man would appreciate. John has an uncanny ability to make people laugh, although often through sarcasm (all of these things about John were why Jeff was so enamored by him).
No one could see that John never had a clue when women were flirting with him or that he was so nervous to be labeled “weird” or “abnormal” that he learned to prep himself for social interactions by studying enough topics of interest to get through small talk at parties or social gatherings by the time he was a young adult. No one views John’s argumentative or sarcastic nature as protective mechanisms he built over many years to defend himself against chronic character assassinations, they just perceive them as the behaviors an overly-confident man (who rarely gets kicked off his pedestal) might display. John just does not give off the image of a frightened, anxious, or intimidated man and he certainly does not carry himself like a man who was fraught with insecurity, fear, anxiety, and loneliness his entire life.
I don’t think John ever had a clue how he was perceived by others until I began telling him either. At the time John and I had about two years or so under our belt as a couple, I simply could not connect all of the dots of his external appearance to who he really was inside. Even when I stepped back and read about Asperger’s syndrome and thought I had nailed down the information, I often found it incredibly challenging to apply this knowledge to the man who stood before me. More often than not, I had trouble seeing past the snarky, argumentative, and condescending jerk who was lying beside me; despite knowing with absolute certainty John had Asperger’s syndrome, his outward character always appeared such a staunch contradiction to the text that I subconsciously doubted it fit him for longer than I realized.
It was a remarkably difficult challenge to stop reading my initial perception of John (and what he must be thinking) to get through that he was actually suffering (inside) in a horrendous way… even if I couldn’t see it.
Hearing John’s family openly talk about his past made me appreciate John from a new perspective. All I wanted was to get him a diagnosis and have his family reassure me he was the great man I saw in the beginning; the man I always knew existed in my heart. I just wanted answers.
Those answers were still three VERY LONG years away at the time I sent that email to his sister though.
WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER
At the end of the day, John’s family wanted their son/brother to be happy, but not at the cost of my or my child’s happiness. They validated everything I had experienced and furthered to confirm that they believed Asperger’s syndrome accurately answered all the questions they had for so long. Like me, they felt incredible relief at first… followed by an overwhelming degree of guilt for never knowing. Then came the realization that poor John was never given the chance at the happy life he deserved and could have had if they had only known about AS. No doubt it also opened a ton of old wounds from his sister(s), particularly his older sister who had suffered an incredible amount of verbal and emotional abuse by a brother who did not know what he had been putting her through throughout their childhood (I do not think he is willing to acknowledge that to this day).
John’s family had several heart to heart discussions with him via telephone after my initial contact with them and since he was loyal, respectful, and incredibly adoring of his parents… John agreed to go in for a diagnostic assessment (something I could not even get him to entertain a discussion about). His parents did not just offer to pay for John to get an official diagnosis… they insisted on paying for it. They also participated in the diagnostic process via telephone and gave the therapist all the childhood and young adult information about John they could. After a very exhaustive day for John, he was given the official confirmation that, he did indeed, HAVE ASPERGER’S SYNDROME.
It seemed that things were on the mend with John and I after the diagnosis was made and it made me feel less alone once his family and I were closer to one another. It seemed like things were getting better only because I was still imagining the “world to come” without realizing how far away it actually was. John did not joyously begin researching what the diagnosis meant (as I had still hoped for) but he did allow me to talk about it a little… for a few months.
Wonderful as it was to have an official diagnosis, at the end of the day, it accomplished jack shit in mending our communication difficulties or easing the previous tension in our relationship (that would quickly become our constant). The professional we found did diagnostic assessments, but she did not offer therapy for adults. We could not find relationship counseling anywhere with a therapist who had ever worked with adults who had Asperger’s syndrome. I had been to therapists for relationship help in my first marriage. That marriage ended in divorce (despite still loving one another). I watched my first husband go to a few different therapists independently (some of which I forced upon him) and that ended with him eating a bullet. John had been dragged into therapy several times throughout his youth… he was awarded various (mis) diagnoses and a dependence on synthetic drugs (to this day) that never once correctly identified the true reason behind his lifelong struggles.
