I have another 351 days to remember that the date has a new number at the end of it. This leaves me worse off than last year – I had an extra day.
I also have another 351 days to fail commitments and break promises. So far, it’s going well. One meaningful point is that it’s nearly ten years exactly since my wife and I first started going out. (The anniversary’s a little ambiguous, since we never really had a first ‘date’.) A number like that tends to get you reflecting, and the biggest question it brought up for me was, “what happened to us?”.
This was actually a question I’d been asking myself for some time, but the answer never really seemed to present itself until it was voiced. We disagree, we argue, we fight, we shout…and, well, when we were getting to know each other, we didn’t. I know that sounds pretty obvious, and I expect it’s the course of almost any ten-year relationship, but it brings up the question of why. We know each other better, of course, which means we’re more comfortable with each other, and more able to express our thoughts and frustrations (or at least, more willing to express our frustrations). It also means we take each other for granted a lot, as well. We say and do things to each other that would send first date screaming through the door.
It was this comparison, really, that stuck to me: I don’t treat my wife the way I did when we were going out. I show her anger, apathy, bitterness and depression. I show her a wild inconsistency between caring and thoughtful and callous and selfish. And it suddenly hit me that if I had treated her like this ten years ago, we wouldn’t be married and have a son today. And that seemed a little unkind.
So that was my commitment. I wanted to try and be a “New Satis”; one who spoke to his wife the way he did when they met. It’s been working (sort of); whether it lasts or not only time can tell, but so far almost every word, action and thought comes with a little tag of “is this what you’d’ve done ten years ago?”. That tag, of course, doesn’t always translate into a meaningful action, but it’s a start.
I’ve attempted these sort of changes before with little success, though what gives me hope for this one is the ability to filter my life through the lens of the past. However, the biggest thing that stands out for me is that, when my wife and I were dating, we weren’t spending every moment together. The façade, the mask – I could put it in place to be with her. Now, it’s at home that the mask of sociality comes off. In public, at work, every day, I put on this brave mask of congeniality, a lie that isn’t me.
There have always been things ‘wrong’ with me, some of which I’ve discussed. The catatonia, the rages, the obsessions and inappropriateness, the total mental shutdowns and repeated behaviors; the inability to change and to learn; these are things I’ve lived with for so long, and my wife and I have long chuckled at how I seem to display a number of autistic characteristics. And then the extreme discomfort in social situations – the fakery it takes just to navigate a dinner party, or a work conversation – hit me.
There is an Autistic Quotient test created by Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge in 2001 (you can take it here). It was designed as way to filter for autistic spectrum disorders in adults (as opposed to children) prior to a detailed professional assessment. It’s been used successfully to help identify people with Aspergers Syndrome, and is actually quite simple. You score points for “abnormal” behavior, from 0 to 50. In general, an average adult scores somewhere between 10 – 20 (no one’s perfect). The cutoff for identifying Aspergers/High Functioning Autism is 32.
I score 37.
Well, thank you, world. I now have something new to bring to my psychologist.
Mind you, it’s not a diagnosis, and there’re still probably a whole lot of other things wrong with me anyway, but still – it doesn’t leave me feeling all that enthusiastic about trying to become that “New Satis”.
We’ll have to see how things go; perhaps I’m just being a drama queen (my wife would agree with that!). However, there is a part of me that almost feels relieved; after decades of trying to find some kind of answer to my insanity, perhaps I’ve finally found it. Or something, anyway.
So…what is the new year bringing you?
Incidentally, my wife’s score was 9.
13 thoughts on “Thought of the Week: And an Antisocial New Year to You, Too”
The thing about diagnoses (or almost diagnoses) is that you still have to decide what to do with them. You can let them define you (and therefore say something like, “New Satis doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell, so I won’t even bother trying”) or you can define them–to a point. I could have, conceivably, died of breast cancer no matter what my outlook, if it hadn’t been caught soon enough, or if it had been more aggressive, or I could have succumbed to the attendant depression, or I could take my meds and do the best I could to carry on living. It seems like you’ve already proven that, Aspberger’s or autism or not, you’re capable of the introspection and even action it takes to at least *try* to make a change. So I wouldn’t give up yet.
Also–when we started dating, my husband used to say he thought couples always needed to treat each other as if they were strangers. It took me a long time to “get” what he was saying, but I think he meant something like what you’re saying above–not that spouses should wear masks with each other (which you rightly point out is a corollary of the “new relationship” thing), but that they should try to maintain the courtesy with which they treated each other at first. (Then again, according to him, I was hopelessly rude at the beginning–I’m socially awkward, too–so . . . he may have been going on faith, more than anything.) Anyway, I think you’re onto something.
Wow…I’m really touched by the depth and thought of this reply. I had no idea (well, of course I didn’t) that you had breast cancer. It kind of puts my own worries into perspective (which honestly is probably a good thing).
I do think you’re right – it’s so easy to let a diagnosis become a label; depression has always been the case for me, to the point where now it is so intrinsically a part of me that I can’t even conceive what what it’s like to not be depressed. Knowing something can absolutely give you the chance to do something about it.
And thanks for the ‘relationship advice’ (you should start a Dear Abbey column); it’s a new thing for me, trying to treat this person I’ve been with for ten years as though I’ve never met her before; there is a lot of guilt that I’m trying to shed. The good news is that in trying, it starts to overcome that history, and allows me to try again.
Sorry–I never know how to bring up the breast cancer thing–though I did blog about it some more at some point this year so . . . YOU HAVEN’T BEEN READING MY BLOG, HAVE YOU??
Just kidding. Don’t give yourself guilt for that, too–though in honesty I have missed your comments over there.
I think it’s great that you’re trying again. I had a longish-term relationship before I met my husband, with a guy with issues similar to yours I suspect. I loved him a lot, and I guess he loved me, too, although I didn’t really know it (and he maybe didn’t either) until I was no longer available to him. It was pretty painful for both of us, but added to the depression/etc dynamic was his addictions and my faith–it just got too fraught and we had to call it quits. And then I met someone else and so “trying again” with that guy wasn’t even an option anymore. I guess I commented in depth because I’m sort of resonating, and I’m glad you’re working on this and not wasting your chances to make good.
All right, guilty as charged – though honestly I haven’t been reading anyone’s blogs lately; I seem to have simply run out of time for it. I want to try and set aside at least one evening a week, though, to catch up on things.
I’m sorry to hear about the troubles in your past, but then, also not: it seems to have helped make you a stronger and better person. Here’s to hoping the same an happen to me!
I hope it has–and not irreparably damaged the other person, although I suspect he was doing a pretty good job of that without my help . . . And yes, I raise a glass of red to you, my friend.
And . . . I totally understand about not having time to read blogs, and then resolving to set aside time to do so. If you didn’t so frequently just post photos with one or two sentences, I probably wouldn’t have visited your blog in a while, either.
Ha – I set those photos up months in advance; they auto-publish.
Clever man. I think I may start doing something similar . . . at some point.
PS This Simon Baron-Cohen isn’t related to Sasha, is he?
Hmm…I don’t think so, though it would be funny.
Yeah, I wonder if it would explain some things. 🙂
Well, it’s a good thing (or maybe the reason) I have all those books that might as well be titled “How to Have Conversations like a Normal Human Being and Not Scare Everyone you Ever Meet Away”, because my score was really close to your score (I’m only partially kidding–but that might be the ADD, or, uh, not–my mom once told me I embarrassed my sister when I was a kid because I used to be do that “weird arm flapping and spinning thing”. Then she forgot she said it/it ever happened when I brought it up again, so maybe it’s a false memory. Who knows?).
I’m not going to worry about it. Answers are great, but I have this vision of those psych “labels” stuck to folders in a filing cabinet–they’re supposed to help me/the people close to me find the information to smooth things over faster and more efficiently. It’s vexing when other people don’t go past a stereotype and realize that hey, that’s a human being, but at the end of the day I know I’m a little different, and I know I can always try to improve, and I do make progress, maybe slower than others in some places, but still, it’s progress.
I guess–and you might feel differently–that the only reason that label might matter is to help you find strategies and solutions for coping and interacting better. So, basically what the nice lady above me said. Also, big, free, otherwise unsolicited advice tip of the day is: if you are Asberger’s/autistic/introverted/easily over-stimulated it might not hurt to carve a little alone time into your day (especially if you’ve been bombarded by people/noise/bright lights all day), so that it’s easier to enjoy your wife’s company rather than one or both of you letting your pent up frustrations run rampant.
You’ve kind of summed up my entire thought cloud about this in a neat package with ribbons and bow to boot. Considering the possibility of being further along on the autistic scale doesn’t really change any of my feelings about ‘who I am’, so to speak, and that in itself casts doubts in my mind about the validity of it anyway. It certainly does highlight the need to look ‘beyond’ those stereotypes as you put it – individual behaviors don’t define a person.
In terms of coping…it’s funny, because I work in a bright, noisy, populated and chaotic environment every day, but I never really considered the impact of this. I do enjoy alone time, however – writing has a way of consuming a whole lot of time.