Home for the Holidays: the problem with getting what you need

The hardest part of my trip back to Kentucky for Christmas was not the airport or constantly changing plans or the obliteration of my routines (not that they were exactly easy), it was telling my family about my needs in a way I had never done when I lived there.

I used to go along with whatever was happening and just deal with the consequences. Sometimes I sat in the corner with headphones on the entire time, sometimes I ran from people so I could meltdown in private and on occasion, I enjoyed the company of my family. This year, Jesse and I explained spoons and downtime and stimming and how my needs have not changed in the last two years but how we deal with them has.

Everyone was absolutely wonderful about it. Rooms were made off limits for me when the house was packed, people were told to be quiet or leave when I became overwhelmed, they were extra careful and communicative when driving me places, restaurants were chosen with noise level and space in mind and no one touched me without asking. Not a single person made me feel guilty or acted like it was anything out of the ordinary. Their unconditional acceptance of my differences was the same as it’s always been, only made more obvious by bringing it out into the open.

Here’s the hard part: their acceptance surpassed my own. I felt crushed under the guilt of my selfishness the entire trip. I felt like I was dictating every moment of our holiday and I still can’t clearly recall if that’s an exaggeration or not. I can’t decide if this feeling is worse than not being accommodated in the first place. It might not be healthy to prefer being ignored to being accepted but I’m so tired of the self-loathing that pops up when people are good to me. It seems excessively unfair.

People have not always been good to me. I didn’t grow up with the family I have now, I married into it. Except for my mother, who has gone to great lengths to learn about me as an adult and improve the way we communicate, I don’t speak to anyone from my past. Even though things have changed, I have 20+ years of hurtful words and actions ingrained into my psyche. It takes time to undo that kind of damage. It takes exposure to acceptance and integration of support into every day life. I know that and sometimes I even believe it.

I used to think that someday I would get completely better, cured of the internalized ableism and effects of trauma that plague me with doubt and self-loathing. I would be a Well-adjusted Autistic Adult, confident and unapologetic in my need for support. I don’t think that’s true anymore. I think I’m probably always going to deal with these feelings in some instances. It’s going to get easier, though. It already has.

I came home from our holiday and took care of myself. I slept for 12 hours at a time, didn’t leave the apartment for 4 days, binge watched The Mysteries of Laura on Netflix (it’s so good, you should watch it) and did not tackle my very long post vacation to-do list. I still had twinges of guilt while my unpacked suitcases looked at me from their spot in the dusty corner of my bedroom but I ignored it and took my dinner of peanut butter and bananas back to the couch. ♥

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A message to my autistic community on grief and tragedy

In my experience, a large part of passing includes trying to mimic the way others respond to grief. It is in these moments, when emotions are high, that I have experienced some of the strongest backlash for behaving differently. Not expressing emotions outwardly or immediately comprehending the scale of a tragedy has resulted in being called cold or heartless.

This is not true. It’s not true of me and it’s not true of you.

I may not cry or exclaim loudly, but I feel heartbreak at the suffering of others. I may not engage in conversations about what has happened, but it isn’t because I don’t care. It’s because actively discussing something painful amplifies my feelings of outrage or hurt until I’m unable to escape them. It’s physically and emotionally taxing.

Typically, people discuss, debate and even joke as a way of processing intense emotions and as a way of feeling grounded when tragedy makes them feel disconnected from humanity. If that is not how you cope with strong emotions, don’t let others tell you that you are less.

You are important, your feelings are valid and you have the right to express them in the best way possible for you. No one has a patent on expressions of grief. We are all trying to find a way to live in a world with needless suffering.

Reporting from beneath the surface: an effort to explain burnout while experiencing it

You know the feeling you get when you duck under the water during a bath? Nose held, eyes closed, every noise outside the water feels exaggerated, you’re acutely aware of how the water feels on your skin. That’s how I feel right now. My thoughts are narrowed down to immediate sensations and I can’t spare energy for anything outside the steam surrounding me. Burnout.

