the other side of the other half of asperger syndrome, part 2

This is a continuation of the last post, a close reading of The Other Half of Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder): A Guide to Living in an Intimate Relationship with a Partner who is on the Autism Spectrum. That was commentary on Part I. Here I comment on passages in Part II.

This was another passage that Kindle points out is frequently highlighted:

The fact that your partner has formed a long-term intimate relationship with you is a very positive thing as it is likely to mean that they are at the higher, more able end of the spectrum. Many adults with Asperger syndrome never form such relationships. For some this is because they are not interested in developing them; for others the desire is there, but they have neither the social skills nor ability to do so.

It’s more like it depends on how much people are helping you.

A person with Asperger syndrome will have difficulty with both reading non-verbal and pragmatic signs and sending them. For instance, someone who can look a person in the eye and talk with confidence is likely to be perceived as honest. If your partner does not get these important signals right, you may think they are being evasive or untruthful.

The need for eye-contact isn’t universal across cultures. The problem here is that the author has no idea that there might be legitimate non-British ways of doing things.

I disagree that it’s wrong for me to try and avoid eye contact to avoid discomfort or help me think. She has a mindset that the autistic person is bad and can’t do anything right. She could see this as a practical issue that’s easily solved by two people who like each other and want to get along.

It’s gross that she makes it seem understandable and not in need of changing that the non-autistic partner makes highly destructive misattributions for no ignorant reasons. I have to deal with uncertainty about other people’s body language all the time. Someone can learn to deal with less eye contact and using other signals to communicate.

One woman told her husband that if he did not change he would have to leave and, much to her horror, the next day he left. He took it that that was what she really meant and wanted and, as he did not feel he could change, he left. He could not see that, at the time, she was upset and was desperately trying to get a response out of him that would prompt him to change some of his ways, and that she did not really want him to go.

Ordinarily, this would not happen as someone would know that most people say things when they are upset or angry that they do not necessarily mean. Unfortunately, someone with Asperger syndrome may find underlying meaning very difficult to understand, so it is important that you remember to say what you mean and mean what you say–this can prevent many misunderstandings. Sometimes, though, it can make conversing very tiring and lengthy, especially when you are feeling fed up and just wish that your partner would understand the point of what is being said.

I hate you; don’t leave me! So she’s using BPD emotional terrorism to get her way. Got it.

I think the truth is that people mean what they “didn’t really mean.” Part of them meant it. People are complicated, have a subconscious, experience ambivalence. “Didn’t really mean it” is just disavowal and gaslighting.

Saying what you mean can make conversation tiring and lengthy? At my day job, talking to people whose jobs have to do with securing the websites of a company, I frequently have to explain and demonstrate a vulnerability multiple times before the client understands. Sometimes they’re argumentative until they get it. I have to maintain the infinitely-patient customer service guy teacher personality. I’m doing that emotional labor for a stranger, as part of my job but also to be nice. If you need help understanding something and your partner’s attitude is impatience and contempt, the relationship is already broken and it’s their fault.

There’s a remarkable lack of empathy in this passage:

It is likely that your partner has been made to feel stupid many times in his life. As a child, they are likely to have been singled out, identified as “different” and bullied at school. The bullying was probably quite severe and so, as an adult, they may be very sensitive to any form of perceived ridicule or put-down, especially from you. This could instantly anger them and they may react to the situation as if they were suddenly back in the playground, placing you on the outside, as an enemy.

Once this happens, there is very little chance that you will be able to reach reconciliation quickly. Even when you do, they may not let go and forget what you said. Those with Asperger syndrome can have an excellent memory for dialogue, and their memory of what you said can sometimes seem unfairly selective. It is possible that, in particular, they will remember the negative things to the exclusion of anything else, and perceive them to be a personal verbal attack.

Trauma-informed care: “When bitches get molested as kids it makes them all psycho and if you make the wrong joke they might turn into a giant harpy and not give you a blowjob for a week! So lame!”

She’s describing PTSD and emotionally biased recall like they’re reasons to have contempt for autistic people instead of well-described psychological phenomena.

But autistic people can’t be traumatized because we don’t have feelings.

There’s a vignette of a couple where the woman seethes and glares and acts all mad at her partner every morning because he doesn’t give her a hug on the way out the door in the morning, and he picks up on the tension and flees. They solve the problem by, like, expressing the problem with words and putting up a note that reminds him to do it until it becomes part of the routine. Problem solved. Of course it’s not the woman’s fault for creating the walking-on-eggshells nightmare in the first place.

It’s fucking awful to be eating a meal and then your partner gets really upset at you and “you know what you did” and you don’t know what you did. That’s happened to me because people at another table were having an annoying conversation and I glanced up when a woman returned from the bathroom to sit back down. I was checking her out, and that’s that. Gotta fight and be miserable for days, now.