By that time in my life, I was not willing to trust my future with John to another ass-clown yielding a license that they basically “paid for” since I felt none of them earned or deserved it. I felt this way because of how little any of them seemed to know about Asperger’s syndrome (something I knew was prevalent in society by that point). I know that sounds harsh, but outside of the Suncoast Hospice counselor who was there for my daughter’s initial grief counseling… my experience with effective counselors had been unsuccessful (at best). My research of an entire population of adults like my boyfriend who were quite effectively robbed out of the life they could have had (even when the diagnosis of Aspergers existed in his teenage years) made me develop a bitterness toward the very facet of healthcare I once wanted to become a part of.
If the internet had nothing to offer me by way of cognitive behavioral strategies with proven success in a relationship like ours, and books came up equally short, I had found myself at an impasse I could not see beyond. During this time, I continued to search for answers, recorded our life experiences in a crazed-scribble fashion, tried desperately to get John to read with me (fail), and prayed (a lot) for miracles.
Nothing changed because… Nothing had really changed.
The only thing that changed after John’s diagnosis was that I now had the love, understanding, and support of John’s family to help ground me.
SICK CYCLIC SADNESS
John and I became balance scales defined by one another. The more stress one person had, the lower they dropped under the weight and pushed the other further away. Every once in awhile we would find ourselves equally balanced and enjoy a brief moment where we met one another in the middle and enjoyed the day. Usually, my end of the scale was on the bottom and I wasted my energy trying to offload some of my weight onto John’s side. The weight was always too heavy for me to throw and he was always too far away to notice my exhaustive efforts anyway.
In a strange sort of way, we both gave up and allowed life to pick away at us. I spent years searching for an epiphany and resenting John for not giving a damn about his own diagnosis and how it adversely affected my emotional well-being… John spent years defending himself and never really understanding what I wanted from him and why I was such a volatile person. I had somehow numbed myself into thinking that our problems would resolve themselves, or that someday John would “wake up” and miraculously fix everything.
Our fighting got more intense and hostile and would dissipate as quickly as it came on. This happened because I would exhaust myself to tears and submit that I “could not get through to him regardless of how hard I tried” so in order to keep the peace, I would just pretend everything was “ok” again. I would spend months prepping myself to leave John and writing down every reason he was failing me and not progressing as an adult or boyfriend, and then just stew in my anger. I could not leave him despite seeing no progress in his efforts inside or outside of the home because every time I tried to, I would think of the big picture and why John behaved the way he did. This also inspired me to try to come up with another method to bridge the gap between us.
Sometimes when I think about how miserable I was back then (and even a year ago), I cannot quite figure out why I chose to stay with John. Our chronic fighting and general unhappiness was more than enough reason to justify ending our relationship, yet neither of us wanted to leave.
Sometimes love just defies logic.
I spent a very long time clinging to the hope that I would find the person who had answers for us, I searched every corner and turned over every rock in this attempt. We found a good therapist once that helped John open up a bit (he was a great substitute for alcohol). It had actually taken my threats to kick John out and having his family push it to even get him to agree to go willingly. It also took the humility of accepting his parent’s money to pay for the sessions because we could not afford them; I know they felt like they needed to do this in order to make amends for not realizing his diagnosis a decade earlier… not something John or I ever blamed them for.
Despite that counselor being pretty amazing for someone who had not actually worked with a couple whereby one person had Asperger’s syndrome (that he knew of), I was able to glean a lot of information from John during those sessions.
Therapy came to an abrupt end one night when John and I got in such a bad argument (over KEYS) that we both got physically aggressive with one another with some grabbing, pushing, and kicking. It was not as horrendous as I believed it to be at the time (in retrospect) but to me… once things moved from yelling to physical contact of any kind, it was time to get out. John had finally stepped over my “line in the sand” and I told him he had to leave, permanently.