Last week my mom was in town and my internship required triple the effort it usually does. It was wonderful at the time. I love spending time with my mom and I host a podcast for my internship, which I enjoy doing. But I borrowed a lot of spoons to get through that. Like, a ton of spoons, a month of spoons. I kept running out.

I didn’t sleep well, I had a shutdown, and then a meltdown, plans changed constantly, I did several new things and navigating it all took enormous effort. A week like that would be difficult for anyone and would require a few days of rest afterword. But I could be dealing with the effects for weeks. We could be dealing with the effects for weeks. I have to keep remembering that.

Burnout is hard to describe, especially when looking at it head on. I didn’t use to be able to recognize it. I still can’t sometimes. Identifying how I feel isn’t exactly easy at the best of times. Jesse warns me and reminds me. She started preparing before my mom even got here. I think she sees it as an impending storm but for me it’s like a fog creeping in slowly, masking everything and turning the landscape into a dull, dense gray.  You hardly notice until it’s all settled in.

Once I’m in full-on burnout mode my social translation skills deteriorate and I start losing track of time. I stare at people when they’re talking instead of smiling and nodding. I just forget to do it. I forget about eating. The only thing I’ve had to eat in the last 12 hours is chex mix. I’m not very sweet because that is, in fact, something I learned to do and not something I am naturally. I’m more sensitive to sound, smells, sensations. Breaks in routine that I am usually able to roll with are showstoppers. I cried because Jesse got the wrong kind of soup at the grocery store yesterday. (I’m still a little upset about it tbh.)

 I don’t want to talk very much, I don’t want to be touched at all, I zone out a lot. I want to stim constantly. I don’t think too deeply about things. I don’t feel unhappy. Actually, I feel pretty good about life in general, it’s just a dulled kind of feeling.

I do hate that burnout adversely affects Jesse and I hate that I don’t even notice until she tells me. I have a script for reassuring her when she wants attention during burnout. It has taken a long time for me to consistently remember it and recognize her prompting me for it. I think I’m getting better at it, though.

I don’t know how everyone else experiences burnout but to be honest, it feels like a relief sometimes. Some parts of it are hard, some parts of being autistic are always hard, some parts of being a human are always hard. But in general, not being able to muster up the give-a-shit to pass as neurotypical is a relief.

I don’t know how long this will last. I’ve never paid attention to the time frame. I used to push through it, before I had words to describe it and a community who understood. I used to feel broken, wrong and dysfunctional. Now I know that this is just a natural part of my life and that’s okay.

I get through it. I use my crash closet often; a soft, dark, quiet place to land when the world is overwhelming. I rest without guilt. I say no to interaction and socialization regardless of consequences. I do what feels natural. I take lots of baths, slipping below the surface and keeping the world at bay, outside the steam, outside the room, outside the building, until I feel like coming up for air.

Read about Jesse’s process of dealing with burnout here.

Dead Air: a special interest history

dead air
noun
  1. an unintended interruption of the video or audio signal during a television or radio broadcast.

Age 4, I begged my mom for music until she brought me home a Playskool Rockin’ Radio with a missing button. I think that’s my earliest, happiest memory. I spent hours listening to the same cassette tape over and over and scrolling through the crackle of frequencies just out of range.

Age 6, I got a pink handheld Talkgirl cassette recorder from a yard sale. I sat in front of my mom’s giant console stereo and recorded the local radio station that we could finally pick up after moving into town. I taped the songs and quietly, alone in my room, recorded myself in between the tracks, announcing each song as if it were a secret.

Age 8, a boombox for Christmas and my first CDs. Backstreet Boys, Selena, Spice Girls, a mix of 90s party hits. It was magnificent, long and oval with a dent in the right speaker. I vividly remember the feel of the cool metal grating of the speaker as I pressed it to my face and listened to white noise as I fell asleep.

Age 10, I received a gift I hadn’t even dared to ask for, a portable CD player. It changed my world. The first of many, I went years with only uncovering my ears when absolutely necessary. The times between one breaking and waiting for a new one were torture. I remember the last moments of each one, the heartbreak, the tears, the hopelessness. I felt like I needed music to survive.

