Tag: LifeInAMixedMarriage

Penzance, Hollywood and a Different Way of Loving – a response

So yes, here I am, yet again stuck “up country”, living in a caravan with a life that feels very much as though it is “on hold”. Getting through each day requires the most enormous effort.

In her post Teresa commented “it’s unspeakably hard for him”, and that’s the trouble, it is unspeakable in as much as I find it impossible to describe, that is, I am unable to find language I can use, which means it can all too easily seem as though I am fine. I am not, but you’ll need to take my word for that.

Ferret2a

Teresa tells me that Ferret is clearly missing his Papa-Bean. How I transformed from a lad from Billingham (North East England) into an Italian is not clear to me – and as for the topic of my emotional relationship with Ferret and his with me, that’s best saved for another blog.

So, this being my response to Teresa’s post, my first question has to be, why has she used a picture of the wrong train? It is clearly not a sleeper. Granted, it is a picture of a train and it is standing at Penzance station, so surely that’s good enough? Well, no it isn’t, not for me. I let it pass when we put up her post, but I don’t like it being wrong and when I can get a photo of my next sleeper, I will fix the problem. I cannot find the language to explain to you just how much of a problem the “wrong” train is, but please trust me, it is far out of proportion to what you’d expect.

Where was I?

Ah yes, Hollywood. When it comes to things like railway platform greetings, I’ve spent years learning to fake it. Ok, not fake it exactly because the feelings are there, but I don’t have a set of physical actions and reactions that automatically switch in to match those feelings. Instead, I have a mental list of actions that may be appropriate to express such an emotion. Given the range of human emotional responses, I need a vast list, a list that I constantly have to add to and which I cannot possibly hope to remember.

Seeing your truly-missed loved one on a railway station after a long absence, is most definitely an emotion I know well. I am aware of the Hollywood response, but I have no understanding of how appropriate it is, what variations there are, which ones to use, and when. I end up so tied up in trying to work out the right thing to do (consulting that inner list), that the moment passes and I’ve done nothing. So, my poor love gets no information as to how much I have missed her.

Not fair is it?

But not fair to whom? In fact, both of us. It is clearly unfair to Teresa, but it is also unfair to me: how am I supposed to know how to communicate what I feel? The rules required are incredibly complex. I don’t have them built in, so I have to think through every possible permutation. Is it any wonder I freeze?

I need rules for that list of mine and it’s so long and complex that they need to be really simple rules – e.g.

  • When meeting Teresa at a railway station, do ‘Hollywood’
  • Teresa will be happy whatever version of Hollywood I manage on the day.

Every waking moment in which I am called upon to interact with other people, is like this. I am constantly trying to gauge the right response to every situation when there is an infinite number of subtly nuanced possibilities.

Just to get you started, let’s look at the “simple” instruction above:

  • When meeting Teresa at a railway station, do ‘Hollywood’
    1. Does that mean if the meeting is not at a station, I don’t do Hollywood?
    2. What other ‘meeting’ occasions might require the Hollywood response?
    3. How many variations are there on Hollywood and which one do I select?
    4. Is it the same if I’ve been away for the day as it is for an absence of a week or a month?
    5. Is there something other than Hollywood I should sometimes be doing?

This can go on for ever, and is an example of my own personal perpetual-motion machine. There are an infinite number of nuances to human emotional response and so I have to enumerate (maths talk for ‘work out’) every single one!

So if at any time I don’t react to you as you might expect, the chances are I’m busy trying to compute the correct response to such a simple greeting as “hello”. What is the appropriate facial expression? What words should I use? What body position or action? Do I hug, shake hands, kiss, … On a bad day, my brain literally melts and I just freeze (which is an interesting combination of activities). You may think I’m being rude and ignoring you, but I’m not, I’m just trapped in that infinite loop.

The more tolerant you are of me being over/under the top, the easier it is for me to do something that approximates an appropriate response.

So that’s how the average greeting is for me and if “hello” is that difficult, how do you think questions like, “do you love me” work?

This constant computation is exhausting. Writing this is exhausting. I really think I need to go now…

Penzance, Hollywood and a Different Way of Loving

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Good heavens, is it August already?

I know, I know…it’s ages since either of us has posted here. From September of last year David was living in Cornwall with the hope that a company he’d previously worked for might come up with a job. ‘Just waiting for some contracts to be signed…’ they said. ‘Maybe next month…’

The months passed, and no word came. By February we were running out of money so David went looking for another contract up-country. So different is the market there, compared with here, that he had a job within a couple of days and now we’re back to our old routine of living apart.

