Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Love is blind - Marriage is the eye-opener


This afternoon, I'm pleased to present a guest blog from my friend and fellow author David Finch, whose Journal of Best Practices makes its debut in bookstores in just three more weeks . . . 




When people meet me for the first time, they’re often surprised to learn that I have Asperger syndrome.  “Oh, my,” they say, sometimes slowly and clearly, as though they’re now addressing a child.  “It is really remarkable how well you’re able to handle yourself socially.” 
            As compliments go, it’s not so bad.  Still, I can’t help but feel a little like an unfrozen Neanderthal when I hear comments like that.  “You mean to tell me you’re only thirty-four years old and you managed to come here all by yourself?” The implication is that two minutes ago I was just another dude standing around in a sport coat, smiling unexpectedly, but now that I’ve outed myself, I’m Asperger Guy, and it’s a wonder I haven’t been yapping the whole time about pygmy fruit bats or the history of the shoe.
            What can I say?  People are bound to be surprised.  One of my special talents is masking certain behaviors, a skill set I’ve been cultivating since childhood, when began my lifelong career of wanting to blend in.  Even I didn’t know I had Asperger’s until I was thirty years old; the prevailing diagnosis throughout my early life was that I was peculiar.  Talk to me long enough, or catch a glimpse of me lumbering around the cocktail party, and you’d find this assessment still to be fairly accurate.  But at first glance, you might not call it Asperger’s.  This is not uncommon.  Some with Asperger’s may appear more or less not-Aspergian depending on the circumstances.  I could possibly elude a diagnosis if I assumed the right character while talking to a psychologist for an hour or two.
            My wife, Kristen, knows this all too well.  We had been friends for years—I was always that special (dorky) friend of hers, the quirky one who made her laugh in a certain way that no one else could—and one day, we found ourselves in love.  We dated for a year, a period of time that, in some ways, felt like a twelve-month-long audition.  Be cool, I told myself, roughly ten-thousand times a day.  Look normal.  Act normal. 
            We got engaged, and still I did everything I could to impress her, because, as I understood it, that’s what a person did when they landed themselves a fiancĂ©e.  I showered Kristen with affection and praise, went out of my way to act supportive, and never once voiced a negative thought or feeling.  What was not to love about that guy?
            After we were married, and we were living together around the clock, Kristen began to understand exactly what was hard to love about that guy: he wasn’t entirely real. By our third anniversary, the illusion I’d created had been shattered, and Kristen found herself married not to the husband she’d always wanted, but to a husband who had no idea how to go with the flow.  A husband who lost his temper whenever his concentration was disrupted—even when it was disrupted by an act of affection, such as a kiss or a simple hello.  A husband who couldn’t show her the kind of support she needed.
            Despite the fact that she had been working with children with autism for several years, Kristen hadn’t recognized my mixed bag of baffling behaviors and frequent man-tantrums as Asperger’s (of course, no one else, including me, had recognized this either).  We had been married nearly five years before her suspicions reached an apogee and she realized I could actually be on the spectrum.  Some are amazed by this, but it does not surprise me at all.
            A toad analogy, if I may.  I’ve been told that if you toss a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately try to escape, but if you place a frog in a pot of water at room temperature and gradually bring it to a boil, the frog will not try to escape; it’ll just boil to death.  (I don’t know who on earth conducted these experiments, but I like to think it’s true.  We can also assume that I’ll be the one in hot water for making my wife a frog in my own analogy...)
            Marriage can be a slow boil.  When you’re married, and things aren’t going so great, the threshold of pain and drama and wackiness tends to creep up imperceptibly as you go about your daily lives.  If, when you were blissfully dating, you could somehow fast-forward to a period in your marriage when that threshold of pain is unfathomably high—five, ten, fifteen years into the future—you would experience the darkness all at once, and you might decide to walk away from the relationship, to leap from the pot.  It would be that alarming.  “Good lord, is this what our marriage is going to look like?!  Welp, nice knowing you, do not keep in touch.”   But life doesn’t work that way.  Instead, you just sit in the pot, day after day, and boil to death, acclimated for better or for worse to the suffocating conditions. 
            There is another reason we wouldn’t have thought to call it Asperger’s sooner: I had never expressed to Kristen just how challenging certain situations were for me.  Like how difficult it was to navigate social interactions, how exhausting it was for me to be “on” around other people, or how upsetting it was whenever my routine was disturbed.  I hadn’t spent a great deal of time contemplating these things about myself.  All I knew was that I seemed different from other people, yet prior to my diagnosis I just wanted to fit in.  I wanted to seem, for lack of a better term and knowing full well that a word such as the one I’m about to use can swiftly, if unintentionally, stoke the ire of commenters everywhere, normal.  As a guy who assigned unique personalities to numbers, was it asking too much to seem normal?  I mean, who wants to think of themselves as being inferior?  Who wouldn’t feel inferior if they were being mocked on a regular basis, even as an adult?  Who has the presence of mind to say yes to their freaky, extraordinary selves, especially if they don’t know it’s okay—nay, advantageous—to be different?
            So, how could Kristen have known what it was like to be me?  I barely knew what it was like to be me—I didn’t even know there was a clinical name for being like me.
 When she realized how many similarities I had with Aspergians, Kristen sat me down and guided me through a very informal evaluation.  Though I am grateful to be married to someone who doesn’t spend her days regarding me through a diagnostic lens, I’m glad that Kristen instinctually pieced it together and invited me to participate in the evaluation.  A person can learn a lot about himself when he answers more than a hundred questions designed to reveal precisely how his mind works.  For the first time I understood who I am.  And Kristen finally understood, too.
            Until we went through that exercise, she could not possibly have known just how difficult it was for me to adapt to things, or how great a challenge it was for me just to understand how to be responsive to her needs.  Or, in her words: “I never could have imagined how hard it sometimes is for you to simply be.”
            That’s how Asperger syndrome can so thoroughly destroy a relationship that at one time seemed invulnerable.  If it’s well-hidden, and you’re not specifically looking for it, the condition can reveal itself slowly, one misunderstanding and baffling meltdown at a time.  But for Kristen and me it’s no longer hidden, and we used this knowledge of the so-called disorder to rebuild our marriage.  With my diagnosis she found patience and understanding, I found self-acceptance and the will to learn to manage the behaviors that strained our relationship, and together—together—we are finding our way to the marriage we always wanted.
            And it makes me wonder, as I sit here scripting tomorrow’s inevitable didactic lecture on pygmy fruit bats: How many of us are struggling with something that reveals itself in such cruelly deceptive ways?  How many of us are plainly misunderstood, even by those who know and love us best? 

