Autistics in Love

Image description: Two blue silhouettes of people embracing each other with three blue hearts above them, over a black background

It is 4:00 PM and my partner has not eaten today. He has spent all day writing notes for his online course, and he forgot to shower, drink water, or do anything except his focused task. So I boil a pot of water, add Kraft Dinner, drain it, add the milk, butter, and cheese sauce mix, pour it into a familiar bowl, and I leave it on the table next to his work station. I leave him alone to his work and return to my writing projects. After eating half of the bowl of Kraft Dinner, he thanks me, and states that he needed to eat alone today; that eating in front of another person would be too intimate.

Late in the evening, I have a breakthrough for a new angle, a research question, for an upcoming presentation on neurodiversity. I pace around our home picturing every facet of the new question. Looking up after my thinking is done, he is also stimming – flapping his hands and rolling his neck. Both of us are out of words for the day, but we acknowledge each other’s communication. I am thinking. He is happy.

We understand each other’s daily struggles – overstimulation, fear of the unfamiliar, having a limited resource of social energy that depletes within the first few hours of each day, and leaving tasks half-finished when we can no longer maintain focus. We develop safety plans together for what to do when one of us sees the other mentally struggling. We split tasks in the home based on how much either one of us typically struggles with the task: I can cook but I cannot do outdoor work due to various phobias about nature. My partner can do outdoor work but cannot conceptualize in his brain the process of cooking. Together, we are a unit, more functional than either of us alone.

Apart from the practicality of our relationship, we are enchanted with each other. Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha refers to dynamics like ours as the Lust of Recognition. Relationships are based on empathy, which is based on shared experience. It is very difficult for me to maintain friendships and relationships with neurotypical people, not only because of my autism which disorders my socialization and communication, but because I do not have a neurotypical experience, and they do not have an autistic experience. I can teach people how to be compassionate towards autistic people through education about my experiences, but I cannot teach people what it is like to be autistic in a neurotypical world. But when I am socializing with another autistic person, my experience is empathized because they too have experienced many things that I have. I am recognized. I am seen. When I am in a relationship where my partner and I recognize each other, then nothing that either of us does is considered eccentric or criticized. We are accepted at all times, and loved for our differences.

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