Or turning walking down the sidewalk into an ordeal because I’m always standing on the wrong side to “make her feel safe” so I must not care.

It sucks to end up in a relationship because you remind someone of whoever abandoned them before, and then they punish you for it.

The book gives good advice when it actually respects that there might be other ways of doing things.

One man with Asperger syndrome whom I interviewed for the first edition of this book was only able to communicate his deeper feelings through letter writing, and he did this with profound literal accuracy and a great depth of feeling. The letters proved invaluable to his wife and compensated for what he never said. Letter writing gave him the time to think about what he wanted to say or what was bothering him.

For some couples writing things down, such as lists or reminders, works very well and can make giving instructions or directions for something far less complicated. One man bought his Asperger wife a journal so she could write down her feelings when she felt overwhelmed and struggled to communicate with him. Over time she shared parts of her journal with him and this gave him an insight into how she felt and how he could make improvements in his responses to her and develop strategies to help her cope.

It’s kinda like the whole book is written from the standpoint of someone who’s anxious-preoccupied and uses aggressive confrontation as her go-to method for dealing with distress. It’s a theory-of-mind problem not to understand that people can’t function when they’re overwhelmed and you’re overwhelming them. Although that’s a topic for BPD self-help books instead and it’s called mentalization there.

Everybody should work on their mentalization.

This passage about avoiding overload is funny:

It is also important to deal with only one subject at a time. A statement such as the following example may cause utter chaos and produce only a negative reaction:

Well, what are you going to do about fixing the leak in the bathroom? Should we call a plumber? I have been asking you to do something for days–why do you always ignore me? You’re just like your father–he never listened to a thing your mother said. I am sick of it. Well don’t just stand there, shut the front door, I’ve just made a pot of tea.

After such an onslaught, the Asperger partner may run the other way, freeze or react with anger. It is doubtful that they will either fix the tap or want a cup of tea. It is important, therefore, to remember only to ask one question about one subject at a time.

I think I understand this one! The woman feels lonely or something and wants her pain to flow out to the universe, so she doesn’t mean any of that stuff literally. She just wants to lash out and the literal details don’t matter. Obviously someone trying to solve a problem wouldn’t act this way.

In this story, who’s the one that needs help regulating their emotions?

This fear manifests itself in the form of being unreasonably defensive, not speaking, leaving the room–anything rather than have their partner direct their anger at them. One woman’s Asperger partner would disappear for days when she became angry with him. He reasoned that if he stayed away long enough, eventually she would have to calm down. The trouble was that, by the time he returned, she would be completely frantic after having contacted all the local hospitals, their family and friends, only to find out that he had spent the past couple days looking at medieval church architecture.

I bet that relationship could be improved by simply explaining attachment theory to the autistic guy, so that kind of irrational behavior becomes predictable.

For example, one woman’s husband used to get very irate when anyone drove too close behind him, and he would go to extreme and sometimes dangerous lengths to challenge the other driver’s presence. He saw the other driver as the enemy and would become so focused on watching the other driver in the mirror that he was in danger of not concentrating on the road ahead and causing an accident. This scared his wife and she had told him how she felt. Her partner, though, seemed unable to break this pattern and to ignore the car behind him.

The solution was to go to counseling and take the suggestion to pull over and let the other car pass when that happens.

But why the fuck are normal people so comfortable with tailgating? They’ll be the first to cast me out of the human race itself for standing too close to them at the grocery store to reach over and grab something (unawareness of personal space), but all that goes out the window when driving. The tailgating is dangerous, and it’s often done deliberately by bullies to be threatening. Being subject to them is a precondition for getting around and doing anything practical or enjoyable.

It’s crazy to be driving 65 mph and not be scared when someone starts tailgating you. You could die. Yes, the stakes of the situation are so high compared to the petty ego bullshit involved that it’s best to just let them pass. But OMFG is rage against them justified. That’s the proper response to being threatened with a deadly weapon.

In a few cases, however, the partner becomes obsessive in their endeavor to achieve perfection in their sexual role, and practices until they feel they have achieved the most perfect and rewarding sexual routine that they can. Some non-Asperger women reported that they were left feeling very used, as if they were being experimented on.

There is also a danger that once the “perfect” routine has become established, it will not be changed. Restricted by this routine, sex can then become regimented. Although they may be putting a lot of effort into pleasing their partner, the whole sexual act can come to feel like a process that follows a set order, from beginning to end.

So what happens if you are not satisfied by your sex life and want to try something else? An attempt to do something different or to change the routine could cause confusion and misunderstandings. Your partner may find this need to change very difficult and take it as a criticism of their lovemaking abilities. They may react negatively and you could end up feeling ignored and unheard, the self-esteem and confidence in both of you shattered.

I mean…you try stuff and your partner reacts and you use the feedback to figure out what to do…right? This optimization process reaches an equilibrium. First the guy’s experimenting too much. Then he’s too boring for doing all the things she liked before.

