Finding Love as an Autistic Adult: What It's Like for Me
“There’s only one thing you need to know about me. I have no baggage, you know I have no ex husband, no children, but there is one thing you do have to be aware of. If I tell you, and you can’t handle it, then the door is there – you can walk through it now and there’ll be no hard feelings.” I took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling, blinked back tears and said, “I’m autistic.”
I waited a moment, but he stayed put, didn’t move. There were no words other than, “It’s OK, I’m not going anywhere. It doesn’t make any difference to how I feel about you.”
And that was it. The moment I’d dreaded since we started dating. The time when I had to open up and confess, to let the person I was falling in love with know that life with me would never be plain sailing.
Falling in love was something I never planned to do, and even more so once I was diagnosed with autism. I decided to shut that part of my life down and concentrate on my job and living my life tightly tied to my routines and structure. My dinghy of confidence afloat in the sea of autistic insecurity.
It isn’t easy. I won’t lie. My head tells me I’m useless, that I’m a failure, that I can’t ever give him the life he deserves because I’ll let him down, or won’t be able to do things he might like to do as a couple.
I’ve sometimes found it hard to adjust and accept that my brain doesn’t work the same way his does. It’s hard when you have to say “no” to doing things because you know they’ll take far too many of your “autistic spoons” and not have enough left in the cutlery drawer for the rest of the day or week.
It’s even harder when I see him get on and do what he has to, while I’m mired in a rut of having to talk myself through everything I do in baby steps – even down to getting dressed or making a cup of tea. I don’t do anything on autopilot. Every single action is thought about in so much detail that sometimes, something as simple as brushing my hair can become too overwhelming to think about.
It’s hard having to explain it, and feeling like an absolutely weak waste of space for having to admit so.
After three months, he moved in. Well, he turned up on the doorstep one morning and basically never left. It wasn’t planned. Living with someone wasn’t in my view either. That’s been an eye-opener. Letting someone in and letting them see you at your most vulnerable, including the autistic quirks you can’t hide, is strange. He’s had to deal with things another man might have walked away from. The mess I’d got into with hoarding paperwork, cardboard and other bits of ephemera felt utterly shaming to me, but he took it in his stride and helped me sort it out, despite my bristling and feeling distinctly uncomfortable.
In my world, certain areas are super organized. I have ways and systems of doing things that I can’t change or have anyone tamper with. He lets me get on with it.
One of the hardest aspects is dealing with the fact his job means plans can change very quickly, and what seemed set in stone half an hour ago suddenly isn’t. His work takes him all over the country — sometimes all over the world — and his hours and days are all over the place. I find that difficult to adjust to, and it’s hard not to keep asking constant questions about what he’s going to be up to without feeling like I’m being a neurotic nag. My brain just can’t deal with the uncertainty. But he loves his job and I’ve always told him he should never turn down work for me or for my sake. That would only make me loathe myself more.
Social aspects of being in a relationship are hard. Generally being out and about just the two of us is fine – not without incident, but fine. Going out and socializing with others is trickier. A meal out is considered a joy and a pleasure to most people. To me it’s such a minefield and can be so exhausting that it takes me two days to recover. He has a wonderful family that has taken me under their wing, and have made me feel for the first time in my life, that away from my own family I have somewhere I fit in. What’s upsetting is having to say “no” to doing things with them or having to drastically reduce what we do with them so I don’t get too tired or overwhelmed. Again, it makes me feel like such a baby, especially when I look at his 5-year-old nephew who generally has more energy and stamina than me and I’m 32 years older.
Now another hurdle looms large. A potential house move. And a big one – some 50 miles away from my home town and my family to be closer to his. I worry about how I’ll cope. I already feel the need to stick even more rigidly to my routines in order to survive. I worry that the anxiety I feel will show through even more and put him off. I worry I won’t be able to settle, that I’ll feel trapped. I worry I’ll run away and let him down. I worry he’ll see me totally shut down and he’ll reconsider our future. But the biggest part of me feels loved – properly – for the first time. It can’t conquer everything, but it might help.
I never thought I’d find love. I never thought I was worthy of it because I felt I was too damaged. Being diagnosed with autism at 36 was an eye-opener. Falling in love for the first time has finally made me blink.
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