John packed up his belongings and moved home to Michigan and in with his parents in November 2013. I spoke with his family often and everyone shared the same frustration I did. They knew I loved John and they knew he loved me but they also believed it was John who was failing us, by not accepting his diagnosis and changing his own behaviors. No one knew how to help make things better between two people who really loved one another but failed miserably at communicating.
No one knew how to accomplish this because no one actually had a frickin clue what the communication breakdown even stemmed from. Asperger’s syndrome and all of it’s many characteristics never accounted for the true reason John was not “getting” what I kept begging him to understand. There was no amount of Aspie-Awareness that could have possibly proved beneficial at the time because there was not a single Aspie-expert out there who ever identified what I came to realize THREE YEARS LATER.
(Not even the man I still value the most, Dr. Tony Attwood, had narrowed down the only issue that would eventually change everything)
John openly admitted to being a “failure” in our relationship and “not the best man he could have been” toward me, but that wasn’t going to fix anything. It wasn’t going to fix anything because the problem rested more on the neurotypicals in his life than on himself (but Hell if I knew that at the time). John was always willing to receive and consider the information and advice we had to offer (although it always seemed quite the opposite)… but we didn’t really have any. I had no idea how to effectively communicate with him in a language he understood because I had no idea what language he couldn’t understand. I thought I was verbalizing everything clearly but I was using a whole load of non-verbal and hidden/obtuse language to the extent that he rarely had a clue what I was ever really talking about.
I didn’t know.
I honestly believed John was just being difficult, argumentative, defiant, selfish, indifferent, and simply refusing to listen to what I was saying.
My family remained non-supportive because they could not comprehend Asperger’s syndrome and certainly did not understand why I was so hell-bent on making this relationship work. They did not dislike John by this time (sharing his diagnosis helped with that) but they wanted a better life of happiness for their daughter and granddaughter. When John went to Michigan that November, I was left to do some pretty heavy soul searching… alone.
I was on the cusp of huge life changes; I would be graduating from my final nursing program, going to training for a few months out of state, and then picking my daughter and pets up and moving us overseas for my first job in a different field. I had a million and one reasons to not consider John in those plans and only one solid one to sway me otherwise… I frickin loved the man.
After about six weeks of reading, researching, praying, and crying my eyes out… and John finally promising to educate himself about Asperger’s syndrome (my dumbass still thought this was part of the solution); I decided to take another chance on our insane NT-Aspie relationship (John never held up his end of that promise while I was away from him those six weeks either). My daughter and I flew up to Michigan and spent the holidays with John and his wonderful family. My poor family (who really are equally wonderful) were devastated that I would leave them for the holidays (taking their granddaughter/niece away from them) in order to spend them with a man I had just broken up with, that they believed treated me poorly. This was a very tough decision since I was likely going to miss the next three holiday seasons with them having to move overseas.
Just as John walked away from everything he knew to move to Florida and take a chance on me… I had an intense instinct to risk everything and take a real chance on him. Leaving our family for another person had to be painful, but to my family that Christmas, my choice was akin to telling them they were not important to me at all (in their opinion of course… not mine).
The holidays were special that year in Michigan and John and I decided to keep trying and promised to treat one another better. John planned to move overseas with us and returned to Florida to help us prepare for the transition. We also attended my little sister’s wedding that January (to Michael) and they asked John to also play a role in the wedding (which was important to me). It was very heartwarming to see him escort my grandmother down the aisle (with his nervous eyes blinking a mile a minute) because I felt like he was officially a “part of my family.”