It’s no fun for me, it’s unspeakably hard for him and as for Ferret (remember the new kitten?) he is clearly missing his Papa-Bean.

One difference is that, rather than driving to-and-fro, David now takes the sleeper from Paddington to Penzance. More restful and much safer – which brings me to the subject of this article.

Greetings.

Consider the scene: I’ve not seen David for a couple of weeks. I glimpse him on the station platform and run up to him and throw myself at him. In an ideal world, he’d do the same, preferably swinging me round till my feet left the ground.

So far, so Hollywood.

But it isn’t like this for David. I might get a peck on the cheek, but sometimes just a ‘hello’. At one level I understand, he doesn’t see the world as I do: it’s that pesky autistic prism again.

Even so, I struggle.

Once he had to catch a different (non-sleeper) train which required me to drive to Plymouth to collect him. It wasn’t a pleasant drive, being on unfamiliar roads and in the dark, but I buoyed myself up by looking forward to seeing him.

I waited in the station foyer. The train disgorged. I spotted him and hurried up to him. His greeting, to the neurotypical mind, was almost dismissive. I knew that wasn’t how he meant it to feel and so, because we talk about everything, I asked him about it.

David will respond to this post with his perspective shortly but, in brief, he described to me how, being autistic, he doesn’t know how to greet me, it doesn’t mean he isn’t glad to see me, but expressing it is an intellectual process. He has to remember what to do and say, it is a conscious act.

For me, it is the opposite: it is emotionally incomprehensible that he has to jump through such hoops; intellectually, I have come to understand that for him it is different, and appreciate that he makes an effort to intersect with my world and give me, if not the sugar-coated Hollywood greeting, something that makes me feel I am loved and, most importantly, that I have been missed.

LIFE IN A MIXED MARRIAGE – pussycats and autism, a response

How do I compete with pictures of cats? Pop in some of my own I think 🙂

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Above: The Gus I knew

Well, first of all Teresa and I met online, her profile said “must be cat tolerant”; she didn’t mention that they would sleep with us and between us. She didn’t mention how they seem to like interrupting other bed activities too. Tolerant, I would say so!

I have often described our relationship as me accepting I was #6 on her totem pole of important people (after her dad and 4 cats). When her dad died I was promoted to #5, after poor Gus went I thought I was promoted again to the dizzying heights of #4, except I wasn’t, Gus is still on that list. Now young Ferret (Dinsky) has arrived I’m back down to #6, oh well nothing changes 🙂

Gus’s death was devastating for me for two reasons, first it was devastating for Teresa and seeing her go through that loss was awful, trying to support her, difficult. It was also awful for Gus, he may be “just a cat” (don’t ever try saying that too close to Teresa 🙂 ) but he was rather special. Unlike most cats Gus was friendly with EVERYONE (shouted from the rooftops). Teresa called him a tart and he was, a tickle from anyone was welcome, the more the merrier. He and I did have our routines and I loved them, we kept them going till the last day when I stroked him in the bed (where he slept all the time at the end) and he didn’t respond, that was a very sad day.

So, cats and autism, well there is a book “All Cats Have Asperger’s Syndrome” (Kathy Hoopman 2006), but that’s not the point here. Cats are not human; they don’t react the same way as humans. I’d go further and say that they don’t react the same way as neurotypicals. Autistics don’t react the same way neurotypicals do either and in a sense, we sometimes have more in common with the cats than the other humans! Our world makes sense to us; it is only when it bumps up against the NT world that confusion can occur.

Gus had me fooled, I thought it was maybe possible that I could find a way to communicate with SOMEONE (even a cat) and we could share a bit of common language – even if that’s only affection.

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Above: Jane was never this cute again 🙂

But Gus was special, Jane (my first cat), she’s a madam, I stroke her and she walks off, guaranteed; stroke Gus and he’d just roll on his back and ask for more.

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Above: Baby Burlington finding his own way onto the worktop, sometimes he fell into the bin!

Burlington (my second cat), all I have to do is look at him and he runs away. Spook, well Spook is most definitely a one woman cat and I have to fight him for space in the bed, as far as he is concerned our bed is for him and Teresa and if I’m very good and keep out of the way, he’ll tolerate my presence.

