Love on the Spectrum – the Butterflies Session (falling in love)
There are all sorts of metaphors for falling in love. Seventh heaven, in Denmark we refer to “pink clouds” (anyone else use that?), having a crush, falling, swooped away…
In fact the concept of love is probably one of the most metaphor bedazzled words in the vocabulary – everyone has their own experiences of love, good and bad, and those personal experiences usually call for figurative speech, because the ordinary and literal vocabulary tend to fall short, when we need to describe something that takes up our entires beings.
Austistic or not, that is what love do. Love does not discriminate nor reserve itself for a special group of people. If you’re human, it will find you – sooner or later.
And it never comes in handy. You are well under way doing your thing and following that plan of yours and suddenly someone enters your life and the organisation you had crumbles because you suddenly become inefficient due to the thoughts and feelings inside.
If you are anything like me, you hate it for the disturbance and interferance with the routines – and love it, because almost anything is being sensed through the most beautiful photoshop filter imaginable. And then you hate it again, because you rationally know that the feeling is chemical and this means you are out of control and that is bad – but still, sigh… isn’t that special person just the most beautiful person on the planet?
Did you read the previous Love on the Spectrum posts?
Here’s your chance to catch up
Falling in Love Is An Uphill Battle
You don’t have to stay long in a support forum to know that falling in love can be quite the challenge for autistics like myself.
First of all the extreme emotions in an already sensory overloaded mind is almost too much to deal with.
Second of all due to our difficulties in social readings and navigiation, actually being able to tell how – or IF – the feeling is reciprocated is a big hurdle to get past. You might say, “well, just ask”, but count in the fact that a lot, though not all, struggle verbally in each their ways – some of us don’t even speak to strangers or anyone else than the very closest of people to us (like our parents).
Thirdly; falling in love and being on the door step of a relationship is a fucking mine field. It probably is to everyone, but try to imagine being at that spot and not knowing a whole lot about why that particular facial expression arises or what that tone of voice means or not being able to tell the more subtle body language signs (especially the difference between “interested” and “not interested”).
And that is just naming a few; I’m sure if we all weighed in, we could probably write a book!
To me, the worst thing is the emotional state. While everything might suddenly be coloured by the most beautiful photoshop filters (and that’s coming from someone who can already easily detect the slightest changes of nuances like the image of the five blue colours), the surge of feelings take away an already tested night’s sleep, it fills up my head to the point where I can’t focus, leaving me extremely annoyed, because I then tend to make a lot of mistakes (and I’m not good with that). And I talk about that person to everybody who even remotely might be interested. Someone asks me what the time is, I WILL make it about the person I’m crushing on. And while I rationally know what eye rolls are and can write little theses on avoiding or uninterested body language, I will not notice any of these signs as I go on about this new exceptional person in my life.
There is a good chance I’m not even aware of what’s happening. I tend to be a bit dumb that way. Hey, this is the person, that had to be TOLD by My Lady, I had been flirting for a year, before I understood what was going on! I know, I’m a work in progress….
All I know is that I am feeling good and that it’s awesome, so I seek out what sparks that feel.
So when do I know? When is the time, where it becomes apparant to me that what I feel is actually being in love?
This depends of course, but looking back it has (usually) taken the other person to express the reciprocation in some way. Kind of like what I mentioned before with the flirting – I wrote a bit about it in the very first Taylor review I did. Then it strikes me that “ooooooh my fucking gaawd, I KNEW something was up (NO!, smart ass, you were oblivious and are now being clever in hindsight!) (sorry, have a lot of these conversations with myself)”.
But it has happened that I figure out what I’m neck deep in without explicit reciprocation. And maybe it’s to do with getting older and starting to see and learn the patterns myself. Sometimes the feelings don’t evaporate by themselves, and sometimes they are not reciprocated (or at least not told so) – so eventually in those situations I do figure it out – and that hurts. Another emotion to deal with. And I set myself on the task to forget about that person, sooner better than later.