My sister and Michael’s wedding was still difficult for me emotionally because I always imagined John would propose to me (long before my sister got engaged) and really thought he would do it that Christmas… he was planning to move across the world with me but never thought about making that commitment? I still watched my sister’s relationship with envy wishing John could love me as much as Michael loved her. It totally did not help that they walked down the aisle to John and my “song” and got married in the hotel where John and I had our first kiss (and I first fell in love with him). As happy as I was for my sister (who had no idea she had randomly chosen a song or location so significant to my relationship), it was very emotional for me to consider that John would never look at me or treat me with that degree of compassion or love.
John had Asperger’s syndrome.
I was a Neurotypical (and a ridiculously empathetic one at that).
We both had a “label” yet not a single fucking person on the planet had a damn clue what that meant for our future, had a shred of useful advice to give us, or could prove that another Aspie-NT couple ever managed to find anything but misery in a relationship together.
John and I made a commitment to take on this “new” life together overseas and start over, but we were ill-prepared for the incredible stress our new world would throw at us. We had never learned to communicate effectively and we mostly existed by sharing common ground in hobbies/interests and humor. Emotional intimacy as a couple was nothing but a pipe-dream to me. I was sad and longing for something more and John could not see this in my eyes or hidden messages, and now we were living on an isolated tiny island in the middle of the damn Pacific with even less chance of finding help than we had in Florida.
John lived on edge and walked on eggshells with me because he never knew when I was going to jump down his throat about something or accuse him of being a jerk to me. He never realized I had been communicating the buildup of every one of these events weeks before they happened because I never spoke them aloud (I figured he was fully aware of everything and seeing the same reality I did but choosing to blow my feelings off). Despite educating myself about Aspergers I was never able to fully grasp how it truly impacted our relationship or what either of us were doing so wrong.
Outside of his uneasy feeling I might randomly explode at any time, and his boredom on the isolated island we lived on… John was otherwise content. John did not feel as uncertain and hopeless about our relationship as I did. John did not have a clue he was ever causing me pain so he did not feel badly for the pain I was in… he truly never saw it anyway. John was always looking at the positive and finding a way to be optimistic about our life together. John did not compare us to other couples and long for the happiness and intimacy they had, he didn’t think we were lacking anything, he never knew any different, so he did not desire any more. John did not know why I was always so unhappy, or what he could do to make it better, or understand any of the demands I placed on him to be a better partner… unless they were task oriented/tangible things he could physically accomplish, which he tried really hard to get better at. John did not feel disappointed in who I was, John appreciated who I was (even though he thought I was mentally unstable). John was just happy every day I chose to be with him. John was happy he had a girlfriend and even happier when that girlfriend (apprehensively) became his wife, because John stopped being so afraid I was going to leave him for someone better. John never wanted to change me, and John never wanted to hurt me. John just wanted me to stop crying all the time and telling him he was purposely being mean to me. John did not like the constant rollercoaster of emotion I had nor the times I screamed at him and “forced” him to defend himself and scream back at me. John did not understand why his stepdaughter was also an emotional basket-case or why his wife and stepdaughter always seemed to exclude him from conversations or gang up on him. John did not appreciate the days I was too angry and emotional to be around and he “had” to avoid me so he could avoid a fight. John still thought the rollercoaster ride was worth it every single day he woke up next to me because, he loved me. John always loved me.
I had no idea he viewed our relationship in such an innocent and optimistic way.
From outside of John’s view, John was a cold and cruel man who still refused to contribute financially to his family (he had perfect excuses now) and was a long-way-away from being a “decent” domestic partner. John was not kind or compassionate and would sigh or ignore his wife when she spoke of her increasingly stressful and physically exhausting job. John would share his irritation over his wife’s “laziness” on the few days off she had during the week and did not consider that she was being pushed to every limit she had and was equally isolated and alone on this tiny island. John was living with a woman who felt incredibly unloved, unwanted, unappreciated, disrespected, used, ugly, stupid, and betrayed by the man who promised to provide her with the opposite.
John married a woman who was at her wits end after her final attempt to get John to “want” to work on communication failed; he married a woman who believed her only remaining hope was that “marriage” would inspire him to love her enough to want to make positive changes for the future.