So, yes, Gus was special. I hoped I might learn how to let a new kitten get to know and trust me and accept me for who I was. You can have no idea how isolating autism can be and how important such little things can be. Nobody could replace Gus, but it would be nice for 1 in 4 to notice I exist, please! Ferret is a darling, he is affectionate (like Gus was), he and I have been intensively together for the past week, but he’s ours not mine, he’s his own cat, but I have hopes and cross my fingers. All those lacerations all over my body have got to be worth something surely?

Accepting that Mrs Felimones (aka Teresa) would always be more attractive to any cat (Ferret included) has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with. After all, if you could choose between a neurotypical who can understand you without trying or an autistic who struggles and has to work hard at it, which would you choose? Learning to do what I need to do to not frighten off young Ferret has so many parallels with the problems I have in not knowing what to do with human relationships, no matter how desperate I am to have them and will, I hope, maybe help me a bit with some humans too.

Are cats autistic? I don’t know, They certainly like routine and most definitely don’t react the way neurotypicals do, but if you can accept their difference even when they can’t explain it to you, maybe you can find a way to accept mine too?

 

LIFE IN A MIXED MARRIAGE – pussycats and autism

Cats and autism have more in common than you might think, but before I elaborate on that…

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there has been something of a hiatus in these posts and that requires an explanation.

Cats. I’ve had cats all my life and all my adult life I’ve had Siamese cats (until 7 years ago when I encountered the wonder of Orientals, but that’s another story). When I met David I told him he needed to be ‘cat tolerant’. He had no idea just what I meant by that but he did get the bug and as a result, since 2008 we have had four cats between us. Three weeks ago my old boy, Gus (fourteen and a half) died after a two-month illness.

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Above: Gus in his younger days

Losing Gus hit David and me very hard, not least because of all our cats (David’s two included) Gus was the cat who loved him most: the two of them very much had their own way of being together and (very important for autistics) their own rituals. Chief ritual was ‘tickle tower’. Let me explain. We have a cat scratching tower close to the door from our living room to the kitchen and Gus had only to detect the merest hint that David might be thinking of going in that direction to hurl himself at the tower and roll around until David went to make a fuss of him. Believe me, Gus was insatiable when it came to tickles.

Anyway, fourteen years is a long time for Gus to have been part of my life and losing him has been devastating – but at least I have the other three to console me, in particular my Havana, Spook (one of said Orientals).

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Above: Spook looking for trouble

I have always said to David that in the past, having lost one of the cats, I tended to get a new kitten with what some might consider to be indecent haste – in part as a distraction for myself but also because Siamese are social beasts and you can’t have just one. However, on this occasion the other cats had one another and I had Spook so I wasn’t moving as fast as I had led David to believe.

So, from an autistic perspective, he had lost the one cat he could relate to (bearing in mind how hard it is for autistics to know the ‘rules’ for connection be it to humans or animals) and I was not behaving as I’d led him to expect me to behave: I had, in his language and according to his frame of reference, ‘lied’ to him.

All of which led to much heart-searching. I was not (and to a large degree am not) ready for a new kitten but if, as I did seven years ago, I got a new kitten for Gus who was distraught at the loss of his companion (he became very needy and took to sucking my thumb) how could I do any less for David?

Not that he was sucking my thumb, you understand…

Much of the subsequent conversation between David and myself took place during a long drive from West Cornwall to Cambridgeshire and the outcome was that I rang the breeder Spook had come from to see whether he had any kittens. He did and a week later, Ferret (aka Dinsky), an Oriental Caramel, entered our lives.

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Above: Dinsky making himself at home

The big plan is that Dinsky/Ferret should be David’s cat. To this end I needed to give them plenty of time to bond and be very ‘hands off’ – not easy when kittens make me broody and David describes me as ‘cat cocaine’. Not sure about that one although I admit that I do seem to give off felimones (as opposed to pheromones) …

At this point I would ask you to trust me, this may seem like an article indulging my cat obsession but there are some serious points here regarding autism.

To this end, let me tell you a bit more about Spook. As a kitten he was a real live wire but didn’t really have a handle on this loving lark. A bit like an autistic. I sensed that he wanted to be loved but just didn’t know how to go about it (I was reminded of a friend’s two daughters, but that’s a story for another day) so I set about helping him and as a result he is now a very loving cat but mostly only towards me. He is also a magnificent specimen, lean and muscular and when he races round the house playing with the others the floorboards rumble and the house shakes.