AUTHOR BIO:
David Finch is an author and lecturer.  His debut memoir, THE JOURNAL OF BEST PRACTICES (Scribner; January 3, 2012) is available for pre-order now.  David lives in Illinois with his wife and their two children.  Please join him on Facebook.

13 comments:

Saffi said...

Pygmy fruit bats: I am first in line for the lecture! Once again, David, a wonderful piece.

Marianne said...

I love the boiled-frog analogy, makes so much sense. Makes me wonder what things I need to wake up to in life!

Traumadoll said...

I am in the middle of being the frog at this moment. He and I have been together for a year and I am often ready to leap from the pot.
The past 3 or so months have been especially trying and I was nearly in tears at my desk when instead of telling me he loved me as he left for a short trip, he simply texted "leaving now."
Reading your article has made all the difference in the world today.
Thank You!

fullsoulahead.com said...

Wow. What a poignant post. The book sounds great! I look forward to reading it.

Rachel said...

I love the frog analogy. We were all frogs for a while with regard to my brother. I think my mom has been the holdout, always thinking it was "something else" that made my brother different. I think an early (incorrect) diagnosis of MR really frustrated her and she never wanted to see that there could be something else out there that made my brother's interaction with the world so different. I think she is finally jumping out of the pot. Best of luck with the book! Looks like you're off to a great start.

GLALMBP said...

Wonderful Post! I can't wait to share the book with my Hubbie!

After being together for 6 years we took the plunge in 2007 and my spunky, quirky boyfriend turned into a seemingly detail obsessed, more than occasionally churlish and terse husband. I was baffled about why he would keep me up to the wee hours talking endlessly about politics and economics and cars or get snippy if I didn't agree with him about seemingly small, unimportant details. I tried to remain polite but it did start to get to me.

After some self tests, professional evaluation and counseling, he recieved the diagnosis and it was like a light was shed on all the past idiosyncrasies. A new sense of peace and relief washed over both of us.

