The Straight Male Aspie’s Survival Guide to Dating, Part Seven
Sharing Your Interests:
So when you’re in a relationship with someone, you’re obviously going to be spending a lot of time with them. And- hopefully- you have a lot of things in common. But you’re not completely identical. There are differences. Some of these differences can actually be really important.
Like, for instance, there are a whole bunch of places I can’t eat, because I’m a finicky bitch. I can’t eat anything spicy, I don’t like messy food, and there are a bunch of common foods- like onions, fish, and rice- that I can’t eat.
Hannah enjoys going out to nice restaurants- weird, fancy places- and a lot of these places don’t have anything I could eat. She’s always accepted this, although occasionally with a little puzzlement. She has other friends she goes to these restaurants with.
The other night she went to some restaurant which only sells noodles for some reason. Apparently it was good. While she was doing that, I was in my apartment watching The Twilight Zone. I can’t watch it with her, because Hannah doesn’t really “do” black and white. She’s made a few exceptions in the past, because I’m enthusiastic about old movies and old TV shows, but generally when I’m with her we stick to newer stuff.
You know that compromise is important in relationships. You’re different people and you want different things and you neither of you can get what you want all the time. I know you know this. I also know that compromise is difficult for autistics. We are a stubborn people, set in our ways, and tend to be dementedly proud of this fact. That pride isn’t a bad thing, of course, but sometimes we need to get the fuck over ourselves.
If your partner wants to do something that you could hypothetically do, ask them how important it is. Hopefully they’ll be straight with you, and say, “This really matters to me” or “Well, it’s not a priority”.
But even if it’s not a priority, at least consider sharing the activity with them.
If you’re really not interested, or it’s something you can’t do, it’s not the end of the world. But don’t say no to everything, and don’t say no right away.
Here’s another thing we do: go on and on and on and on about something that interests us without realizing or caring that whoever we’re talking to has gone completely numb and is quietly praying for death. This is going to happen from time to time in your relationship, and you’re only going to be in a successful relationship with someone who finds this quality at least somewhat endearing. At the same time, you’re also only going to be in a successful relationship with someone who is comfortable saying, “Can we change the topic?” or “I have gone completely numb and I’m praying for death. You need to shut up.”
Fortunately, sometimes one of your special interests is going to be something that interests them as well, and you can go on and on and on together and it will be grand. But even in this area, please ensure that you have not been the only one talking for more than five consecutive minutes.
Your Identity as a Couple:
If you’re in a relationship, I hope you know who you are and what matters to you. If you don’t know yourself, you really have no business seriously dating people. I think we went over this earlier in the dating guide, but I’ve been writing this fucking guide for so long I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t a part of my life. Seriously, I thought it might take three weeks to write, tops.
Anyway, let’s assume you know yourself. But when you get together with another person, in addition to being yourself, you also gain an identity as part of a couple. Every couple creates their own private world. It is a collaborative process which continues for the duration of the relationship.
Every couple’s world looks different, and oftentimes it doesn’t make sense to other people.
My sister, for instance, lives with her boyfriend in an apartment which consists of a single room. And a bathroom. It is small- probably smaller than what you’re picturing. My sister is currently unemployed, so she’s in the apartment all the time. Her boyfriend works partially from home, so he’s around a lot, too.
This apartment was never intended to be inhabited by two people, let alone two people who spend approximately twenty hours a day there.
My question- and the question that most people ask when they hear about this- is, “How the fuck have you two not murdered each other yet?”
But not only are they surviving in this environment, they seem to be thriving.
“We don’t really fight,” my sister said a little while ago. “We’re both happy with this arrangement.”
“But you don’t have any private space. No time to yourself,” I said. “How does that work?”
My sister shrugged. “Well, we’ve both taken to disappearing into the bathroom for long periods of time.”
So that’s the world that my sister and her boyfriend share: tiny but idyllic. They’ve worked hard to create it, and it works for them.
Another good example is Hannah and me. We’re going to a swimming pool tonight at a children’s rehab hospital. Even though this pool is totally accessible, there are aspects of going swimming- like getting changed, and transferring from wheelchair to waterchair- which are difficult for Hannah. So I’m going with her, partially to help and partially because it’ll be fun.
She told her best friend about this, who was a little concerned.
“You can’t blur the lines between attendant and boyfriend,” her friend said. “That’s a big mistake.”
“He’s not being my attendant,” said Hannah. “He’s just helping me.”
“It’ll change the way he sees you,” her friend said.
I found it interesting to see what my relationship with Hannah looks like from the outside: that even for people who knew us well, we were seen sometimes as Helper and Helped. What people might not consider is the fact that I’m disabled as well, and that Hannah helps me as much as I help her. The ways in which she helps me are less visible- she does a lot of behind the scenes work. People see me helping her get her coat on, or holding doors open for her, but they don’t see me asking her about social expectations, or the business e-mails she drafts for me.
They also don’t hear all the horrible, off-colour jokes we share, thank God.
When you and your partner are constructing your world together, and refining it, and expanding it, communication is the most important thing. And you have to keep communicating, because this process of world-building will never end. I know you might have difficulty with change and transitions- Lord knows I do- but relationships are intrinsically fluidic. Keep talking together and you’ll be fine. Even when you don’t agree- and you won’t always- keep talking and working through it.