Age 17, I saw the inside of a radio station for the first time and got a job announcing southern gospel music on an AM station each weekend at 6 a.m. I didn’t care what I was announcing or who I was announcing it to, I was finally on the radio.

Age 18, I only applied to one school, the nearest university’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting, one of the best in the country. I only applied to one job, the radio station in the tiny neighboring town. For two years I spent most of my free time alone in the rundown country station, chain-smoking and reading the news. I barely got by in all the classes that were not about broadcasting and turned simple radio writing assignments into full-scale productions. Nothing seemed as important as radio.

Age 20, I moved to an AM news/talk station to the delight of my 14-year-old Newsradio-obsessed self. What followed were nine of the happiest months of my professional life. I was a reporter, I was a producer, I was ecstatic. I was eventually laid off.

Age 22, I graduated with a degree in broadcasting and zero experience outside of a radio station. I found other jobs. I found other things to make me happy, like iPods and podcasts. I started writing as a career. I never stopped applying to radio stations but it seemed to get further and further from my grasp.

Age 27, I walked into a radio station for first time in six years and felt like I had finally come home.

The illusion of fairness

I had a professor once tell me that marriage isn’t 50/50, it’s 60/40—a constant back-and-forth of one partner needing more. I can’t remember why I was getting one-on-one relationship advice from my advanced personal selling instructor but apparently I did. I was 21 at the time, 2 years into my relationship with Jesse, and I didn’t agree with him. I always strived for things to be fair between us. If she worked all day, I needed to make dinner. If she did a load of laundry, I should do the next one. If only one of us was working, the other one did everything at home. When this impossible balance of fairness was disrupted, I either felt bad about myself or angry with Jesse.

I came to the conclusion that this is what a relationship should look like by way of a few different perspectives. By that time in my life, my parents had been divorced and remarried six times collectively. I knew plenty about relationships. One partner always seemed to do more, was underappreciated and it was always the woman. Either my mom was up at 5 a.m. making breakfast for her husband before she went to work a 12 hour shift as a nurse or my stepmom was at home with all of their kids while my dad was out playing music every weekend. I saw these problems, I listened to the woes of all the mothers in my life and I marked “fairness” down in the “how to be in a relationship” file.

It’s been said that autistic people are very black-and-white minded and I’ve found this to be mostly true about myself. Once I know a thing, I generally don’t question it anymore. I knew that relationships had to be fair, I shouldn’t take my partner for granted and I shouldn’t be a doormat and that was that. These rules had no nuance, no room to bend or evolve so they eventually broke. But I saw every argument about responsibility within our relationship as a testament to our failure to maintain a 50/50 balance. I was seeing a micro view of our life together, as bits and pieces that we had to fit together to achieve a completed whole. If we struck the right balance, if we settled into the right routine, then we would be perfect.

It took a ridiculously long time for this to change. It actually didn’t happen until I started accepting that I needed accommodations and it wasn’t until I recognized my own limitations that I started accommodating Jesse’s, as well. We started using the spoon theory and practicing self-care and we really put the brakes on tending to one another’s needs intuitively because that had been nothing but a disaster for half a decade. Learning to take care of ourselves really taught us to respectfully care for one another.

Once I acknowledged that we’re human beings with needs and emotions that refuse to be regulated and divvied up at the most appropriate times, I started dismantling this ridiculous notion of fairness that I had held onto for so long. When I was growing up I wasn’t seeing unfairness, I was seeing inequality. My mom or stepmom(s) were consistently doing more for their homes and their relationships than their partners and that consideration was never returned.

