(Ken asks: “What “L” word. I answer: Love Actually [movie]:” we laugh)
Note: We’re back. Ken has had a great deal of trouble over the holidays and since with ongoing challenges with accommodations and negotiations at his place of work; it has taken all his energy. We were going to do the first blog of 2018 about New Year’s resolutions, but since we were on the cusp of Valentine’s Day, we had a change of heart. Love is in the air, and thus so is the question: “What is love, in our kind of relationship?”
Before we knew much about autism and that Ken was autistic, we knew even less about autism and love. Now, being together, we have discovered Ken’s differences, and “love” is no different. He – therefore we – love(s) differently.
Helpful hint: Different love is still love– no less important, no less valid, and no less true.
So, let’s diablogue
Ken: I have always comprehended the substance, however, not the necessarily the essence, of Valentine’s Day. When I give or do something for you, and it makes you happy, it makes the world seem right to me. I don’t do it because it makes me happy. Happiness to me is service—doing things for others that make them happy. That means I’ve done something right in the world; the world is at equilibrium, at that moment.
Each couples’ love is the seed of a tree taking root in a forest; it can’t be sustained alone. It has to radiate outwards to the other trees, to the family, the community, to the world. Love that stays mostly or only with the couple is doomed to hardship. Love wasn’t meant to stay locked up and insular. It must radiate out—and that makes the world well.
Christina: And I see that when you achieve equilibrium it is because an issue, even if tiny, has been addressed. An anxiety lessened. A need met. A pattern completed. Psychic and social balance.
Ken: About Valentine’s Day. I have spent a great deal of time observing it; however, in my ignorance and lack of comprehension of its innuendo, nuances and subtleties, I have spent very little time in its observance. Altruism—that, for me, is Valentine’s Day every day.
Christina: That’s a lot of observing—and not!
Ken: I am aware of the wonderful ritual and pattern; however, I am not sure I comprehend the essence of it. I sense that it is right when I give or do something for you; however, where I surmise I have a problem is… I know I’m supposed to please you, to have a wonderful effect on you. But I always have to guess if it does because I do not comprehend the essence. What makes me feel good is making you feel good.
Christina: You mean ‘doing Valentine’s Day’ as in the ritual of buying a card, chocolates, all that. Ok.
Ken: Yes, and it is personally important that I remember and treat you with reverance.
Ken: I may not fully comprehend the essence of Valentine’s Day, but it does have a positive social effect on people. Let me put it this way, it is like the wind blowing the leaves on a tree. One cannot see the wind; however, one can observe the effect of the wind.
Christina: So what effects do you see?
Ken: Connection, reconnection, people hugging and smiling. Being nice to one another—even if for only for day.
Ken: One thing I observe in myself that leads to these questions is: Am I doing this merely mechanically, robotically, and on schedule, or is there something else that I’m contributing to Valentine’s Day—for us— that is emotional and human? Perhaps by listening to your answers I can answer my questions. What does Valentine’s Day mean to you and what do you need and want from it? Do I fill those needs? And with me, an autistic person, what are you getting out of Valentine’s Day?
Christina: That’s three questions. One at a time…
Ken: First I want to comprehend the world view of Valentine’s Day. Then how you comprehend it, and what you are giving up by being with me—which will also answer what you gain by being with me. What needs do I fill for you and what do I offer that compensates?
Christina: Good last questions—and you need to answer those for me as well.
Ken: I can answer them now: The need for me you fill on Valentine’s Day is that I become part of the observance of the day rather than merely observing people that day.
Christina: Got it. But personally, do you benefit in some way from me buying you a card and saying nice things?
Ken: As I miss the social mark so often, and you have the tough job of staying with me when I do, it pays back a little, this refills the cup, this helps refresh and refill. I’m very much aware that I’m a huge burden.
Christina: Interjects ….That’s not a healthy way to think.
Ken: Perhaps not healthy; however, valid.
Christina: How does it show?
Ken: Enacting Valentine’s Day demonstrates that I am not a robot, rather just a different type of human being who does not necessarily comprehend the correct pattern but is still able to have a pattern that is no less correct— it’s just different. I love hard and hurt hard. It’s just that most people will never comprehend or see it. Perhaps Aspies love and hurt deeper and harder than non-autistics; however, most people will never see it, as we do not express it—we’re not good with emotional nuances, innuendo, and subtleties. We seem to feel emotions either intensely or not at all and inappropriately; we have less range of emotional expressions. We speak a different body language and emotional language than the rest of the world. Therefore, there is no translation, no dictionary and no manual, so it becomes a lack of communication and lack of connection with others. However, make no mistake, we know what love is to us, and what not having it is like.
Christina: I understand. Truly. Now, back to your first question about Valentine’s Day and what it means, generally. I can’t speak for the world. But for most people I think it’s a chance to go ‘full blown romantic,’ like in the movies—Sleepless in Seattle. A wedding day is the same—at least in our culture. They are both one of those rare magical and ephemeral life relationship moments that allow us—compel us— to focus intensely on all the good things about our chosen partners.
Ken: When you say relationship—I struggle with two aspects: the social and the emotional.
Christina: Yes, I know that’s what makes this hard for you. I think that for many people, Valentine’s Day is the day when they celebrate—even playfully flaunt—their relationship with their partner. And it’s great to revel in it, all those good things. So, we are extra nice to each other, pick out and sign mushy cards, do the heart-shaped chocolate box ritual, go out to dinner—ideally candlelight.
Ken: Interjects… “Ken, don’t eat the chocolate strawberries again…” (we both laugh at the painfully funny memory of an early date mishap.)
