Wednesday, October 01, 2003

I'm living with a freak 

Steve's words, not mine. I wouldn't normally call him that, but hey, he did it first, and I can agree, right?

It was clear to me pretty early on that the man I chose to involve myself with was somewhat on the eccentric side. I'm not sure exactly when I was clued into this, but the signs were there from the start. I gotta say that's part of his appeal, though.

Nonetheless, it's inevitably those little quirks that first interest us in a person that grate on our nerves later on. I won't be too mean, because not only do I know Steve's going to read this, but despite everything I love him to death. Still, I have to say he drives me up the wall on a daily basis.

Steve falls neatly into the autistic spectrum, somewhere in the "atypical" (PDD) region, as he notes in his background post. Luckily, he doesn't have any of those traits common to autistic people that I would consider relationship killers, like hating to be touched. On the contrary, he's actually quite clingy.

Maintaining a serious relationship with an autistic man is not a task for the faint of heart. Communication is particularly difficult -- we have so many misunderstandings it's not even funny. Steve tends to take everything literally, and my attempts at humor fall flat at best. At worst, they scare the hell out of him.

Today we were talking about a particular issue we have, which basically amounts to my clinginess vs. Steve's love of computer games. It's a messy problem that's been going on for months, and we've had countless discussions about it. This time he was trying to explain what it is he gets out of gaming that's so important he'd sacrifice one-on-one time with me for it.

So, Steve tells me he gets an ego boost of sorts from gaming. We were talking about this for a while, and the discussion was getting rather depressing. I thought I'd try to cheer him up by making a joke. "Well," I said, "You can play games all day long, every day... it'll destroy our relationship, but that's okay because you'll have an ego the size of an elephant!"

I figured this was a sufficiently ridiculous statement to at least provoke a laugh at just how absurd the talk we were having was starting to become. Wrong. Instead of the hoped for chuckle, I got a stricken look. Oops.

Deadpan humor, especially of the sort that sounds sarcastic, doesn't work well on the autistic crowd. I didn't really realize this until today, although I should have picked up on it long ago. This was far from the first time I've said something in an attempt to be funny and only succeeded in scaring the hell out of my fiance.

Then there's those times I'm sending what I think are quite clear signals I'm upset about something, and Steve completely fails to notice. Okay, fair enough, I should say something, and I normally do, but he's even worse at mindreading than your average male. Which is to say, completely inept.

That's actually a positive, now that I think about it. I can't be lazy about expressing myself, because if I want to get heard, I have to actually speak. I'm learning how to direct, which is a useful skill most women seem to be lacking.

Steve's weirdest autistic trait has got to be his near-obsession with numbers. I've learned it's a very bad idea to ask him what he's thinking, unless I'm prepared to be disappointed. God only knows how many times we've been laying in bed cuddling (often after sex), my mind full of sappy thoughts, when I've asked him what he's thinking about.

"Did you know," Steve will respond, "If you make a line of five fives, that's five squared... square that, you have a square made of fives, which is five cubed... then square that, and you have a cube made of fives, which is five to the fourth represented three-dimensionally..." Or worse, he'll be converting letters into numbers and noting the differences. Today he said out of nowhere, "Hey, IRC is two greater than ISCA."

... and then we somehow wound up talking about the standard deviation of penis sizes.

Then there's the lack of social protocol. Okay, I don't usually mind this. I mean, who else could I discuss cannibalism in North Korea over a romantic dinner with? But there was that one time, when Steve decided it'd be funny to drink a bottle of wine out of a brown paper bag right outside the entrance to the Olive Garden...

This is all pretty minor, though. The real issues come up when he does something totally inexplicable (which is quite often) and then can't even begin to explain why he did it. It's endlessly frustrating. "Why did you...?" is a hopeless question. The response is nearly guaranteed to be, "I don't know." Even worse is when that's the response to my asking how he feels. Or, God forbid, should I ask what's bothering him. Now that's fun shit -- knowing he's upset about something, but can't figure out what.

Sometimes he'll be terribly upset about something, then when I finally find out whatever it is that's bothering him, I'm left sitting there going "What the hell?!" Luckily, these occurances are fairly easily dealt with (most of the time) with some clarification and reassurance.

I recall one recent incident like this, where Steve looked really sad, and I was getting pretty worried. Then I found out what was bothering him -- I'd been lying in bed next to him, and my shirt kind of gapped open, so I pulled it closed. I'm not quite sure how he interpreted my covering of myself (I think he thought I was mad or something), but the truth was, it was kind of cold in the bedroom and I didn't have a blanket handy.

I could go on for hours, listing example after example of Steve's unusual behavior. In truth, though, most of it isn't an issue at all, and I find it makes him a much more interesting person to be around than a "neurotypical".

However, I have to say that it's created some challenges for our relationship. Communication is a nightmare -- it's like we speak different languages. I can't count how many times I've been so frustrated I've wanted to throw my hands up in the air and just say, "I can't deal with you!" And I'm certain he's spent his fair share of time thinking the same thing.

It's getting better, though, and despite everything, even if neither of us ever really understand each other, even if we never learn to speak each other's languages -- I'd never trade him for anyone else. I think, in some odd way, the challenge is good -- it keeps me motivated to try as hard as possible to make this work out. It's hard, but ever so worth it, because I love him far more than I ever thought was possible.

Steve may be eccentric, autistic, weird, whatever you want to call it -- but in spite of this, or perhaps because of it -- he's an incredible person, and in my eyes, he's perfect.

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