We have to back up and ask what the sex is supposed to be about in the first place. It doesn’t seem like the woman in these situations is in the moment, in touch with her body. She’s somewhere else, thinking about how bad her partner is in bed while her body is in bed with him. She’s trying to accomplish some idea of a good sex life that she probably got from popular culture and people gossiping and showing off, pleasing people who aren’t even in the room.

There’s nothing wrong with doing the same tai chi form for 40 years, the same way every time. Does that make it less beautiful?

You’ve got the basic positions, some sexual favors, some toys. You might feel like different ones at different times, but there aren’t THAT many different physical configurations at play. You might perform them in various orders. But why is that so complicated and high-stakes? Just say what you’re in the mood for. Jesus.

It sucks to be going down on someone and you can feel they’re not into it and you hope they’re not thinking things like “Oh god he wants to get me off before having sex with me can’t we just get this over with?” Instead of saying what they want, they’re just passive and the situation drags on…It takes two people to have sex the same way every time.

Then we have to ask, with the strong undertones of judgment and contempt in this book, whether these women cursed with Aspie partners are really speaking from a place of acceptance and love when they’re raising these issus. They probably are making it clear they think the guy is shit in bed.

But all the focus on the mechanics of sex misses the point. For a given sexual position, I’ve had good and bad sex in it. It had to do with the quality of the emotional connection at the time, not the rate, amount of force applied, or duration.

The perspective in the book is basically that the Aspie guy is defective and the woman doesn’t need to work on the things that make her hesitate to communicate properly.

This is an interesting point:

If your Asperger partner is male, then he may have a highly developed feminine side, and so will often appear to get on better with women than men. This may be because other boys bullied him at school, which sadly happens to many boys with Asperger syndrome. Your partner may find women are more tolerant of his lack of confidence and conversational topics, and he would have learned quickly that he is more likely to be accepted by females than males.

Accepted into the friend zone, absolutely.

Then there’s an anecdote where a guy was supposed to pick up the newspaper on the way home from work and he forgot. Wife says she can’t depend on him for anything and she won’t ask anymore. He flips out and smashes a chair, leaves. Next day she finds out he had work drama that day because he complained about other people reading the newspaper instead of working. So it’s like, fuck everybody and their newspaper! Why is it a reason to dump work on me and ruin my relationship? Fuck! The world is just so harsh and irrational and it’s so unrelenting and you just can’t fucking take it anymore sometimes.

The book glosses over that aspect of the situation, then warns about abusiveness. Next section: verbal abuse. But it’s relationship skills 101 that “I can’t depend on you and I won’t even give you another chance and you suck” is basically designed to pick apart his masculinity and make him feel like shit. That’s abusive, too.

The positive sides of Asperger syndrome, way at the end of the book:

For some women the main plus point they mention is their partner’s gentleness–they feel safe in the knowledge that their partner is unlikely ever to become violent or to hurt them. Others said that they were pleased that their partner was not “one of the boys”, did not “live in the pub” and come in drunk at night. They liked the fact that their partner was far happier to stay in at home, watching television or working on the house. For both non-Asperger men and women, the most positive things about their partners were, first, their interesting and fascinating minds–they admired how their partners could think outside the box and offer a very different perspective on life; and second, they admired their partners’ faithfulness and lack of sexual interest they showed in others. This made them feel secure, and being able to relax and be themselves rather than feeling threatened by other men and women was a great bonus.

LOL splitting. We’re the best thing ever when we’re not the worst. But these good things are all true.

Except not really. It was all just ritual lip service and actually it’s hopeless. Again the second part of paragraph 1 is one of the most frequently highlighted parts, because this is a book for women who want to dump their boyfriends:

Your partner with Asperger syndrome can give a lot [but never enough!], but there are some things they will not be able to give [love is giving what you don’t have to someone who doesn’t want it]. And while there are some ways in which they can change, there are also some things they will not be able to change. They are quite capable of loving someone, but may not be very good at showing or expressing it. Neither will they always be able to offer suitable emotional support or make you feel understood and that you are receiving adequate empathy.

Some men and women reported feeling that their partner’s love for them felt more like a need, that they felt important to them for many reasons, but not because their partner needed a soul mate who could share their deepest feelings and most intimate moments and secrets. It is quite possible to feel that you are needed in the same way that a walking stick is needed by someone who has a limp–making your partner’s journey through life easier, safer and more comfortable.

OMFG it’s such a deep and profound thing to actually make someone’s time on this horrible planet easier, safer, and more comfortable. That’s enough.

And it’s so much harder to find a soul mate when much of the world believes you don’t have a soul, and your mind seems to work on different principles than theirs. It’d be nice if it went without saying why you acted the way you do, or struggled with certain things. But that kind of intuition usually comes from the familiarity of having gone through it, which most people haven’t. So a neurotypical soul mate would need a good imagination.