Christina: Right. And in doing all that, by participating in this symbolic annual act, we encapsulate and intensify our loving and caring feelings for each other…
Ken: We remind ourselves to keep doing that, to focus on each other, and on others, not on ourselves. It reminds ourselves to think about other people, hug them, kiss them, celebrate them. It reminds us to celebrate the emotional good in one another other—and that’s emotionally healthy.
Christina: Absolutely. After all, those feelings between us are very real. By doing Valentines day (and every day as we can) we’re acknowledging them as important—even as what’s most important. And even though the feelings don’t stay focused like that through the daily ups and downs of living, they’re still there. Of course, some people say that Valentine’s Day is just a marketing brouhaha, a chance for business people to make money from love. In the past, I’ve looked at it that way sometimes. But I’ve softened. Now I prefer to see it as a meaningful, person-to-person ceremony. It’s what we make it, really.
Ken: Well, if humans are going to market anything, why not market love? There are many things a lot less valuable to the human condition.
Christina: Good point! Very un-cynical.
Ken: “If you’re busy making love, you’re too busy to make war.” ~ John Lennon
Christina: Very logical. Very true. Your next question was, what do I think of Valentine’s Day? Well, that’s evolved over time. It’s pretty simple now. I enjoy participating in the larger social ritual, and I like the idea of you observing it, doing it—so I can comment about it with friends. I’m not above that social effect! “Oh, that’s so sweet,” they say. And I feel good; I have proof that my man is romantic. Acting like the socially “ideal” man. Like the ones in the movies that women swoon over—and for a reason. Swooning and powerful emotions serve a very real purpose in the world—they throw people together to carry on the species. They, among other things like purpose and diverse human connections, keep life worth living.
Christina: So, when you ‘do’ Valentine’s Day rituals, I get to play out a deeply socially ingrained and evolutionarily essential schema. And somewhere deep inside of me, that feels good. But you know as well as I do that I sometimes even miss noticing Valentine’s Day is here—I get distracted. Those social marker dates have never really been important to me—which is probably a sign of how I have come to be with an Asperger partner—some things are just less important to me than to others, for whatever reason. But you never forget about social ritual days like Valentine’s Day or my birthday, thanks to your wonderful, inescapable, vast data storage system—which I depend on so much for so many things!
Ken: Yes. So, regarding Valentine’s Day specifically, what has it meant to you on your own, how did you participate in it before me, and what are you getting out of it now with me, and what’s the difference?
Christina: First, what a person ‘gets’ out of ritual social days is different for every relationship. This isn’t just about a non-autistic partner and an autistic one. It’s about me growing and changing, and especially, me changing what I expect because of you—now that I know you are autistic—and not holding anything against you that you cannot deliver. That’s an essential shift, because if I went through every Valentine’s Day or any other romantic ritual moment pining for things I might have received or felt from other relationships, that would break us up. So, reason and kindness have to kick in. For example, I know that you—like most other autistic people I’ve ever encountered, have one of the biggest hearts—either for others or for other living creatures— that it’s possible to have. On a broad scale you are ultra-kind, ultra-compassionate and truly altruistic.
Ken: Thank you; if I know exactly when and how to show it, perhaps. The most important thing to me in my life—even though it may not always appear that way—is your health and happiness. However, I rely on you –and this is maybe where the hole lies— to tell me what you need to make you happy. Like a script in a movie, if I know what I need to do to meet those expectations, then I will cross miles of broken glass to do it. There’s the problem: if you tell an Aspie what to do, or what you need, they will love you to death; however, if it is subtle, we won’t read it. If you tell us what to do, we will exhaust ourselves, kill ourselves, to do it.
Christina: So, you want to know what am I getting from you in place of what I’m giving up?
Ken: Affirmative. What makes Valentine’s Day and staying with me worth it? You can’t just be giving things in this relationship. Nobody can answer this question but you.
Christina: First, in terms of romantic acts as viewed by others, I’m getting a lot. The fact that I don’t get some emotional nuances of them is a question of balance—and a conscious decision to make those things less of a priority. Since your diagnosis 7 years ago I have learned to build—figuratively— the structures I need, the emotional underpinnings that I instinctively crave, beneath those surface acts of yours. To see things that don’t seem to be there from non-autistics’ standpoints—but actually are—though in different forms. People watching us, for example, often comment, “Oh’ that’s so romantic!” or “Oh, you two are so in love!” And they’re right, except that different things are going on below the surfaces, likely, than for most couples. Non-autistic couples. But to answer your question simply about what I’m giving up: I don’t feel the deep surges of emotion that I know exist for other couples, and that are really nice to feel. You don’t send out those sensory-emotive vibes, and so they aren’t there for me to pick up and respond to. But in your actions and in your absolute remembrances of them—never forgetting, always committing, always being there— you do send out powerful waves of caring, caring about me, caring about showing that caring, and caring about us as a couple. Those are rock solid. Immoveable. I feel that, and that’s irresistible. As a caring, intelligent person myself I can—at least most of the time—easily swap one kind of feeling for the other. A man who will go to the ends of the earth for his woman is a wonderful man, a man most women would kill for, a man well worth loving. And that’s what I have. So, am I sacrificing? Not really. I’m trading. Willingly.
Ken: Wow, that is overwhelming. I am so busy trying to be what to you I already am. That being said, I will never stop trying to be a better man. That is how I love you.
Ken’s after-note: Apologies to our readers, but this post is rather long. However, who can create a short one about the complex and ephemeral thing called “Love”?!
Next post: ~ Yet to be determined