But have you asked if they might feel the same?
No! And I usually don’t even consider doing so, because why would they? So the easiest way forward is to lock that heart down and forget, move on, occupy that mind.
Are you that much in control of your own feelings?
In all fairness – I think this is what psychology defines as denial! So, no, I’m not that superskilled at controlling my own emotions – I’m just really really stubborn!
But either way, sooner or later, we – the sometimes verbally challenged – have to talk about it, have to have an actual conversation – probably with that person our hearts have chosen – and how that transpires is very much depending on how we are as a person.
Some will be very clear and factual, almost making others think there are no emotions (but there are) – Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory is a good, but somewhat caricatured, example of that.
Some will start studdering, go red and mess up every single word or need questions to pull the words out of their mouths.
And there are all those gray areas in between.
Also, it has a lot to do with the second participant in that conversation – how that person responds to either of the beforementioned ways to express feelings verbally. Like I said in the Debunking Session: a relationship (friendship, romantic, conversational) takes TWO.
What YOU need to know, if you are proclaming your love to someone autistic or find yourself being courted, is that you can encounter either of those gray nuances.
Remember that factuality – if that is what you face – doesn’t mean emotionless. It can easily be something to cling to, just like I compulsively start making the worst rubbish jokes, when someone offers me compliments, because I don’t know how else to deal with it.
Hyperstudder, redness, messed up speech – it’ll probably pass (and if it doesn’t, that is okay). Just don’t tease the person by saying “aaw, you’re so sweet when you go red” or finish the sentences from a studder or messed up speech – if you CAN ignore it, then do. You can – when the other is done talking – express things like “I’m nervous too” or something similar.
Equal grounds is crucial – and I believe they are to most people. Equal grounds makes us feel safe. Pointing out some “flaw”, even kindly, is like saying you are not equals. It only adds to the nervousness – and worse, you could cause someone to feel ashamed of themselves.
And finally – if your answer is “no”, if you don’t feel the same…. will you please for the love of G just say it? It doesn’t have to be a lecture, where you end up discussing crops in Africa before you kinda, sort of, maybe, have to like unfortunately have to let us down but oh how you wish it was different.
For one; FUCK subtleties! I mean it! I do them myself because I’m afraid of hurting people, so I’m being kind of hypocritical right now – but quite a lot of us don’t catch your intent if you are too subtle. So be direct, be kind but leave no uncertainties.
And second; we tend to be very literal – so if you say you’d wish that it was different, you can be quite sure that we – in the name of love – will try to help you make that wish come true – which will kind of be the opposite of what you want.
Direct and no false pretences. Thank you.
Dig In to the Mine Field
Say, the first conversation is over – maybe it came natural, maybe it was sceduled, because that was the only way to actually get talking. You know..the “I need to talk to you about something, when can we meet?”. It doesn’t matter if it’s sceduled or not – it’s one step further into a beginning relationship and time is up for “The First Date”.
*Ominous drum roll*
And for some reason, even if you have been with that person before, everything is now different. I will take a wild guess and say that this goes for everyone (please correct me if I’m wrong). Autistic or not, if you have been friends before and go on that notorious First Date – suddenly shit is different. The same person. Maybe even the same place. But it’s different.
A lot of us autistics are highly uncomfortable with “different”.
I can only explain from my personal experience.
That “different” feeling tends to override my previously collected knowledge and data of the person. How to read this person somewhat properly, the things I’ve learned about that specific person’s use of body language and subtle signs, information like the pet’s name, birthday – fuck even allergies – it’s frecking GONE!
Maybe it’s nervousness repressing everything, but give an autie a fucking break…!