I say ‘plays with the others’, but I mean with the cats he has grown up with: Burlington, Jane and whilst he was still with us, Gus. Dinsky however is another matter. Dinsky wants to play: he runs and jumps and turns somersaults and I can see that Spook is desperate to join in but it’s like he’s not sure what to do and he also seems to be a little frightened of the kitten. My Spook, it seems, has a vulnerable side. It was there as a kitten when he wanted to be loved and didn’t quite know how, but I’d lost sight of that in the presence of the boisterous and confident boy he had become. Seemed to have become. I confess to loving him even more now that I have been reminded of his vulnerability.

A bit like David (you see, I promised another autism connection). There was the David I first met, a little vulnerable maybe but the persona he wore in order to function in the neurotypical world was one of confidence, assurance, unflappable calm. Only under stress did that fall apart. Only in coming to understand the reasons for that stress did I start to get an inkling of what his world was really like. Just as I anthropomorphise when trying to understand Spook’s behaviour, so I anthropomorphised David, in other words I treated him as though his view of the world was the same as mine. Understanding that it is not, gaining some appreciation of how exhausting the neurotypical world is for him, fills me we awe and as a result, I seem to have fallen in love with him all over again.

Like I said, just like Spook.

Life in a mixed marriage – the problem with wine gums, Teresa’s response…

My first thought upon reading David’s post was – what’s going on? What happened to our routine? Routine is crucial for autistics and those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that the custom is for me to write the kick-off article, then David will come along and respond. On this occasion, the world seems to have turned topsy turvy and the man who likes routine has broken with routine and changed the rules while I wasn’t watching…

Be that as it may, the thing about the wine gums highlights, as David says, the whole theory of mind issue and also harks back to what I said on a previous posting about politeness.

Early on in our relationship I remember going to a pantomime with David and his son (his daughter was on stage) and said son won a box of chocolates in the raffle. He received his prize, sat down, opened it and hunching over it, began to eat. It did not occur to him to offer the box to his father or to me, nor did his dad say anything to him. I was shocked. Now that’s a big word, ‘shocked’. Part of my personal baggage is that as an only child, my father was determined that I should not be spoilt: share your sweets; always take the smallest piece of cake; never take the last biscuit; if out for a meal and someone else is paying, never choose the most expensive item on the menu. In the early days David’s son regularly broke all of these behavioural conventions and I really struggled because according to my world view, he was being incredibly rude and antisocial.

Fast forward to David himself. Early on in our relationship we went out for a meal and at one point he turned to me to congratulate himself for being good and not taking food from my plate. That word again: shocked. What on earth made him think it was appropriate to take food from my plate, unless invited to do so?

I mean, I know food taken from other people’s plates carries no calories, but even so…

The point here is that we are all programmed from an early age to behave in a certain way and can find it difficult to step outside that programming. It took me a while to understand that what I considered to be rude might just be another person’s way of coping with the world due to the fact that their brain is wired differently to mine.

However, we need not be defined by these predispositions. I understand that just because David and his son see the world differently to me, that doesn’t make them wrong. Similarly David may have been brought up in a culture where women were ‘less’ and men always drove the car and therefore were entitled to the last wine gum, but he understands that to be inappropriate and so modifies how he thinks and acts.

Most importantly of all, as David said, we talk about these things all the time, we prod and poke at our responses and reactions and that is why the wine gum conversation happened. Of course at one level David was stressed and I should have just let him have the other wine gum. On the other hand, I too had had a stressful day (it didn’t turn out to be the ‘us’ day I had hoped for) and yes he was driving but I would have been quite happy to drive and the reason he was doing so was – yes, you’ve guessed it, because driving is less stressful for him than being driven!

So, fast forward to the writing of this post. We decided that we needed a packet of wine gums for the photo. Once the photo was done, we divided the remaining sweets into two equal portions – but oh no! There were not two left over, but three. What to do? Well, David took one for himself, and left the rest for me. Like the ‘last Rolo’ ad, I think that as a declaration of love, that hits the spot 🙂

Life in a mixed marriage – the problem with wine gums

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It’s Fri 4-Sep-2015 in the North Inn, I wish I could write as lucidly as Teresa, but there is a good reason she is a professional writer of words and I am a professional writer of software, so here goes, …

A week ago, instead of being here with my usual pint of Proper Job I was in Plymouth with Teresa and one of my children who had some tests to do prior to starting university. Now, Plymouth has a lot of history for me and my children as we and their mum regularly holidayed just over the Tamar on the Rame Peninsula twice a year and always visited Plymouth, indeed there were well-established rituals as to what one did in Plymouth and in what order. After their mum and I parted ways, the children and I still holidayed in Kingsand/Cawsand and still visited Plymouth and followed the same routines. Then Teresa came on the scene and we still, …, well you get the idea. Except Teresa didn’t get the idea, the routines weren’t hers and she wanted to do other things and go explore Plymouth differently. It took time to work that one out, especially as my autistic son did not like changes in plans; we had a few bumpy holidays before managing to expand those horizons. After a few years the children grew older and had different ideas about holidays and so Rame and Plymouth were no longer part of our plans.

