In my post Disintegrated Mask I mentioned several features that are not uncommon in late diagnosed autistic adults who have struggled with their condition for decades and never really managed life successfully. I have many of the problems mentioned in that post (unemployment, debt, and so on), but there is one I don’t have, and I always slightly wondered why. The discovery that I am autistic has also solved the mystery of a part of my life that has worked, and has made clear just why it has worked!
I’m happily married and have been for nearly fifteen years! In fact, personal relationships, although they’ve usually been fairly unconventional, have been one area that I’ve found relatively easy to deal with – and much much easier than forming ordinary friendships. Admittedly, most of my relationships prior to that with my husband have been with men who were much older than me (I very much fulfill the autistic criterion of having “age inappropriate friendships” in this respect) and they have all been part time, for either geographical or other reasons. The only time, prior to moving in with my husband, that I did attempt to live with anyone else it ended up with me getting half strangled and covered in bruises in a domestic violence situation – I’m now wondering whether some sort of autistic naivety landed me in that situation and I was unable to read the signs of how badly controlled I was being long before it reached the stage of actual physical violence. Doesn’t really matter since it’s ancient history now in any case.
However, I did eventually marry – an old friend from College, and, although it’s a very successful marriage, I’ve never really been able to work out quite why it works, or exactly why I selected him – the best I could come up with, while giving a speech at my wedding to all my assembled friends, was that he was the only person I’d had round to my flat who I wasn’t thoroughly relieved to see the back of when he left! I do wonder how anybody’s still speaking to me after that, having basically told all my friends that I liked them best when they went home, but maybe they knew what I meant. I certainly saw marriage as a big sacrifice of my own place and my personal space, but I also wanted a family (that didn’t work out too well), and, with hindsight I really couldn’t care for myself properly on my own – when we got together I was stuck in my flat and falling apart very quickly.
He wasn’t doing that well at the time either. He was in even worse financial shape than I was (which was an achievement in itself), having had a complete breakdown and a fear of communication that had led to him not opening any post for 6 months and he’d had his phone cut off. He and his cat were on the edge of being thrown out of their dwelling, and he was in a job where the boss only paid him from time to time when he felt like it, which didn’t help matters. He sent me a speculative e-mail from an internet café, inviting me to meet his cat, cooked me a couple of meals, and we got engaged. No dating, no romance, more a question of having reached almost 30 and thinking that this was probably a good idea! It was most definitely NOT how it’s shown in the movies!
And so we got married. And we’re still married. And we’ve survived quite a lot – seven funerals in the first two years of our marriage, and lots more deaths since, infertility and coming to terms with childlessness, many breakdowns and near suicides, near bankruptcy on many occasions and huge debts throughout, unstable housing, culminating in having to move very quickly a few years ago, job losses and redundancies, and trying to cope with the fact that we are both, clearly, very mentally ill. He can’t drive, so I do that bit. I can’t cook, so he does that bit. We have some sort of inbuilt sensors that detect which of us is the weaker at the time and the other one does their best to keep us surviving along the way.
We’ve also had quite a lot of good stuff too. It hasn’t all been doom and gloom. During a time when our manic phases aligned and coincided with the rise of budget airlines we went zooming round Europe for a while. We’ve visited art galleries and interesting buildings around the place. We took up ultrarunning a couple of years ago and did couch to 100K in 9 months. We’ve supported each other in different interests – I’ve been to performance poetry, he’s been to music, and so on. And we have a massive shared interest in small animals – during the course of our marriage we’ve shared our lives with a total, so far, of 10 cats, 5 guinea pigs, 11 hamsters, and 252 rats!
And it seems to work. We never row. We often chat by facebook message rather than having actual spoken conversations. We spend a lot of time immersed in our own things. We have never, ever, gazed into each other’s eyes, because that would be weird. When I read the articles on the internet that purport to tell me what the features of a successful marriage might be I get the impression we should have been divorced long since. We are not really “romantic” in any sort of conventional way. We spend a night apart from time to time, which seems to benefit both of us. And we’ve lived, as I described in Further Reasons, as a fairly self-contained unit of two.
