“An Odd Couple and a Marriage Worth Working For” Here is the story of who we are and why we started this diablogue.
~ by Christina
My life is divided into two phases: Before Ken and After Ken.
‘Before Ken’ I had a rich adult life in another marriage that yielded three wonderful children and memories of farms and villages from several northern Alberta locations. However, things changed in 2001. The marriage ended (though we are still good friends), and I moved to Edmonton to pursue a BA and MA in English literature.
‘After Ken’ began when I met him one July day in Edmonton while I was on a summer job in communications at the Edmonton Klondike Days Association. He swooped into my office in black cotton and brown leather Clint Eastwood cowboy gear—hat, guns, and big jingling spurs—and kissed my hand.Later I found out he did that to all the girls, but it impressed me at the time. I booked an interview with him for a feature story, and once I got him seated I kept asking him questions way beyond what I actually needed. Being the kind and considerate (and now we know, Aspie) person he was, he just kept answering; he would have stayed there all afternoon if I’d kept going. It seems that in fact I was—without realizing it— interviewing him as a potential life partner. I wrote the story and we started dating.
From the start I was attracted to Ken’s honesty, intelligence, erudition, kindness towards everyone, appetite for adventure, and perhaps most of all for his childlike sense of play and offbeat sense of humour. However, Ken also had some puzzling quirks and jerk-ish behaviours. For example, he often railroaded our discussions, going on and on without noticing my boredom or frustration. This led, one time our early days, to a heated argument in the middle of a sidewalk on the concept of reciprocity in communications. He vociferously defended his right to drone on by declaring: “If it’s not actually hurting anyone, why does it matter?” I think we reached a stalemate that day. However, our dating continued, buoyed by his delightful qualities but punctuated—sometimes confoundingly— by idiosyncrasies such as his obliviousness to mood music; his aversion to the multi-tasking art of cooking; his curious habit of standing with his back pressed against the wall while I milled around at the indoor Farmer’s Market; his insomnia, his frequent napping and occasional two- or three-day ‘binge’ sleeps; his chronic minor stomach problems; his compulsion to give all his cash to street people; and his lurching gait that made me think one of his legs was shorter than the other (it was not).
In 2007 I decided the good outweighed the odd, and we got married in a 1800’s Wild West theme wedding at Fort Edmonton Park. In fits and starts of growth and setbacks, we slowly built up a married life as we renovated our 1952 Edmonton home. I continued my post-secondary education and teaching, and Ken, a journeyman electrician, taught at a technical college. Life was pretty good. As for his quirks, well, we devised multiple theories about many of them. For example, we decided that his weak social skills and extended bachelorhood was caused by losing both his parents by age 13, and we reasoned that his stomach problems were from drinking too much Coke (a habit I convinced him to quit). We were both intelligent and wanted to make this odd couple marriage work, so we elaborately theorized or somehow worked around most of the relational and practical challenges and just tried to put up with the rest.
About four years into the marriage, one of my female university students self-disclosed to the class that she had Asperger’s, a mild, high-functioning form of autism. I had never heard of the condition, but as I listened I was struck by how much her behaviours, talents, and challenges paralleled Ken’s. She said she needed more time to learn new things yet got excellent grades. She explained how sometimes she would have to suddenly leave the room if it got too noisy or busy. She said she battled recurring migraine headaches and sleeplessness. And she apologized in advance for misunderstanding or misapplying unwritten social rules most people unconsciously adhere to, such as when and how to start, maintain, and end a conversation.
That night I shared my student’s explanations with Ken, and he said that while he’d never heard about Asperger’s either, his traits echoed hers. This launched several weeks of fervent Internet research, and after the school term ended we invited my student to our home to talk more about Asperger’s/autism. After that conversation we realized that we had probably found the ‘real’ reason for many of our struggles as well as an explanation for Ken’s remarkable memory, his incisive sense of humour, and his deep knowledge on and ideas about topics such as world history, music, and computers. After several hit and miss diagnoses (later, we learned this is common), Autism Canada led us to a psychologist in Calgary skilled at differential diagnosis of adults with Asperger’s. And then, to our mutual relief, amazement, and trepidation, Ken was positively diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (now subsumed by Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD) on February 5, 2011.
At last we understood why so many problems between us were persistently annoying, perplexing, and sometimes even wounding, and why we could not, despite our valiant efforts, solve some of them. Discovering that 80 per cent of autistics never marry or have children helped us gain perspective—and relax a little—about our challenges. Our problems were normal, the predictable outcomes of a union between an Asperger’s man and a non-Asperger’s woman. This was not and is not a recipe for an easy marriage.
While the diagnosis was a relief, it bore a serious downside. We had to let go of our long-held expectations that some things would eventually change for the better. This included Ken’s hard-wiring for absolute logic, patterns, and order and my need for certain kinds of emotional connection. The Asperger’s diagnosis was simultaneously the birth and death of hope. In the years since, we have experienced a whole new kind of difficult, spiked—mercifully—with numerous interludes of growth, understanding, and laughter.
Now, things get better every day. I’m about to graduate with my PhD in Education, and I have found my niche studying and teaching writing.
Ken works in the technical sector of a major computer company. Constant effort on both our parts towards merging Ken’s autistic and my non-autistic ways of being have smoothed out many challenges of daily life. However, our marriage will never be straightforward or predictable. The labour continues, and it always will. Ongoing dialogue, analysis, learning, negotiations, experiments, compromises, and trust—all underpinned with a sense of play and humour— are essential for our personal and interpersonal survival and growth.
As part of a 2017 New Year’s resolution to channel some of our discoveries outwards, we decided to start this blog. We made it a dialogue, a “diablogue,” (example of Aspie wordplay) because autism in one half of a couple means never-ending honesty and effort by both. This isn’t Ken’s problem to figure out or my problem to deal with. It is our challenge together, and for better or worse, we are resolved to make our relationship work. It’s hard, but for us it’s simply the human, and humane, thing to do.
And now, with this blog, a new chapter in our story begins.