Learning about Aspergers gave me the a chance to better empathise with him and him with me. I learned that the sometimes tactless comments rarely if ever come from a mean-spirited place and he learned that I have needs and interest that are not necessarily a mirror reflection of his own. Since then we've been able to re-evaluate our approaches to the issues life can present as a team and with confidence that we are both in each other's corners.

Of course there are still challenges; it hasn't always been a euphoric dreamworld but I'd say it's close... and improving every day ;)

newnoz said...

wonderful piece. Where's that leave the woman with Aspergers? Woman seem to handle marriages ups and downs better than men though mean are a little closer to the spectrum than women. Too bad i am not attracted to women. I will be reading your book now. Hope it's uni-sex.

John Elder Robison said...

Actually, my book is not what you would call uni-sex. I say that because my advocacy work has taught me that straight vs gay guys, and guys vs. girls of either persuasion, all face some distinct and different issues, for a variety of reasons I've talked about in essays here and elsewhere.

In LMITE and BD I have written about what I know, and while that is likely of value to a gay guy or female, it is far from being the whole story and we would all benefit if someone emerged to write about those perspectives from firsthand experience.

Beguine said...

How do I get my husband to even consider he has Aspergers? My son has a diagnosis, but my husband will not consider that this is the problem in our marriage. I have been in those really black places in our marriage. I have married 22 years and it gets worse rather than easier . . .

trinityjade05446 said...

I have long been an admirer of yours, John, and in the past month have come to really admire David. I think I read all of Best Practices thinking, wow, this guy is completely the male version of me and that we both found women with the patience of saints. I am actually in the middle of a book of my own that tells the story from a same sex perspective, so my wife got a kick out of the comment that such a book might actually be needed. I have a vision of it sitting out in the ebook world, withering away unread, so I find it hopeful that someone thinks that there is an audience beyond myself that might actually want to read it. It was Look Me in the Eye that prompted us to consider Asperger's as an alternative to me just being either A. insane or B. the most unreasonable person ever. That book changed my life and put us on the road to understanding and answers to questions I and others have had since I was little. And now Mr. Finch's is helping to save my marriage (or at least show my wife that I will learn if she can continue not to kill me). Thank you both.

aspmom said...

Excellent book that made me deeply empathize with aspies. Thanks so much for this post!

Monica Brown said...

My name is Tiffany Sanchez from USA My boyfriend and I were happy as far as I could tell and I never thought that we would break up. When his cousin died in a tragic car accident he went back to Philippine for a week to be with his family. I could not go because I was in the middle of entertaining out of town clients for work. He did not seem to be upset that I could not go so I let him be. The next thing that I know, he reconnected with an old friend from high school that he had a crush on years ago and they started to have an affair! I had no clue what was going on until a month after he came back from Philippine.He proceeded to see both her and I until I caught him testing her one night. I confronted him and he told me the truth about what happened. We broke up and went our separate ways. Neither of us fought for our relationship. I was angry and decided not to be upset about it and just keep it moving. Then after about a month of not speaking to him I became sad. I wanted him to tell me that he wanted to be with me and not her. I contacted Dr.NICE OKSE for a love spell and he totally helped me! he was able to get him to miss me to where he wanted to get back together again. He had a lot of regrets and felt bad for not fighting to keep me and for cheating in general. He values our relationship so much more now and we are together now! You can also get your lover back with the help of Dr. NICE OKSE contact him through his email: professionallovespell@hotmail.com

Miss Joyce said...

My name is Joyce and my ex-boyfriend dumped me 8 months ago after I caught him of having an affair with someone else and insulting him. I want him back in my life but he refuse to have any contact with me. I was so confuse and don't know what to do, so I visited the INTERNET for help and I saw a testimony of how a spell caster help them to get their ex back so I contact the spell caster and explain my problems to him..... he cast a spell for me and assure me of 3 days that my ex will return to me and to my greatest surprise the third day my man came knocking on my door and beg for forgiveness. I am so happy that my love is back again and not only that, we are about to get married. Once again thank you Temple of permanent healing, you are truly talented and gifted. dr.jartospellcaster@gmail.com is the only answer to any relationship problem.he can be of great help and I will not stop publishing him because he is a wonderful man dr.jartospellcaster@gmail.com