But exactly WHY he was the right person to marry, and why it works as it does, has been a bit of a mystery to me. I had expected to marry a musician, or, at the outside, a scientist, since science is one of my other big things. He is neither, although he is startlingly intelligent and has an incisive mind that surpasses mine by miles. He is, however, what people might describe as “a bit eccentric” in many ways. He’s not what you’d call a “people person” and our early attempts to do normal couples-type socializing didn’t really work. He likes to multiply eight-digit numbers together in his head for fun. He finds parties and talking with any sort of background noise very difficult. He has almost “whisperer-like” qualities with animals. He likes to sit in the dark. He constantly twirls his wedding ring in his hair. He is terrified of using the telephone. He can be brilliant academically, but couldn’t manage to learn to drive a car. He is very significantly underemployed for his qualifications and evident abilities because he has also struggled with life in the same ways I have. When we were first together he only ever looked at me, even when he was talking to someone else, which was somewhat disconcerting. He’s always said I was easier to deal with than most people because I just say things as they are. At the meeting we had with the minister to discuss our wedding arrangements he sat, almost all the way through, staring at the floor, rubbing his foot back and forth on the carpet, and making grunting noises. The minister looked at me as if to say “Why are you marrying this man?” and I had to admit that I didn’t really know but that he’d been a mate for a very long time and we’d decided that we might as well get married and I just knew, for some reason I was completely unable to explain, that it was the right thing to do.
And now it all makes sense.
Where I was, supposedly, the social and outgoing one of the two of us, without the faintest clue that I might be autistic, he has always been more obviously introverted where social functions are concerned. Over the years, given his general lack of sociability and obvious eccentricities, people have occasionally said that he’s “a bit aspie” (a term that didn’t really meant much to either of us, but we guessed it was something to do with his being good at numbers and antisocial in a sort of general way), and it’s always been there, in the background, that he’s been one of the more unusual members of society, and that I’ve been his guide through the social world!
And so, one of the other really big surprises in all this is that it’s me going for an autism assessment and writing an autism blog, and not him. Had you asked me a year ago which of us was more likely to be autistic, it would have been him. We’ve sort of known for years that there was something slightly different about him, but only vaguely. His gradual awareness of his autistic characteristics has been like one of those Hawaiian volcanoes – gently churning out lava, but not really doing much damage, and not really attracting a huge amount of attention. I was more of a Mount St Helens – a sudden catastrophic explosion and trees scattered like matchsticks on the remains of a smoking mountain.
But as we’re reading the autism books and learning about communication and sensory overload and executive functioning and stimming and demand avoidance and so on, his life is starting to make more sense too. We are spotting things that have slightly mystified us throughout our marriage about BOTH of us, about the way we are both so very very capable at some things, but so utterly unable to do others, about how we each compensate for the other, about how he is able to see what I need in terms of care because he knows it from the inside.
Whether he will ever go for any sort of formal assessment or diagnosis is unknown at this stage. We are not thinking too far ahead at the moment because there is quite enough to deal with in the present, and, given how difficult the process of getting a formal diagnosis evidently is, it will be entirely up to him whether he wants to pursue it. He has, in many ways, been more sensible than I have over the years. His underlying personality is more introverted and he’s stayed away from social events and realized much earlier than I did how much energy they take – he had more difficulties when he was younger but has balanced out as time has gone on. I have continually thrown myself into social situations because I didn’t realize how much damage I was doing, so have crashed more spectacularly later on into adulthood. Our traits have manifested themselves somewhat differently over the years.
What is clear is that we’re now learning a lot about how we both work – and this is not just about me. And what is also now clear is why we got married in the first place, and how we have managed to stay married for nearly 15 years. Without having the faintest idea what it was that had drawn us together all those years ago, we had spotted something that made sense, and seen in each other something even more important than being a musician or a writer or whatever, something that we both had in common, even though we didn’t have a word for it. We didn’t discover that word was autism until a few months ago!
My best friend once said to me (long before I actually got married) that if I was ever to marry he thought that I’d have to be rather lucky to find somebody who could cope with me because I was definitely something of a “specialist taste”. He was right. And he didn’t know why at the time either.
Fortunately I did get lucky!