Relationships really are 60/40. There are times, days, weeks or months even, that Jesse needs more from me than I need from her. She suffers from depression and sometimes I have to take on the bulk of managing our lives. And there are times, during burnouts or meltdowns or periods of poor executive functioning, that I need her to shoulder our shared responsibilities. There’s no running tab or turn-taking because that’s unrealistic and inspires stress inside our home. Sometimes we both need 60 from the other and we just don’t have it. It’s during these times that we put all of our energy into taking care of ourselves as best we can and worry about everything else later. Sometimes we both only need 40 from the other and these times are some of our most productive. And sometimes it’s not even 60/40, it’s 70/30 or 90/10 (This one was hard to understand because I was trying to turn the 60/40 combination into a new Very Strict Rule).

I’ve started to take a more macro view and not see our life as being made up of tiny parts that follow a schematic. Our relationship has its own balance and rhythm as we shift together to make each other as happy as possible. There’s no right answer and nothing is fair and that’s okay.

Read Jesse’s side: The 50/50 Fairytale

On passing, affection and relationship negotiations

By nature, I am not very physically or verbally demonstrative. I am a quiet person, content to be left alone most of the time. I’m not shy but I have things to do, things to think about, that do not include other people. I’m not affectionate because I don’t care for it and because of my sensory issues. This has not been well received by…anyone in my life at any point. Because of that I spent a lot of time instinctively and intentionally creating methods for interacting with people. I took drama classes throughout my teens and my minor in college was sales (even though I have never had any intention of selling anything.) These things taught me how to act like someone else. Drama taught me to be confident and entertaining. Sales taught me professional body language and speech patterns, how to make small talk and get people to open up to you. Those sales classes were like cheat codes for people and without knowing it I was essentially taking Passing 101.

So, for a long time I have been trying to mask all of my characteristics and replace them with ones that people seem to like. I was still seen as a weird person but not that weird. You know what I’m talking about. I felt like I was constantly on that edge, waiting to slip up and fall over. I never got close enough to anyone to really explore who I was with another person, though. Until Jesse.

I liked Jesse the moment I met her. I never looked for specific traits in people, I never really looked for people period, but she seemed perfect. She was genuine in a way that I admired and envied, she was loyal and kind but not sweet or demure, she was unabashedly silly, unafraid of admitting mistakes or learning something new. I found her fascinating, endearing and beautiful. I fell in love quickly but I was terrified that she would soon know who I really was, not sweet, outgoing and personable but quiet, odd and particular about most things. I attempted to explain it once very early on. We stayed up all night on the steps outside her dorm while I tried to articulate everything I thought was wrong with me. I don’t remember everything we said that night but I know I felt less afraid of her running away from me after that.

She didn’t run away. She told me that she loved me on November 4, 2007 and it’s been a fact of my life ever since. We say ‘I love you’ several times a day but it’s more of a salutation than a statement. I do not need a reminder of her love. She said it, I believed her, the end. The fact that Jesse needs reassurance of my reciprocation has baffled me for years. I was very clear about my feelings for her and, to me, unless I indicate a change in how I feel, she should already know. That’s not how it works for her, apparently.

For the first seven years of our relationship Jesse’s entire family rotated through our home. I missed privacy, alone time and quiet but 1) I couldn’t actually kick out her siblings and childhood friends and 2) I thought that having all of the people Jesse loved most in the world under one roof would somehow make up for the fact that I’m lacking in the affection and attention department. I found that this is also not how it works for her.

During those years Jesse and I struggled to speak the same language when it came to feelings. I couldn’t understand why she needed so much attention from me when, at times, we literally lived with seven of her best friends. I was confused about why she constantly wanted to kiss or touch me, wanted to sleep pressed close together, wanted to sit nearly on top of one another. How could she miss me after a two hour class? Why was she upset because I didn’t miss her after one day of work? I was confused every time she told me she was lonely in a house full of people, confused and angry and broken for not being able to fix it. I felt sad that she didn’t trust that I loved her and guilty because I didn’t know how to make my feelings any more apparent. I was there every day, I shared my life with her and we did everything together. I wouldn’t do that with someone I didn’t love.

We continuously fought and argued and made resolutions. As her partner, it was my job to give her the affection that she needed. It didn’t count if I didn’t appear to enjoy it. It didn’t count if she had to tell me what to do. How could I know what she wanted and give it to her without appearing confused or put off? Neither of us knew. Each time we tried it ended in Jesse’s tears and my promise to figure it out and to do better next time.