I cannot tell you how many times in the past I’ve come home from one of those early dates and just thrown myself into bed, beating up and spitting profanities into a pillow and calling myself the worst of things, because I – again – messed up. And I’m talking anything from loosing my coordination so I tripped, to forgetting she had a pet and … calling a girl by another name! Yep, I did that. And we were way past the “sorry, I didn’t catch your name”-time frame. The really odd part was that I didn’t even KNOW anyone with that name, so there was no freudian slip or secret telling going on. Shit!
And the really annoying part of these sudden amnesias was that after about half a day or after a good nights sleep – the repressed knowledge popped back to surface…just to disappear on the next date, leaving me to fuck things up – again! Fortunately, apparantly, when I fuck up, it’s more quirky than it is perceived rude. Apart from the different name – that was bad! Even if there was no hidden reason to it, she didn’t know nor believe that – and she was actually really really sweet, so she did not deserve that experience.
Apart from making a complete arse of myself, I feel like I have to prove that I’m a decent, normal person, which is derived from a general alienated feeling – so I am, like many others, masking and using coping strategies big time. Or…I used to. I couldn’t tell you how it would be today, as I’m not planning on having a first date ever again.
To understand how this masking is like and the toll it can take, then here is a very simple exercise, you can make:
First you identify three key things you do. It must be something so engraved in you that you hardly notice yourself that you are doing/saying it. Get help from some long-time friend or a family member, if this step is a challenge.
Next time you socialize, whether it’s the promotional conversation with your boss, the night out with your friends, a coffee date with your closest friend, family reunion – or even a first date : you are NOT allowed to do any of the three things, not even once. So while attending this social situation, you must be focused on the conversation, present yourself well and be likeable – and not reveal even once that you do those three things by habit.
If you would help promote Love on the Spectrum – the Butterflies Session, by using these pinable images, I will be more grateful than words can say♥♥♥♥
There is a good chance that you’ll get pretty exhausted and if the test stopped after an hour you’d probably be relieved. Now consider this; many autistics – not all, but many – do masking to some degree in their lives. Consistently. I myself have lived four decades and have masked by the hour, daily, for most of those years. To the point where – as I got my diagnosis – I actually couldn’t tell who I was. I had lost a sense of identity.
I know – it should not be necessary to mask and hide the various autistic trades that we have. Unfortunately to some extend it still is. I can’t go into a job interview twitching my hands and with the natural pausings in my speech – not if I want the job. I could explain that it’s autism causing it all, but that would probably just – in most cases – make it worse. Not due to ill will, but simply because people do not know enough about autism. They tend to jump straight to Rainman and either drop the interview due to not knowing how to handle it or simply regard me as a liar, because I’m nothing like Dustin Hoffmans character.
I’m not a liar, though. I have the words of three different psychiatrists independently of each other and multiple tests stating that I have a very clear Aspergers Syndrome.
I’m digressing again… my point is that the first couple of dates can be super exhausting due to this masking and this can lead to a fatigue and need to be alone, which might be interpreted by this new love as having doubts or a clumsy rejection, when in fact it’s anything but. This might lead to a cooling off demeanor from the new love, which in turn will confuse and take even more energy, because we don’t know how to navigate that.
Again – directness is key.
This is of course just an example.
If you feel like you’re being overlooked or neglected, just say it.
Because, quite frankly, we might not be aware.
It takes TWO
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; relationships of any kind takes two working towards the same goal.
And while I say that non-autistics should be more considerate, be more direct and not be so damn vague – there are certainly also things we can do as autistics to help a relationship onto a good path.
Yeah, I know, many of us are already bending backwards to fit in, masking and coping hard as fuck, so we don’t “expose” ourselves.
But maybe we should take a lesson from the autistics that don’t, whether it’s ‘cause they can’t or because they won’t.
But who would want to date someone like me?
The right person would – because the right person wouldn’t care!
Which is a bull shit thing to say, because we all know very well the stares and secret glances coming our way, when our specific neurology will not be tamed visually.
However, there are only two possible outcomes from masking; a) you will be found out eventually or b) you will crash mentally in the attempts you make to fit into normality.
