Some thoughts

Life in a Mixed Marriage, The Power of Hindsight

OD & Me 80s style

The other day I was rootling around in our shed and came across a wedding anniversary card sent to me by my first husband. This husband was also called David and so to save confusion here, as in life, I shall refer to him as OD (Other David), just as David’s ex-wife is known as OT for reasons you may deduce but which I won’t go in to here.

So, there was this card with a verse which OD had edited to make it more appropriate, plus a handwritten message. OD died over twenty years ago but he was part of my life from a very young age and so the card, together with a photograph discovered at the same time, resulted in some weepiness.

This is where the hindsight comes in. I loved him, sometimes I still miss him and certainly there are times when something happens and my first thought is that he’d love to know. But it wasn’t a perfect marriage. In fact, he could be very difficult.

I have often described going out socially with OD as going out with a hand-grenade tucked in my handbag and having no idea when, or whether, the pin might come loose and the whole thing go off with a bang. An explosion might result from him saying something which to him seemed straightforward, but which was said in such a way that other people took offence. At a function we attended with my father and step-mother I remember Dad mentioning that OD had stood in the middle of the room saying in a loud voice, ‘So where does a person get a drink around here’ It sounded like a criticism of the entire function. In fact, he just wanted to know where the bar was. He was not good at either understanding the nuance of another person’s tone of voice, nor of employing such nuance himself. When the man in the fishmonger’s sold him a scraggy tail of cod instead of a nice meaty cut from the middle of the fish, he took it unbelievably personally, came home in a fury and smashed a chair.

I should stress that he was never physically violent towards me, only towards inanimate objects, but often I would find myself in the middle of such a maelstrom and have no idea where it had come from.

For those of you who know about autism, I’m sure bells are ringing. They may also be ringing if you have found yourself in a similar situation and not known where the rage is coming from or what you might have said or done to trigger it (because it’s all too easy to blame ourselves and think we have caused the problem, is it not?). Sometimes a seemingly unimportant comment, as innocuous as saying ‘pass the salt’, can tap into a whole bigger picture and become, effectively, the final straw.

What I have described above are just a few typical Aspergian traits: discomfort in social situations, an inability to read other people or to present oneself so that one is read correctly. Stress arising from loss of control, from people not doing what’s expected, from not understanding the social rules, can all too easily lead to a meltdown.

At the time I had no idea. I know that more by instinct than knowldge I was able to help OD and that he was a happier person at the end of his life than he was when I first met him. However, the cost to me was enormous. When you don’t know where the rage is coming from or what you’re saying or doing to cause such upset, the most pragmatic course is to not say anything. When the feelings are too powerful to bear, the easiest thing is to pack them in a box, tie it up with string and red sealing wax and tuck it on a shelf out of sight.

In the latter years of that marriage I was emotionally shut down and almost inarticulate. I climbed out of that with the help of a ‘friend’ (the quotation marks are because there’s a whole other article lurking in there about friendship!) and people I meet now find it hard to believe that I was ever in such a parlous, non-communicative state.

In hindsight, OD was autistic and I wish I had understood then what I understand now. You might ask why I am repeatedly attracted to men with this trait. As I said in my first posting, these difficulties are accompanied by all sorts of positives: just look back at the shopping list in that first article on Mixed Marriages.

OD and David share many of these positives, although OD was much less self-aware. David’s self-awareness and ability to articulate are two defining factors that have helped us through our difficulties. Add to this my own willingness to explore, my determination to understand and, on both our parts, a good dose of stubbornness, and there you have our (still-evolving) recipe for working towards a greater understanding of two very different worlds.

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