It was a wicked dumb thought-process to believe becoming a “husband” would motivate John to educate himself about his diagnosis and miraculously fix everything that had gone wrong, but desperate people do desperate things, and I was desperate for him to change his behavior! I loved John and it was so much easier for us to be married with our new living arrangements, so I did not think much about the added “title” in the same way John did.
Before we got married (for a fleeting moment) John and I had a run of happy months together with very little arguing. It seemed like he was really trying hard to communicate with me. This was the only thing I begged for all those years, so once he showed that level of initiative, it seemed like a great idea to finally get married (there was no romantic proposal, John never asked me to marry him at all and we shopped online for rings). After this decision was made, we continued to have an abnormally peaceful and happy run in the months leading up to the wedding. I attributed it to John putting in more effort around the house and in “sharing” his feelings with me (which really did look like a painful effort in and of itself for him). It never occurred to me (until recently) that the reason we were happy during the six months leading up to our wedding was that I made us happy.
I had been working so much and was so exhausted that John put in extra effort to not add more weight to my taxing life (and I finally verbalized what I wanted him to do when I was not home to help out). Once I set the ball in motion to get married and put down deposits on everything, I was so afraid of our good times imploding that I tried hard to leave any emotional or negative words out of my speech. I was very aware of the words that came out of my mouth; careful to not set off an argument or fight that could drag into months of misery and an embarrassingly cancelled wedding. I basically avoided any degree of emotional attempts at intimacy so I could avoid feeling angry when John shot them down (pretty pathetic, I know).
If only I realized then that changing MY method of communicating changed our happiness, I would have saved myself another six months of misery when we returned to our island home as husband and wife.
I will gleefully talk about our disastrously-appropriate wedding(s) in Florida and Michigan eventually… complete with emergency surgery, torrential down-pouring for our beach ceremony, and my epic breakdown at an airport in Tokyo while crying out, “I never should have married you!” in the security-screening line on our return… but that is another post.
What was important in the period leading up to that day, was that John and I remained peaceful and happy for a long enough span of time that we decided to get married and made it all the way to the exchanging of vows in front of our family (both in Florida and again in Michigan for a second reception).
AND THEN WE GOT HOME
Once we returned home, everything just fell to shit again. John wasn’t talking, I was angry, and we lived in a highly tense world. I really thought things would magically improve. At a minimum, I figured they would remain as good as they were months before the wedding (yes, even people in their late 30’s are that naive). Our days were anything but happy. The fighting was bad… so bad that I had given up all hope John was ever going to treat me well and became withdrawn and nasty. He was spending a lot of time with a new friend he made down the street and making some money off of building game boards he and the friend designed and painted. I was resentful that his new friend motivated him to do more than his own wife could, and I was especially pissed off that John would only drink alcohol with his “new buddy” (and his buddies) but refused to with me.
I loved drunk John and I missed him. Drunk John loved me, and he told me so. Drunk John told me I was important and perfect and told me how appreciated I was. I hadn’t really seen Drunk John since our amazing Wednesday Date Nights (before I became obsessed with Asperger’s syndrome), so I was beyond furious that these new stupid douchebag jock-type dipshits got to see the only side of my husband that ever made me feel truly loved.
I was working night shifts almost entirely when we returned from our wedding, and my job was incredibly high-stress. I was gaining weight (because my sleep and metabolism were shot and I never ate) and feeling bad about myself in general. I came home to a filthy house (John stopped trying since I was chronically pissed off and negative regardless of what he did) and he slept until after noon. John wouldn’t stay up with me at night on my days off (he wanted me to shift my schedule to days on my days off and then bounce back to nights for work) and I was angry about that because I never got to see him. I was enraged when he managed to hang out with his friends till the early morning hours (drinking) on the nights I was working but wouldn’t accommodate that same schedule when I was not.