So, here we are, Plymouth has many memories, however on this occasion Teresa and I were mainly on our own for the morning and afternoon, meeting up with the offspring for lunch.

So, where do the wine gums come in? Patience, we are getting there 🙂 . I had driven down from Cambridgeshire on the Thursday afternoon and the traffic had been a nightmare, especially from Truro down to Pendeen, and since Friday was the last Friday of the summer holidays I expected it to be even worse, now add to that:

  1. Not getting my routine North Inn – the problem wasn’t not going, I’d go on Saturday, it was the disturbance of a comfortable routine and in us autistics this is never easy, even if we know we need to.
  2. Anticipation of a difficult journey having only just done one the previous day. Stress is not good and it builds.
  3. Teresa was looking forward to us having an “us” day exploring Plymouth. Hmm, I know she needed it and I know it sounds good, but all I wanted to do was get home and away from the traffic. But it’s important to Teresa so I needed to be supportive

Stress, stress and more stress. Offspring’s second test finished late and we had to wait in the car for nearly an hour. Teresa tells me I was visibly shaking and I can believe it, trying to contain the stress, not get angry with everyone, which would have been unfair, but which is a way of relieving the pressure.

Still, the offspring arrived and I managed not to snap at her, after all she had done nothing wrong, although that’s not really the point when the pressure cooker is ready to blow. Here is where the word “meltdown” pops its head up. Learning to keep control at times like this is one of the hardest lessons an autistic has to learn and it’s not easy and often not possible, but this day I managed it, just, and meltdown was averted!

So, off we go, returning via the Torpoint Ferry, this is the same way we came in and one of the few bits of the old routines we kept. Anyway, on the way to Plymouth in the morning the Sat Nav had decided it wanted to go over the Tamar Bridge. I didn’t, but I knew the way to the ferry so ignored the satnav until we’d crossed the river and then let it navigate us to the test site. Returning, I expected the same problem but didn’t know how to find the ferry from where we were, so told the satnav to take us to Torpoint. Now Torpoint is on the Cornish bank of the Tamar and Plymouth is on the Devon bank, so you’d think asking the satnav to go to Torpoint would guarantee it would use the ferry. Well I did, but it became clear that wasn’t happening and I knew the traffic over the bridge was bad, so,

  1. I stopped the car,
  2. Reprogrammed the Satnav for “Ferry Road” the actual road into the ferry on the Plymouth side
  3. Set off again

All the while managing to keep my cool. Again you may think that keeping “cool” is to be expected, but having a day full of stress, all the people in Plymouth, changes in plans, …, it was a bomb waiting to go off (think of Teresa’s analogy of a hand grenade). Anyway, I got to the ferry OK, long queue but no problem, and off we went.

Wine Gums? Well, offspring had kindly brought along sweets and was passing over wine gums on the return journey, by the time we reached the ferry she just passed the whole bag forward and Teresa and I stuck in. It was what Teresa would call “comfort eating” and we were working down the bag rapidly.

Fairly soon the bag was near to the end and now we reach the point of this tale 🙂

I found there were not many left and instantly, without a moment’s thought, I decided that since I was the driver, I was stressed, I should finish off the packet.

Hmm, I can hear the voices: so far, typical bloke, doesn’t like shopping, rather be down the pub, thinks he is more important, …, how am I doing?

Except

  1. I am NOT a typical bloke, more girl than boy and not just in how I dress
  2. I love shopping
  3. I would have loved to be down the pub, but offspring needed the support and I would not avoid it just for beer (important as beer is)

Now it gets interesting because, yes, my upbringing and experience of living as a male for most of my life is that I am more important than any woman, that was part of my life for so long that despite the fact that I don’t actually believe it, the instinct for it runs deep and every so often will rear its head.

