The difficulties experienced by most people on the autism spectrum when it comes to social interaction are a major handicap when it comes to forming relationships. I’m no different in this respect – I have never “chatted up” anybody in my life and wouldn’t even know where to start. It’s not something you ever get taught. Besides that, approaching a stranger – even one that I find attractive – causes me too much anxiety and I can’t manage a conversation in that frame of mind. It’s hard enough for me to start a conversation and keep it going with somebody I know well and feel comfortable around. I should also note that “attractiveness” for me is a very subjective thing – for example, I never come up with names that people are expecting when asked to name a celebrity I find attractive. But that’s another subject.
The end result of my social difficulties was that I never had a girlfriend right through school and university. To be honest I didn’t even try – it wasn’t something that I felt I needed or was able to do. My first relationship began after I moved away from home to start work. I was about 23 and she made the first moves. Looking back I guess I got almost obsessively involved very quickly – this isn’t uncommon for people with Aspergers, but at the time I hadn’t even heard of the condition. Although we got married and had a daughter, the relationship didn’t last for a number of reasons – some of them related to my AS, others to do with a more basic incompatibility. The break-up was extremely stressful on both sides and I ceased contact soon afterwards – I just couldn’t face it because even thinking about it would overload me.
Understandably I wasn’t looking for another relationship after this experience, but a year or so down the line I ended up in one – only my second – with the woman who was to become my second – and current – wife. This one also started intensely and cooled over the years but we have proved to be rather more compatible than was the case in my first marriage. It was my current wife who first suspected that I have AS – she has some experience with neurological disorders which helps her understand me.
Our relationship began when she started chatting to me in a bar. We had friends in common and I believe that’s why I felt so comfortable so quickly. I never had any plan – any end result in mind – for where our friendship might lead. I just kind of got caught up in the flow and without having a clear idea of how we got there we ended up living together and, some time later, got married.
We have had times when we have argued – or, to be more precise, when she has got riled up and I’ve responded by overloading with either a meltdown or more usually a shutdown. But these have been rare and short-lived and in the main we get along very well. We complement each other’s strengths: I am normally placid and level-headed while she is emotional and impulsive. She instigates the majority of what we do while I keep our feet on the ground. She manages the household (finances and suchlike) regarding which I have a major blind spot.
What I regard as my biggest strengths: I am completely loyal and faithful, I care very deeply about her. My biggest weaknesses: I can’t show or express my feelings in speech, I fall into repetitive behaviour very easily. I know that life with me is difficult for her at times. Even after nearly ten years together, she still expects me to react “normally” in certain situations. But between us we are making a success of this relationship. One of the keys to that success has been the fact that she understands how having AS affects me.