Our Hospitality: Prologue
Note: For clarity’s sake I should note that this was written on December 28th.
Originally my third post was going to be a little different, but I’m being thrown into a situation I helped create, and it’s a very autistic set of circumstances, so let me tell you about it.
I’ve been in a serious relationship for the last six months with a woman named Hannah. She’s fantastic: warm, smart, funny, and- I feel I should note- not remotely autistic. Folks in the autistic community often end up with people who are strongly emotionally intelligent and nurturing, and that’s what I’ve gone and done.
I met Hannah’s parents shortly after we started dating. Meeting the Parents is always a somewhat awkward, fear-inducing ritual, and doubly so when you have a debilitating social disability.
But I knew it was important for her that I meet her parents, and it’s one of those things that had to happen at some point, so it happened.
Mr. and Mrs. Hannah turned out to be very nice people. Completely normal. I’m not used to normal, so that was a little surprising, but I enjoyed myself.
Apparently I came off as polite. That’s the gold medal for an Aspie. I was worried that I was going to do or say something awful, or come across as cold or boring, or somehow cause a long, uncomfortable silence, or that somerthing horrible and unanticipated was going to happen.
Nothing bad happened at all.
I staggered back to my apartment afterward, exhausted but satisfied. Every time I manage to convince someone that I’m a normal human being, I feel like I’ve gotten away with something. This time I’d managed to convince Mr. and Mrs. Hannah that I was civilized in addition to normal, which was a real coup.
Hannah’s parents live four hours away, so I’ve only been able to meet them once, and I’ve never met her siblings and their families. Every now and then Hannah will go off for a week or longer to visit her family, and I stay in Toronto and demonstrate all the symptoms of someone going through heroin withdrawal.
I knew that she’d be going to visit her parents for most of December. That’s a long time to go without seeing her, and I knew for sure I’d feel it. I also knew her family matters a great deal to her, and I want to share things that matter to her.
So I suggested that I come up and spend some time at her parents’ place. Hannah said she’d been thinking about this as well, but she’d have to ask her parents. They said yes, apparently still under the impression that I was a polite, well-adjusted, and civilized human being.
It was decided that I would take the train and then spend five days in the middle of nowhere with Hannah and her parents. Her brother, sister, their partners, and spawn would also be visiting from time to time. I leave in two days.
I thought this would be a really fantastic opportunity to demonstrate how someone with Asperger’s responds to a complicated set of unfamiliar social dynamics.
To begin with, it’s important to establish expectations. Hannah told me- apropos of nothing- that her siblings and their spawn would be visiting on the first night I was there. The next night- New Year’s Eve- her sister would be visiting. The next day, her mother was having a party. After that, there was nothing planned.
This is good to know. Sure, it leads me to wonder about all the things that could possibly go wrong, but it’s so much better than wandering into the situation blind. It gives me time to figure out strategies and coping mechanisms, and communicate them to Hannah.
Here’s a Facebook message I wrote to Hannah last night:
There might be times when I’m visiting up there when I get burned out or overwhelmed. Not just socially, but in terms of sensory overload, too. It’s easy enough to deal with; when I feel like that I need to sit by myself in a quiet place for awhile, and read or write or something. The only person I’ll be able to socialize with during those times is you. At the very most I’ll require an hour or two, but most often it’s more like fifteen minutes to half an hour. I figure I’ll go and sit in your room if I get to feeling that way. I don’t know how you want to explain this to your parents, or if you want to explain it at all. They seem to be agnostics on the subject of weirdness, and here I come, weird in ways they’ve probably never contemplated. It’s very important to me that I make a good impression, and this exacerbates the self-consciousness I already feel about my disability. Because I’m going to be in a new situation, separated from my usual routine, which will cause stress, and stress can make my symptoms more obvious. Which might lead me to making less of a good impression- and the possibility of fucking up causes stress. So it sort of leads to a neat cycle. Anyway. Food for thought.
She sent me a very thoughtful response, telling me it was par for the course to want to escape from the kids, and that her siblings were easy-going, non-judgmental people, and her parents already liked me, and that the best thing I could do for myself was relax.
I found this reassuring, and am presently feeling cautiously optimistic about this endeavor.