Eventually, Jesse just took what she wanted while being angry with me for not doing it right in the first place. She held on to me while I put my arms around her rigidly, she maneuvered me into the correct spooning position, she assaulted me with kisses seemingly at random. There are times when physical contact is painful for me. When Jesse’s forced affection hurt and I jerked away from her, she held on tighter and told me to suck it up. The rare times I sought out physical affection were met with hostility because, to Jesse, it was proof that I was capable but unwilling when she needed it.

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“Stop pulling away and hold still!” – 2009

This constant, almost daily conflict was emotionally taxing. We needed to change something but didn’t know what to do. We considered couples counseling, we read books, we talked and talked and talked but we were just going in circles. After my autism diagnosis, we began to feel around the edges of learning to compromise and give mutual respect but that’s easier said than done. We both knew intellectually that my feelings about affection, my tendencies toward space and quiet, were valid and even valuable. Emotionally, we had both been on the path to molding me for too long. There were no longer fights but Jesse was still hurt and lonely and I still felt guilty.

A little over a year ago I finally summoned the courage and self-respect to give Jesse a firm no when she came to me for affection. It was perhaps not the best time because we had just moved 800 miles from home and I was the only person she knew in the state. And it felt awful, like I had given up trying to be what she needed. Still, she acquiesced and that was that.

We started putting together a set of guidelines to follow. Jesse wouldn’t seek physical comfort out of boredom or touch me without asking first. I would be more upfront about my specific reasons for not wanting affection and be more flexible than “yes” or “no.” Sometimes a firm, stationary touch is fine but light rubbing is irritating. Sometimes a few minutes of cuddling is fine, even welcome, but years of giving Jesse an inch and her taking a mile made me weary of being trapped until she felt like being done or dealing with her sulking if I pulled away before she was ready. Sometimes I just want to continue reading and she can do whatever she likes while that happens as long as she’s quiet. Sometimes it’s just no and that’s okay. Very infrequently, I still feel guilty and she still feels hurt, like a phantom emotion, but we express those feelings and work through it.

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“Can I squeeze your face and kiss you?” – 2014

In addition to actual physical compromises, we began working on resolving the emotional deficit this conflict had created. For a long time, Jesse only received and gave love through physical affection while I did so through the proof of our lives together. Now I explain the ways in which I am showing Jesse that I love her that I once thought obvious. Favorite foods cooked, baths run after long days, all the little things I do that soothe her when she’s homesick, I verbalize why I’m doing these things as I do them. It helps remind Jesse that I still find her fascinating, endearing and beautiful, even as I ask her to leave me alone. I tell her that I miss her now, even when I don’t, as an endearment, like saying “I love you” before leaving the house. It satisfies her need for reassurance and affection and I no longer feel like a failure as a wife.

Every couple has to negotiate the way they express and receive love, we had the unfortunate opportunity to start negotiations on top of my low sense of self-worth and a lack of knowledge about neurodiversity. I am glad that I found a partner who, at her core, is unafraid to admit mistakes and learn new things because that’s why we’re still here. I’m glad that she’s willing to accept a partner who differs from who she imagined herself with. I’m sure that if she had known I was possible, she would have imagined me to begin with.

I want to be clear that I’m not condemning trying to pass. I am grateful that I learned to pass successfully (for the most part) because it can be essential for safety at times. There is nothing wrong with protecting yourself. There is something terribly wrong with society in that sometimes we need protection in the form of pretending to not be ourselves. I think that we are already changing the way society views and values autistic traits and through that, accommodation will not be seen as exceptional and it will not be so hard to define. I feel like Jesse and I re-invented the wheel in trying to accommodate one another’s needs and I hope that this can help someone else navigate their relationship, romantic or platonic, neurodiverse or not. ❤

Read Jesse’s account of this aspect of our relationship: On expectations, rejection and learning the language of love

The Earth orbits the Sun, water is wet and on Tuesdays we go to the movies.

