Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Aspergians as mates

Sometimes my blog essays are funny. Sometimes they are thoughtful or serious. And sometimes they echo what I hear from readers. In recent days I’ve had a few reader emails, comments and book reviews suggesting what a thankless and difficult job it is, being married to an Aspergian. I asked my mate if she felt that was true. “No,” she said. “Aspergians are just like any other guys. They have their good points and bad points. Of all the guys I went out with, you’re still the best by far.”

I realized she’s probably right, but perhaps not for the reasons people think.

If I had a blog dealing with alcoholism I’d get people writing in to tell me how hard it is to be married to a drunk. If my blog dealt with drug use, I’d hear how hard it is being married to a cokehead.

What if my blog dealt with being black, or being gay? Would people write in, telling me how hard it is being with a black guy, or a gay guy . . . . . got you there, didn’t I? Why don’t you think I’d get those comments too?

(pause)

I’ll tell you why. Because society is no longer willing to accept being black or gay as a “problem.” But society does accept being Aspergian as a “problem” and as a result, people will hang all manner of other relationship issues off of it.

There was a time – many of you readers are old enough to remember it – when being black or gay WAS a problem. But that time has passed. It’s time for it to pass for Aspergians, too.

We’ve got out pluses and our minuses. On the whole, this is how I think it breaks down:

Aspergians who are highly impaired by their condition will struggle with many social tasks, and marriage is one of the things they’ll struggle with.

Aspergians who are not very impaired – those of us who are “pleasantly eccentric,” as I told Emily Rooney on public television last night – won’t struggle too much with social issues, and we won’t struggle too much with marriage either. At least no more than the “average guy,” whatever that is.

That’s not too surprising.

You can focus on the good or bad in anyone. You can pick out the strange things Aspergians say and do, or you can notice our kindness, loyalty, and devotion to family. We may not seem affectionate when we stare at the floor, and we may forget birthdays and anniversaries, but many non-Aspergian people are like that too. We're often exceptionally articulate, gentle, and smart.

Drug or alcohol addictions are curable problems (at least sometimes.) Although I think you’d be a fool to do it, you could even marry a drunk hoping to dry him or her out. But we’ve all heard those stories – it doesn’t usually work. Aspergianism, in contrast, is not a curable problem. It’s not a problem at all – it’s a way of being. Aspergians can learn to act differently and to fit in better, but our basic thought processes are what they are. We improve with age, but we do not generally experience fundamental changes.

Those of you who think, "life sucks, being married to an Aspergian" should consider that we were Aspergian before marriage, and we're Aspergian today. Just as people who were black or gay last year are still black or gay today. And it's hurtful for all of us to hear that type of criticism for being what we are naturally.

15 comments:

kyra said...

i love being married to my aspergian-ish husband! relationships, as far as i can tell, are RIFE with issues and difficulties and struggles. it's far to easy to lay it on asperger's, if you ask me!

Polly Kahl said...

NO long-term relationship is easy. Nobody's perfect. I think, and I'm sure many of your straight female readers would agree, Martha is a very lucky gal. You're a big sweetie. She could do a lot worse.

amysue said...

Yeah. People may have a hard time understanding how person x can be married to person y but by and large I figure if the married couple are adults they probably went in with their eyes open to the god and the bad that we all bring to our relationships.

That said, being part of a multi-racial family I am sorry to say that racism isn't a thing of the past. It may sometimes be in hiding because of our insistence that it doesn't exist but it's there.

John Elder Robison said...

It's good to hear from wives like Kyra, representing the other side of the opinion spectrum.

And for the wives who are having a rough time . . . I wasn't picking on you. I just want you to know that we do have feelings, and they are easily hurt, too, even if we forget birthdays and the like.

PLANET3RRY said...

I know for me that being "pleasantly eccentric" was very advantageous for me and that being "eccentric" was able to write off some of my Aspergian Social faux pas (especially in college).

I've been using this line a lot this week "Education is Power". The other conditions that you mentioned in the post have been well researched and there is a lot of practical and statistical data on them. Popular culture has made it easier for gays to be open, in public, but in some places it's not tolerated. So, as the information becomes more and more available, Asperger's will be seen not as a "problem."

Jenny McCarthy is like the College Bowl Championship System (BCS). Not everyone agrees with the BCS (McCarthy) but because of it's public spotlight, people will talk about and become more knowledgeable.

Most of the education and research and literature is for Teens and younger. Some material is there for the adults and even less for the NT partners of Aspergers. My wife is finding this out first hand. One of the online forums my wife found for wives of Asperger husbands was nothing but negativity. Mostly complaining without any positive or constructive dialogue.

Your book and your writings here on this blog are perfect to show everyone that "Hey, this Asperger thing isn't a problem!"

John Elder Robison said...

Planet3rry, thanks for your support.

The Muse said...

Hey John,

In the context of your discussion of marriage, I do think that it WOULD be a problem if I discovered that my husband was gay!?!

I’m teasing. I know what you meant to say though; leopards don't change their spots.

There are those people who believe that addictions are not curable either. You have to either resign yourself to accept this as a part of their personalities, or move on.

Psychologist M. Scott Peck said in his writings that there are only basically two reasons to stay married:

1) For the raising of children and

2) For the friction.