This captures one of the issues I have with the conventional view of gender, that somehow it was fixed at birth and, in the case of Transsexuals; the gender was fixed in a body type usually occupied by the other fixed gender. I don’t believe that I am trapped in any single gender and no matter the balance between nature (the one I got at birth) and nurture (what I subsequently learnt from those around me), I can choose and I do choose neither. So, back to the wine gums…

I may bash down the “I deserve them” instinct, but it remains. Could, indeed should I be condemned for the thought? I think not. We are all the sum of our histories, but our future is what we choose, and I choose NOT to be ruled by that experience, so share them we did.

Is this an Autism problem? A male problem? A gender problem? I don’t know. I do know that my autistic son struggled with the idea of sharing being two-way, that is he wanted others to share with him but it never occurred to him to share with others. If you work from the idea of Theory of Mind then an inability to perceive others as distinct would explain his reluctance, he couldn’t see any need other than his own. Of course, as a sensible autistic parent of an autistic child I could recognise the problem, even if I didn’t know at the time that either of us was autistic, and patiently and gently I helped him learn the idea and today he is a most generous soul.

So, autism maybe, male maybe, just stressed out, maybe …

What actually happened is that I felt the packet, found only a few left and asked Teresa to count how many there were and share them out. There was an odd number, so was there a dilemma? No, not a problem, I gave it to Teresa. Why? Simple answer, it is a social “trick”, one of many I have learnt over the years, that simple generosity that costs you almost nothing can bring you back social credit out of all proportion to what it costs and as an autistic it is so easy to lose social credit and hard to gain it, so it was a “no brainer”: I did give her the last wine gum and I got the credit.

Of course, Teresa and I being who we are, as soon as we’d done with the wine gums I explained my dilemma and we talked about it and I’m sure she’ll be along with her own perspective.

In the end, the journey back from Plymouth wasn’t as bad as I expected and I was in the North Inn 3:30pm on Saturday and never was a pint more welcome, well ok, a few more than one 🙂 , but they were all welcome.

Life in a Mixed Marriage – trouble with pink polka dot flan dishes, the other side

One of the objectives of having these discussions in public is to show both sides. That doesn’t mean we think life is so simplistic that there are only two points of view, one black and one white, but it hopefully highlights how different wiring in the brain can produce surprising results.

So, before we headed off on the walk, I recognised a pattern. Normally when we have walked from home to Geevor, on to Levant and back via Trewellard, we have called into the Trewellard Arms. Now when I say normal I mean once; for me once is a habit and a routine. To people like Teresa once is once, but it isn’t for me. I know that so, instead of just assuming we would call into the Trewellard, I said to Teresa that I was expecting to call into the Trewellard and would pack my notebook (and carry it) so that we could discuss our upcoming talks. I know Teresa likes her single malts and Trewellard is good for them, I prefer to drink in the North Inn but the beer is fine in the Trewellard, so I was hitting lots of good things

  • A routine
  • Teresa gets the chance to have a single malt when I’m drinking beer
  • A lovely walk we have done before, done exactly as we have done it before
  • A chance to plan our talk

What more was there? We both knew the plan and for me there would be no surprises, perfect.

So the fact that Teresa may have not understood the plan exactly the way I did, did not occur to me, but I am sufficiently aware of our differences to be polite and so asked when we got to the end of the walk “shall we go in then?” I didn’t expect even a moment’s hesitation, we had already agreed we would, but it was polite to ask. You see I can learn polite but it isn’t easy and the reactions can confuse me!

Anyway, we went in and we had an excellent discussion and wrote an almost complete script for our joint presentation.

The discussion about David (I don’t need to call him OD since I know who I am so David must mean him) was fascinating; I recognised what Teresa was describing about the pink polka dot flan dish. I have “been there, done that and got the T-shirt” and ended up just as hurt and confused as David undoubtedly was.

Now, both Teresa and my perception of the right thing to do in that situation (to buy the dish or not) are different. Neither is wrong or right, but both of us need to understand where the other is coming from. For the Autistic it is important to have clarity and for statements such as “it would be nice” or “I quite fancy” not be presented as the absolutes they feel like; the neurotypical needs to accept that they got what they asked for, even if that wasn’t what they meant.

Responsibility for misunderstanding lies on both sides of the relationship and sometimes you’ve just got to “suck it up”. As a neurotypical, if you fail to be clear, then work with the result. Similarly if someone really was clear then stick with what they said and not expand the task to be more enjoyable. Going further than asked is not unusual when our obsessive side engages and it’s not fair that we are upset when our partner is not happy getting more than they asked for!