The latter, I’m afraid, I know all to well. Which is why I now, whenever I catch myself trying to hide a quirk or “a thing that I do”, try to not hide it, subtle at first, like dipping the toes in the pool to check the temperature and then I practise letting that mask go. I have as said about four decades worth of masks to sift through – not just autism related – so I’m far from done yet, but I’m getting there. And while a few people have started to talk to me like I’m a child (annoying as fuck, by the way!), I also sense a change that is far more important than stares and ignorant attitudes:
I’m growing confidence!
The catch to all of this is, that if we all put our masks down (and I realise this is easier said that done) – autistics AND non-autistics alike – we might finally understand that normality is nothing but a fairy tale. The visible autistic trades would be no more odd, than seeing someone with red hair. Aahh, utopia!
But we are not there yet. We have to start somewhere though, so I encourage you to practise. I can’t promise you that you’ll experience full inclusion in this lifetime, but I can promise you that openness tends to build the best relationships.
But of course – you have to figure out the love conundrums first, which only life can teach you.
And you know what?
Mistakes are perfectly okay. They may be hard to accept, but from numerous conversations I’ve had over the years, and eaves dropping too, I will dare say that we all mess up a few times, before we get it right.
How to do it “right”-ish in each single situation is hard to say anything general about – because we are all different. That is the beauty of being human.
What saddens me is that I regularly read social media posts from autistics who may have felt love, but not yet had anyone reciprocate (or at least show the reciprocation clearly) – kindhearted and loving people, who have not had a relationship, because no one found them “normal” enough.
It’s no secret that I am what from the outside would be called well-functioning – and for the vast part I can navigate the challenges I face when love comes knocking on my door. A bit quirky and embarressing at times – granted – but I can navigate. And I have also been fortunate enough to have met women in my life, that were pretty outgoing – at least enough to dare make the first steps.
So please know, that what I write is from that perspective and life experience. And some of my fellow autistics outthere have a completely different view on things, due to years of loneliness and numerous heart breaks. To some, love has no quirks, caricature values or smiles to offer. There can be any number of reasons for that – but I will leave that for another post in the future.
But I do believe that it all starts with tearing down the stigma – and being open about the challenges (or quirks) we might have, to help people around us understand – and eventually help us.
Because however obnoxious falling in love can be, the amount of control over yourself you loose and how often you contemplate calling the doctor due to increased heart rate and lack of sleep – falling in love is something that everyone should get to experience – and not only the falling in love part, but also being loved and have someone stare at you like you are made of fucking amber and diamonds (and for a second believing it).
But – that means – we are starting to go steady?!
What tricksssssy little mine fields going steady holds, is coming up next in “Love on the Spectrum – the Steady Session”.
Sign up, follow the social medias to stay tuned.
Any quirky falling in love-stories up YOUR sleeve? Well, as you know, sharing is caring – and there’s a comment section coming right up.
Until next time, cupcakes…
Luv ya ♥♥♥
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My name is Linda and I set my eyes on the world for the first time back in the summer of 1978.
In 2017, after decades of struggling with various mental issues and illnesses, I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, an autistic spectrum condition. My most dominant co-morbid illnesses are depression and anxiety.
Born in Copenhagen, living several places throughout Denmark in my life, I’m currently settled in Northern Jutland, in the rapidly growing city of Aalborg. Here I worked a handful of years as a manager in high performance environments, until a mental break down in 2017.
Rocking the Spectrum is not a knowledge base on autism per se, but rather a peak behind the scenes, showing the life of someone autistic – in the hopes that it will help conversations and understanding along elsewhere on this blue planet.
I am not a professional health worker and any views and statements must be viewed as personal opinions and experiences only.
My special interests are languages and codes, music, books, urban gardening, animals – and writing is my way of breathing.
Proceed into the blog with caution – I swear a lot. Don’t blame my parents – they HAVE tried to improve my behaviour!