Everything was making me mad and I was so bitter, exhausted, deflated, and angry that I made every effort to deflect it onto John (who was still not looking for a job and making me resent the future of unbalanced misery I had in store). I began demanding that John read about his disability or I was going to divorce him (yeah, I threatened the Big D… and I meant it too). John would sometimes pretend he was reading when I was at work, but the book never seemed to have been opened, and his internet history (when he didn’t clear it out) never seemed to have a single search related to fixing our relationship or him finding a way to better his life or our family. It made me hate him when I would look at his internet history and see countless hours of searching information about cars, the UFC, random news, fishing, and sports trivia used to engage conversation with his new friends… but never a single thing about being a husband, supportive parent, fixing his failing marriage, or… Asperger’s syndrome.
I was miserable in a way I had never been before. I was six years older than when John and I began and I was still fighting for the same thing from him with no real progress so I felt like an incredible loser. I cried every day I did not work and when I cried… John would get angry and call me names or say, “Jesus Christ… here we go again” and then ignore me for the night… or days after. My life was falling apart so quickly that I no longer felt like I had a grip on anything and I lost all of the personal motivation to even succeed in my own career. I was physically unwell and having multiple health issues (and my insomnia mixed with excessive sleep/fatigue and poor nutrition were not making anything better). There was nowhere I could even escape to because there was little to do on the tiny island we lived on. I had little left of my old self to cling to and was convinced I would never feel happy ever again. I felt like I had sacrificed myself to give John a chance to have a “normal” life and I truly hated him for it.
I wanted a fucking normal life…
I thought had earned it.
I blamed John for everything and anything and we went weeks without saying a single nice thing to one another. We stopped being intimate entirely and were both miserable. I begged him to leave and he would scream that he was going to get on the next plane… I would book him a flight a week out and then cancel it in time to get our miles back a day later when I had a moment to think about how he would be miserable if he went back to Michigan and my guilt would override my unhappiness. I would write… and write… and write. I stayed up all night on the back porch when I wasn’t working diligently researching Asperger’s syndrome and every scientific study I could uncover in the hopes of stumbling on forgotten research that had secrets to getting through to my husband.
If I wasn’t sleeping all day, or working at night, I was sitting on my back porch glued to my computer. I was hell-bent to turn over every leaf I could find and decided that when I truly had nothing left to type into a search engine…
I was calling it quits
I stopped calling my family and I stopped doing anything but researching, writing, crying, sleeping, and working. I could not even see how depressed John was becoming in the midst of all of my own misery. I was set to go to training in Texas for a month and a half and then go see my little sister and Michael’s new baby, my beautiful niece. I was certain my marriage would be done by the time I returned.
BUT SOMETHING HAPPENED
When I was in my training in Texas I found myself missing John terribly. I had no access to an internet connection and severe insomnia so I stayed awake all night in a small house that held four bunk-beds. I began replaying my life with John and everything that went wrong between us. I was beginning to put the puzzle pieces together, although it would take a few more months to make sense of it all.
I returned to the island with a refreshed mind and believed everything was about to get better. In my head, things were starting to make sense. By the time I located the light bulb in my brain that needed to be turned on, John was deep in his own depression. He was miserable, missed his family, felt alienated, unloved, and attacked at home. John was at a breaking point and was actually instigating fights. He had me second guessing the puzzle I thought I had finally put together while I was in Texas. I knew I was only missing one piece, but John’s depression eventually zapped the motivation right out of me to keep searching for it.
We fell back into the same sick cycle.
We did not like each other.
With no reason to keep going, John and I decided to call it quits.
By some divine intervention, John broke down on the day he was supposed to fly away from our home and marriage and began to sob. Then the light bulb turned on and I was able to suddenly see the missing piece I had been searching for all those years…
We were going to be ok. Not just ok. We were going to be HAPPY!
The below post picks up where this story of “us” left off: