If only I’d known she had Asperger’s. If only I’d understood her behaviour. If only I’d let her be herself. If only she’d been honest and brave. If only she knew how. If only.
When Monique took a leap of faith and communicated her love for me, I fell for her words of affirmation. What I didn’t realise at the time was those words meant something entirely different to what they would to most. They were the words of fantasy, of ideological passion, of theatre-like romance.
We’d known each other for four years before starting our relationship. I’d graduated first in my year at college, the same year she did. Although she’d always looked at me with an alluring smile around the campus, I knew nothing of her quiet affection.
Mon was a bohemian flower; a loner in a group of dancers with big dreams. Most girls wanted to be entertainers; performers in music videos, film and stage. Not Mon. She wanted to teach.
She’d always talk of waking-up happy. That happiness lay in the simple things. She was a country girl pretending to cut it in the big smoke, when all she really wanted was home. There, she could paint her parents’ cottage, run along the beach collecting sea shells, go for a bike ride through the bush, and most importantly, spend time with her Aspie brother, Craig. His disability was her life. In fact, she was so obsessed with his Asperger’s that she dedicated her career to helping others on the autism spectrum. I could never quite work out how she could come to use the word retarded in general conversation, which she did, often.
One in 100 Australians suffer from Asperger’s*.
Asperger’s is characterised by sustained impairment in social interactions and the development of restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests and activities. Aspies are sensitive to specific sounds, aromas, textures or touch. They take longer to process social information, due to their use of intelligence rather than intuition. They find it hard to cope with making and keeping friends, and romantic relationships can put them completely out of their element. To socialise is to be both physically and emotionally exhausted. They prefer solitude or spending time with older adults. That was Mon. The very disability she’d nurtured her brother through was undoubtedly present in her. Though she’d never admit it.
We would fight constantly. I always felt like I had to father her. Basic things like how to share, how to appreciate good deeds, how to solve everyday problems, how to take logical steps to achieve realistic goals were all too difficult. Never had I experienced the flight-or-fight response with such pain than in our relationship. She was the most scared human being I’d ever met.
“When I’m confronted, I run. That’s what I do,” she’d say.
I’d reply, “When are you going to be accountable?”
But I didn’t understand. I thought her absentee father (who carried the Asperger’s gene), neurotic and displaced mother, and helplessly car-fixated brother were to blame. Because she never told me that she might have Asperger’s, I’d always thought she was exempt from sympathy. What I’ve come to understand since, from what I’ve read and reflected on, is that an Aspie’s world sits in stark contrast to ours.
I loved Mon. She was mine and I hers. I’d write her poetry, pick her flowers, sing to her, and take her for long drives. But it wasn’t enough. We couldn’t communicate. One of the traits of Asperger’s is obsession. She was obsessed with the idea of love but completely incapable of loving. That sounds harsh but actions, not words alone, create love, empathy and companionship. When it was time to action her words, she was found wanting: every time.
According to Rudy Simone, author of Aspergirls (Jessica Kingsley Publishers), some girls with Asperger’s aren’t interested in romance at all, even if they project the opposite.
Since we are emotionally naive, very sense-oriented, have a lack of understanding of gender roles, and a fight-or-flight reaction to others, if we are romantically inclined, you might get a girl who chases boys with a dreamy idea of romance who can’t actually stand to have a boyfriend … Because of emotional naivety, and a passion for books and films, some of us have a very Walt Disney view of romance, and have our heads filled with stories which might not paint the most realistic picture of what relationships are.
Mon decided that I was too much for her; my reactions to her stimming and erratic behaviour were a perceived threat. It was time for her to do what she’d always done.
With my heart barely capable of a beat, she planned her exit strategy with Aspie-like detail. Her home was sacrosanct and she was homeward bound. There, she would have control. She could put on her new bed spread, organise her books, scatter her photos of the friends she hadn’t seen for ages, close the door and be herself. Like a turtle in its shell.
She would be closer to Craig, and that’s what she so desperately wanted during our relationship.
As Simone articulated with such truth in her book, Asperger’s will sabotage all relationships to some extent.
In all honesty, throughout my life I was not what you’d call low-maintenance. I was moody, temperamental and prone to terrifying rage meltdowns as well as man-repelling depression meltdowns. I was hypersensitive, constantly overloaded, lacked theory of mind, was blunt, self-absorbed, and rigid in thought and behaviour. In my defence, I will say also that I was passionate, loyal, honest, and idealistic. But I was naive. I had strong romantic and physical cravings without the capacity to make good decisions.
Again, that was Mon.
I’ve moved on. But every now and then, I think about her. Maybe one day, someday, she’ll come to terms with what she has and embrace it.
Only then can she let love in.
* Source: Autism Spectrum Australia