Now that I am entering the phase of my life I could deem “Judy, Part II” (to steal the language my ex used on Facebook earlier this week when referring to himself), I have spent some time considering what life as a single adult woman with Asperger’s is going to look like. This is unchartered territory for me in a very real sense. I did not receive my AS diagnosis until 2011, and it was only in the five years or so leading up to that point that I had come to recognize that I fit quite nicely into the autism spectrum, thank you very much. Now that I know I’m not crazy—which is truly what I believed for a very long time—I can’t help but wonder what this “Part II” is going to look like.
Psychologist and author Valerie Gaus noted in a 2011 interview, “For people with Asperger’s … avoiding interactions is more about self-preservation … They’re well aware that they’re unable to read cues or know the appropriate thing to say. They’ve also made mistakes in the past and experienced rejection.” As much as I tend to bristle at what could be termed sweeping generalizations made about individuals with Asperger’s by individuals who do not have Asperger’s, there are exceptions to every rule and I will make an exception in this case, because Gaus has hit the nail on the head, so to speak. Cognitively, I know the right thing to say. I know what constitutes expected casual conversation when getting to know someone, I know (for the most part) how to dress and for what situation. I know when to make eye contact, greet people I am meeting for the first time with a smile, and so forth. The problem is, the number of situations in my personal life where I can actually pull off most of these expected social skills is, shall we say, variable. Knowing how to do something is no guarantee that one will be able to do something. It is an extremely frustrating way to live. It can be an extremely frightening way to live. And to address the point made by Gaus, it is a set of circumstances tailor-made for social withdrawal. Who among us, Asperger’s or not, wants to be a poster child for the definition of insanity? I for one am tired of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The reality is I do not do well socially in situations where I am among unfamiliar people, and if I do know people in the group I will figuratively cling to them for security. I spent years doing this with my husband. I have a terribly difficult time initiating conversations or even small talk with new people, and those mistakes I have made in the past absolutely cause fear for what the future holds.
Bottom line, I have not been known to be able to trust myself. As they say, admitting the reality of the situation is the first step towards finding a solution (assuming one exists), so I will admit now that I don’t have the first clue what comes next. At the moment, I am most assuredly not looking to put myself in situations where I will have to stretch myself beyond my well-established comfort zone. In other words, as of right now, if I never date again that will suit me just fine. Some might consider this an extreme, perhaps rigid, stance to take, but what can I say, I have Asperger’s! And for “Judy, Part II,” I have that knowledge and the wisdom and understanding that come with it. Will it be important for me to attend to situations such as being out and meeting new people? Probably, down the road a bit, on the assumption that my children will one day get married and there will be in-laws to interact with! Knowing the mistakes I have made in the past and understanding how those mistakes came to pass, as well as understanding that I really am not crazy after all, puts me in a position to be gentle with myself and let go of the need to control every social situation or else avoid it all together. I just need the rest of the world to be patient with me, so that what I’m quite sure would be the overwhelming urge to retreat does not take hold. I would like to think that I’m worth it.
And that’s a mindset that “Judy, Part I” absolutely did NOT have.