Spoiler alert: I’m a big fan of routine. Our life just isn’t set up for strict daily schedules but any opportunity for regularity is welcomed on my part, if not my wife’s. Jesse is a spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of person. This wreaked havoc on me when we first started dating. Our first few months were riddled with anxiety as she suggested we “wing it” on dates and asked, “You don’t mind if my 14 closest friends tag along, do you?” right before we went somewhere. Yes, I did, I minded very much. I didn’t know how to say that with tact, though. I just said, “I hate your friends.” It’s a good thing I was so cute at 19.

I like routine for a number of reasons but mostly because I like knowing what to expect. I have to think about the way I respond to things a lot because how I would naturally respond to a situation is rarely how someone else expects me to and that will inevitably lead to confusion for one or both of us. Knowing what I’m going to be doing limits the number of possible scenarios and appropriate responses I have to think about beforehand. The less I have to think about that, the more I’m able to enjoy whatever it is I’m doing. Unknown situations with seemingly infinite possible outcomes make me very, very anxious. Also, familiarity just feels good. I think this is true for most people regardless of neurotype.

Our Tuesday night movie date was the first in a string of attempts to create a more stable routine in our life and it’s the only one that seemed to stick. I’m not going to lie, it’s probably because of the vats of buttered popcorn that accompany it. I don’t just go to the movies, though, I prepare to go to the movies. There are approximately 24 movie theaters in the Twin Cities. I have broken these down preferentially and each week I check the movie listings for my six favorite theaters and make a list of potential movies and times. I rarely have to check the remaining 18 but I like that the option exists. This list is occasionally sent to Jesse so that it can sit in her email inbox, complete with trailers and details about the theater she might find important, untouched as she has probably forgotten about Movie Tuesday. Because Jesse does not check the list, does not particularly care where we go or what we see, I check her schedule to pick the best times and then narrow it down to just the titles. Once I have that list, if it is my week, I choose whichever movie I would like to see most. (This past Tuesday it was Mr. Holmes, because if there’s anything better than bees, it’s bees + Sherlock.) If it is Jesse’s turn, I try to predict which movie she would most like to see because I won’t get an answer out of her other than “whatever you want to see is fine.” I’ve never been apathetic about…anything, so this is hard for me to understand.

Now that I have chosen a theater, a movie and a time, I wait for the day of and attempt to predict the events that may lead to plan b or plan c, for there are always back-up plans. On Tuesday, I remind Jesse that it is Movie Tuesday a few dozen times in case she forgets. I then proceed to lie to Jesse about when the movie starts. I didn’t always do this. I’m uncomfortable with lying, especially to Jesse, and I’m very bad at it. However, I am even more uncomfortable parking the car as the previews start. I have little control over how fast Jesse does something because she is never, ever rushed. So, lying it is. I always tell her that I have lied later. She doesn’t mind but it makes me feel better.

Getting to the theater is its own issue. I don’t drive anymore but I still like to dictate which route we take, which lane we stay in and where we park. Jesse ignores this, as she should. I stopped driving almost completely about a year ago and I’m learning to let her drive both in practice and theory. Instead I sit in the passenger seat and stim and worry about being late.

When we get to the theater on time and we have our tickets and I’ve confessed to lying, I go find our seats while Jesse buys popcorn. There are a lot of choices and I prefer not to deal with it. I could, have, and would but Jesse maintains that she doesn’t mind so I don’t. Inside the theater I like to sit near the back, in the middle, in rows without other people. The sounds other people make, shifting and eating, are distracting. If I’m feeling anxious, I forget that not everyone feels the way I do and I think they’re being rude but they’re actually not. If Jesse finds me glaring at an unsuspecting family a few seats away, she’ll gently remind me that they’re not actively trying to ruin my movie. Sometimes I let it go and sometimes my aggravation distracts me from my anxiety and I let it.