He used the analogy of marriage as being like two coarse stones rubbing against each other to create friction. In the institution of marriage each partner polishes the other- rubbing off the rough edges. In a good marriage we DO change the other person because of the friction, the disagreements, and the conflicts that arise. Differences must be smoothed out and resolved. Compromises must be made. Obvious sharp edges and burrs get worn away in a committed relationship. Ultimately this makes us better people as individuals, less selfish and more refined. Our personality traits rub off and enhance the other person. However in a bad marriage, one of the rocks may be very hard and coarse and resistant to polishing, unwilling to make sacrifices or change for the benefit of the relationship, for the greater purpose. Those marriages often erode because one partner wears down the other. The softer, more fragile stone cannot polish the harder more dense rock. Although those rocks that are extremely dense may indeed be gemstones, it takes a very tenacious person to alter this kind of rock. Hard density rocks can scar and fracture softer, less resistant rocks. As relates to your post, some people are black and some are gay or Aspergian. It follows that some rocks, like people, are sandstone; some are jasper; some are quartz; some are geodes; some are fools gold; and then some are diamonds. (What might an Aspergian be?) We cannot change the basic composition of our mates. Some rocks are dull and earthy. Some are metallic. Some are translucent and shiny. And then some are magnetic. Hopefully we choose mates that have the same level of strength and clarity as we are. It is only through the friction that the beauty and luster of both stones can be revealed. Softer stones are easily burnished and shaped. Over time they become smooth and shiny. Whereas the hardest gemstones cannot be easily polished to reveal their radiance. Perhaps they require a different process altogether, to be cut and faceted by a master craftsman...

M. Scott Peck’s theory of marriage gives new meaning to the Paul Simon song, “Loves me like a rock.”

Amanda aka Demanda aka Dramanda said...

hi - when i read the book (in 2 sittings), i must admit i had that thought. but it was surpassed by the photos of you all (have these people who are critical seen how happy your family is in them) and, no offense to Martha, but the book is about you and asperger's. i think or thought that possibly you didn't want to delve into your obviously well-working relationship. and i think you are a terrific husband from my deductions. and i also get a sense that your wife appreciates you for you and you appreciate her for her. how many couplings can say that they ACCEPT the other AS IS. i think most of us long and strive for what the two of you have. anyway, i just don't want you to let others bring you down. what is the expression 'it's none of my business what others think of me' and also, you have stated that you have gotten through life so far by 'weeding' out the assholes - good advice. don't change!!!! evolve and learn, but don't change your core FOR ANY ASSHOLE who doesn't even know you and martha. i just f....g love you and your bro. one more thought i had recently, as messed up and awful your childhoods were - you two have good genes!!! i really admire you both!!!! keep on keeping on!!! amanda

Wendy said...

John I agree with you about there is not a problem with being an Aspergian. The problem is that society thinks these people are suffering from some sort of incurable disease. If anything, now I realize that it is a gift for my son to have these amazing talents that he has and he that he will go above and beyond the "average" kids in his class, one day, being an architect, engineer, whatever he wants. He is fortunate to have us as a close knit family to encourage and support him throughout childhood and adolescence. I think as more and more people come forward and say I have Asperger's too, that it will be thought of as a positive label. John, so happy to hear that your book is number 1 in Australia! Keep up the good work!!

Matty said...

Very nice post John. I agree with you and the other posters here whole heartedly. Often times people complain about the 'other' significant other in their relationship as an oppotunity to not look at themselves. I know you...and those that read your blog know you...and know that you think ALOT. You DO contectualize yourself and how and why you think and do, and why others may think and do the things they do. This is a trait that more people need to develope rather then spend their energy talking negatively baout their partner or relationship. Last time I checked the days of marriage by shotgun force have passed.

Maprilynne said...

Go John! My husband recently told his friend that eh really needs to go in and see if he should be diagnosed as Aspergian. His immediate response was that he did not want to take some medication for the rest of his life. My husband was quick to assure him it was not a "problem" like that.

I was quick to recommend your book.:)

Piglet said...

i've been discussing your book with oh like everybody in my daily life and people act like being aspergian is a handicap. i explain, "oh NO" it's a gift!

you are to be revered, admired, and respected for taking humans to the next level.

Belfast said...

Am dx'd AS, also female (yes, we exist, too-just like there are plenty of adults with the dx, not only children). Always looking for bolstering of idea that having this label doesn't negate one's suitability for participating in a relationship (couple). My boyfriend doesn't have an ASD, he just loves me for who I am (regardless of what category I may 'belong' to), and that in itself is a wonderful thing. In some ways I'm difficult-yet in other ways I'm easier to understand than "NT" (or whatever one calls those w/o an ASD) people.

Here's a link that cheers me up:
http://autism.about.com
/od/inspirationideas/tp/besttraits.htm
(delete if you wish-had to put it on two lines so it wouldn't mess up page format)

Bill said...

After 35 years of struggle you've given my marriage a chance. After reading your book my wife said she could have been reading MY autobiography. Your description of your thought processes was identical to how I've told my wife I think. She has refused to believe that until now, concluding that I don't care, and unfeeling, selfish, mean, etc, etc, etc. This has been a major breakthrough. Thanks!

susan said...

I am a mate - love my aspergian husband of 25 years most of whose eccentricities I love - However - there is one that makes living in the same space with him reeeaaally hard. He can't seem to put or throw anything away. Books, papers, flyers, magazines, little notes, old mail, stuff, clothes etc etc - once in they never leave the house. And he hates file cabinets or any organizing system that allows for cleaning or space for the other people in the house. He gets really defensive if I bring the subject up and shuts down. I am not a neat or clean freak - but this may finally destroy our marriage because I need a clean house to keep my bad asthma under control. Any suggestions?