Communication is key and not just talking but understanding, and not just surface understanding but understanding what happens inside the other person’s wiring and learning to be tolerant and work with it, and not against it.

Anyone looking for a pink polka dot flan dish?

Life in a Mixed Marriage – trouble with pink polka dot flan dishes

It was a lovely sunny day down here in West Cornwall and David and I decided to go for a walk. Last time we did this it was a three hour trek along the coastal path to Morvah via Portheras cove. I’m always astonished to think how much effort I have gone to, how much money I have spent over the years, going on holiday to get scenery this good. This land gets under the skin – but this article is not a travelogue…

On August Bank Holiday Sunday we went in the opposite direction from Portheras, westward to Levant via Geevor mine. This was a much shorter walk and we returned via the village of Trewellard where David suggested we pop into the Trewellard Arms because they always have a good selection of whisky and I do like my single malt. I thought it was a great idea and appreciated that David was changing his routine for my benefit: the natural end to the walk for him would have been to stop off at our closer-to-home local, the North Inn. David prefers the beer there but the whisky choice is very limited.

Living with someone on the spectrum makes it important to be aware of the importance of routine and also to understand that when a routine is broken it represents a much greater ‘gift’ than one might realise.

So, we made our way up from the coast and the path came out pretty much opposite the Trewellard Arms and David said something along the lines of, ‘So, are you up for it?’

As a neurotypical this question lit a touch paper and here are some of the thoughts that fired off as a result:

  • Yes of course I would like to go in
  • No, it’s only 5.30, much too early to go pubbing
  • No, David would much prefer to go to the North Inn
  • Ah, but it’s Sunday, David’s routine is to go to the NI on Fridays
  • So yes…
  • On the other hand…
  • I don’t really like pubs
  • I really like single malt…

You get my point, nothing so straightforward as a straight yes or no.

The whole time these thoughts were buzzing around in my head like a swarm of bewildered bees, David was getting more and more impatient at the lack of decision making. So I grabbed at one of the bullet points, and said ‘yes’.

There then followed a lovely hour or so during which David sampled the beer and I indulged a couple of single malts. As we drank, we worked out the details of what we were going to include in a seminar on Asperger’s being run by a friend in Penzance.

Now the point about our relationship, about the way we navigate our mixed marriage, is that we don’t hold back on discussing any issues that crop up and so we soon started to talk about what had happened on the way to the Trewellard Arms and I was reminded of something that often happened when I was married to OD.

In those days – newly married, not much money – I would often be taken by a longing for some obscure domestic object. Let’s say, a pink polka dot flan dish. OD would then scour the shops for my heart’s desire (this being long before the Internet) and once he’d tracked it down, he’d take me to the shop to look at it in the flesh. I’d study it for a moment, then look at the exorbitant price tag (I’ve always had expensive taste) and say something like ‘Nah, I don’t think I really want it after all.’

It drove OD mad. I didn’t understand, I thought I was being sensible and saving our hard earned pennies.

I told this story to David and his response was, ‘But of course he got upset – he’d found it for to you. How could you be so ungrateful as to refuse his offering?’ He then drew a parallel with cats catching mice and proudly presenting the little corpses to their owner, but I think we’ll let that one pass for now….

I then said, but what about the expense? What if the pink polka dot flan dish had cost £4,000 – should I still have bought it?

David replied, ‘You like it, you want it – we’ll find a way to pay for it…’

And at that point, I was brought up short. I told him, ‘God, you sound exactly like OD.’

All OD’s frustration suddenly made sense. To me, the whole thing had been about the thrill of the chase, the delight in having someone so devoted as to search out this ridiculous object which I so desired. My part was to admire it, then politely refuse it.

Politeness. That word again. So many pitfalls for the neurotypical and their autistic partner. OD died a long time ago, but I still wish I could tell him I’m sorry, and that now, at long last, I understand.

 

Life in a Mixed Marriage, the curse of good manners, or how to be rude nicely

One of the sessions Teresa and I run is titled:

How to lie with grace, and be rude nicely

We think this perfectly encapsulates the sort of problems encountered between autistics and neurotypicals.

From an autistic point of view, not being brutally honest (as the NT might think it) is to ‘lie’, and for me that is wrong and confusing.

For an NT, being polite, offering a white lie here and there, is what makes the world go round. To do otherwise would be rude.