During the movie is my favorite part, not because of whatever is on screen, but because Jesse is affectionate during movies without being demanding of my attention. We’ll hold hands or put our arms around each other and I can enjoy physical contact without being bored or worrying about what I’m supposed to say or do next. It is wonderful. Afterwards, I like to leave as quickly as possible because I don’t see the point in staying. Jesse likes to meander and look at people, I’ve never understood why.

It seems odd when I lay it out like this, like explaining the precise steps involved in walking across a room. It seems obvious, simple and to do it any other way would make things unnecessarily difficult. However, when I explain the way I make decisions to others I’m often met with incredulity. I’m not fun or spontaneous and when I balk at last minute changes to plans I look like a spoiled child who wants to get their way. In fact, I would guess that a lot of people see me in this light, as someone who is inflexible and selfish. Jesse used to think that, too and I didn’t have the words or understanding to correct her.

The choices I make are not an effort to do exactly what I want but an effort to do things in the way that makes the most sense to me. For a long time I just knew that a lot of things upset me to the point of panic that didn’t seem to bother other people. Jesse and I understand each other better these days and we both make a continuous effort to remember how different we are. I recognize that this is not at all how Jesse would plan a weekly date night. She wouldn’t plan it to begin with, we’d just walk out the door and see what happens. I appreciate that she fits with me in this way, that she doesn’t concern herself with my planning because it doesn’t come naturally to her, that she doesn’t rush herself because I’m going to worry about being late no matter what she does, that she hums songs to my verbal stims in the car, that she always buys the tickets and the popcorn, that she lets me manhandle her into awkward cuddling during the movie and that she takes her time leaving while I wait by the car, already planning next Tuesday.

Or, to hear Jesse tell it: Our Regularly Scheduled, Impromptu Date Night

A good place to start

I’m Stef. I’m 27, married, queer, a copywriter, grad student and keeper of bees. I live in Minnesota with my partner of eight years, my big cat, Spencer, and two lovely parakeets.

I was diagnosed three years ago after a long history of being misdiagnosed and over-medicated. My relationship with Jesse (The Neurotypical Wife) can easily be split into Before Diagnosis and After Diagnosis. BD we constantly struggled to understand each other, used coping strategies that never seemed to work and I believe our relationship survived only by the fierce determination of lovesick 19 year olds. AD I had answers for questions I never knew to ask but I had a lot of misconceptions about autism. I rejected that I was stuck like this, in a perpetual state of confusion and anxiety with no hope of medication or treatment to make me normal. Mostly, I grieved for the relationship I thought Jesse deserved but would never have. Thankfully, I was far too selfish to let those thoughts come between us.

The next two years slowly made way for understanding and acceptance. Jesse and I learned so much, about ourselves, each other and our relationship. But even with a new vocabulary and approach for communication, we still got things wrong. We fell into bad habits and unhealthy thought patterns about neurodivergence. A big part of the problem was that I was ashamed of being autistic and subsequently plunged us into isolation as we tried to figure things out. Those years were difficult but hopeful, as we constantly tried to find a foothold that would propel us into normality. Jesse’s infinite patience, open-mindedness and willingness to change felt like a protective barrier around our shaky relationship, keeping us steady from the outside.

Even while in partial denial, I consumed as much information about autism as possible and found my way to a community that celebrated who I was rather than condemning it. I discovered self-respect and confidence in the stories of other autistics and it allowed me to demand respect from others for the first time in my life. We finally discovered solid ground to stand on and in a new state, newly married and starting a brand new life, Jesse and I started dismantling our bad habits and learned a new way to love and accept each other.

I never thought I had anything I’d particularly like to say in terms of blogging but I’ve been given an incredible gift through the words of others and I feel the need to share my own experiences, painful and joyful alike, in an effort to repay that debt. Despite the wealth of information out there, there seems to be a gap. I sought positive stories of neurodiverse queer relationships, day-to-day narratives from both perspectives, anyone with relationship experiences that mirrored my own. Finally, Jesse and I are in a place where we feel we can fill that gap and that’s what we’ll try to do from here on out.