Why is this a problem? Well, speaking as an autistic, one of my challenges is to understand the unspoken language that occurs between NTs. It is much harder for us to read, if indeed we read it all. Think of being literal, not understanding nuances such as tone of voice and facial expression; think of all the things I described in my article on the Imitation Game (LINK). You, the neurotypicals, say one thing in words (usually the polite version) and the truth is communicated in other ways, but we don’t see those other ways, all we have are the words

Herein lies the language problem. As an Autistic I have had to learn to ‘lie’ and, even worse, accept lies with good grace. Teresa has had to learn to be ‘rude’, blunt and what she considers to be unpleasant in how she talks to me, and to accept me being ‘rude’ and horrible when talking to her. That’s not a conventional recipe for a successful relationship.

Between us we try to understand the other’s language and try to find something in-between. The trick is not to be offended when someone behaves in a way that is true to their nature, whilst also expecting them to make an effort to “tone it down” when they can.

Understanding and tolerance are the only solution. It is harder for Teresa, she has a lifetime of good manners to overcome; it is easier for me because I’ve had a lifetime of trying to learn to ‘lie’ and be ‘dishonest’ (by my standards). Neither of us is good at it and it takes a lot of effort and correcting of each other (with love, patience and understanding), but it can be done.

So, Teresa, I do love to see your inner bitch.

Life in a Mixed Marriage, the curse of good manners

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So here we are, once again navigating the turbulent waters of an AS/NT mixed marriage. I rather fear that the title of this week’s offering may sound as though I’m saying one of us has good manners and the other doesn’t. In fact what I’m going to talk about is how, when living with a person with very different neurological wiring, all the conditioned notions of what constitutes good manners are turned topsy-turvy.

My father was born in 1919 and his mother was a Victorian of the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ variety. She was left a young widow with two children. There was no money. My Dad left school at 14 to make his own way in the world. He did well and he did it using his charm, intelligence and the good manners his mum had dinned in to him.

Being polite was double-edge. It endeared someone of my father’s class and upbringing to his ‘betters’ and helped him advance his career, but it also set him apart from his peers and gave the impression that he originated from a more affluent social level than was in fact the case.

My father, and my grandmother who died when I was 18, passed this belief in politeness and good manners down to me. I was sent to elocution lessons to eliminate any traces of cockney; I was taught how to hold my knife and fork, not to speak with my mouth full, never to eat off my knife and to always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. These are just the headlines, you understand, there is a whole raft of underlying behaviours and phrases of which even now I’m only half aware.

Being in a mixed marriage has made me more aware because suddenly I found that my repertoire of polite behaviour was perceived by the person I care about most as being insulting.

Here’s an example. I go out for the evening with friends. It’s likely it’ll be in Penzance which is six miles from our village. David isn’t coming but, so that I can enjoy a tipple, he offers to drive me there and pick me up when I’m done. This represents considerable effort and inconvenience on his part so I might well respond by saying, ‘That would be lovely, thank you – are you sure?’ It’s that last phrase that is the problem. To me, it’s a polite recognition of the effort involved. To David, it’s an insult: he would not have offered had he not been sure and so I have effectively told him that I don’t believe his offer to be genuine.

Similarly, if I’m asking anything of him, I’m likely to hedge the request round with all sorts of polite phrases (they are so instinctive that I can’t even think what they might be just at the moment) when what he needs is for me to cut to the chase: ‘I want to book a table and go out for a meal tonight.’ Rather than, ‘Isn’t it a lovely evening? How do you feel about popping over to the Gurnard’s Head.’

There are many more examples – I think I need to keep a log when they occur and produce a phrase book.

A couple of years ago I spent some time on the website Wrong Planet looking for advice on how to speak ‘Aspergian’. One person told me to think of it as ‘releasing my inner bitch’ or words to that effect. My father and grandmother would turn in their graves. It’s certainly a strong way of putting it, no hedging with polite phrases there 🙂 .

However, behind the strong words there is a serious point. What is politeness for me, is rudeness to an Aspergian.

Day to day I have to perform quite a juggling act. I have to maintain standards of politeness for the sake of my neurotypical friends, but also for myself because it’s part of who I am and I need to be true to that self as well as being able to ‘speak blunt’ to David.

It’s not easy and sometimes I forget, but then sometimes David forgets how brutal his forthright manner can seem to me. So we learn together and we are tolerant towards one another’s mistakes. It’s not plain sailing by any means, but in my experience, nothing worthwhile ever is.