I was reading Cosmopolitan today, and as I was feeling increasingly more hopeless about humanity after reading through articles on what happens at men’s stag parties and on how Love Island has increased the number of women seeking beauty treatments and plastic surgery, I turned the page to find an article titled ‘My life with Asperger’s’ and it sort of restored my faith in that magazine. My eyes filled with tears as I read through the article. So many things hit home, and some of the descriptions of Rai’s (the Aspie girl) behaviour opened my eyes, and things in my past (and present) made even more sense.
Like me, Rai got diagnosed with Asperger’s later in her life. Rai describes how she used to get fixated on things – ‘television shows, celebrities, the people I met – and I couldn’t let go of them.’ This made me remember how I used to be obsessed with a TV series and this actress for years throughout my early teenage years to early adulthood. Now, of course all teenagers, especially girls, tend to get obsessed with celebrities. Having idols and being a fan is normal, and an important part of being a teenager for most. But the fixation I am talking about was more than that. It truly affected every aspect of my life. The TV series and the life of the particular actress were my ways to escape my every day life, the life that I hated, the life I found too difficult. I could spend hours looking for pictures of her online, printing them, putting them in a photo album. I wrote fan fiction, I watched the VHS tapes on repeat, in school I escaped through ‘making new episodes’ in my head during class. I became fixated with looking like my favourite actress, and I made lists of what I would need to do to look like her. I assured myself that if I was like her, I would be able to have a great life, that I would be ‘normal’. It was my way to escape the reality, and in a way, to survive.
It took a long time before I actually got over this fixation, and started living and planning my life without actually thinking ‘if I can’t be exactly like her, there is no point in anything.’ But as Rai describes, I can recognize a pattern in my life too; old fixations become replaced by new ones. I realize that I have never been able to live my life without going to the extremes. ‘My diagnosis meant I could look back and view my life through a new lens. Finally, my history – particularly my dating history – began to make sense. I can’t recognise when someone’s not interested in me. It also means that when I like someone, I really like someone. I can unknowingly cross the line into obsession.’
This paragraph made my stomach churn. I feel embarrassed by my behaviour in the past. I got over my fixation with the TV series and the actress, but I realize I have continued the same behavioural pattern in my adult life with every man I have ever fallen for. When I fall, I fall hard. Both in love, and when things go wrong, and things fall apart.
My first boyfriend, I wasn’t necessarily obsessed with. It was more of a constant need to feel loved, and safe. I told myself I loved him. Maybe I did, but romantically, I don’t know. I did not want to accept the fact that it was not the kind of relationship I wanted or needed. I stuck with him, because he had accepted me, and I couldn’t stand the thought of change and not having him in my life anymore. It was my first relationship, and I didn’t really have a clue about how I was supposed to feel. Letting go was the hardest part, I think mostly because I thought I needed him more than I really did. I would call him every day after we broke up, crying. That is the closest it got to obsessing. In the end, I quickly replaced him with someone I thought was going to be the love of my life. I never even ended up meeting that person in real life. But he was the person that sort of kicked off the behavioural pattern, where I have moved on from one man to the next, every time developing a fixation, and making the particular person the main focus of my thoughts and often, my whole life.
The relationship with my second boyfriend was toxic on many levels. Rai describes one of her experiences: ‘He was the sort of man who enjoyed flirting – with everyone. But I didn’t understand that. If he flirted, that meant he was into me. I couldn’t stop myself from giving in to him whenever he wanted it.’ This reminds of the beginning of my relationship, and how I fought for the attention of the guy I liked. We ended up together eventually – if it wasn’t for my persistence it likely wouldn’t have happened. I had told myself I would be happy if only I got to be with this man, and I remember praying for G-d to make him love me. In a way, I got what I wanted, but with what price? His behaviour affected my self confidence, and in the fear of losing him I found myself doing things I wasn’t comfortable with, thinking I need to make sure to keep him happy so he doesn’t seek for other girls. When I finally had what I thought I really wanted, I realized I had lost myself on the way. I had given so much, I had cried so many tears. I thought to myself, why did I have to fight so much for love? It didn’t feel fair, and I realize that with time I started hating him for hurting me so much. Even when he seemed to be doing his best to fix things, and make everything work for us, I was constantly reminded of how he used to treat me, and how worthless I had felt so many times. I was proud of myself that I had the courage to end the relationship. It was only after I had moved to the other side of the world to be with him, and then stayed in a long-distance relationship for a couple of years after I had decided I had to return home, that I felt ready to end the relationship. It was the first and only time when I felt relief when breaking up with someone. Probably because I had processed it for so long in my head, and because we were so far away from each other. It was also surprisingly easy to move on to other men.
I told myself I must have learnt a lot from my past relationship, Looking back at my dating life for the past year (a little less) it’s hard to say if I have. I guess the good thing is that I recognize the behaviour I keep repeating, and I can recognise the signs when I am starting to behave in an unhealthy way – spending way too much time looking at their photos, analysing why it’s taking so long from them to reply, checking a little too often if they are online.. I feel that there is a fine line between obsession and love/having a huge crush on someone. The problem with dating is that it is way too easy to let myself get attached, and once I let myself reach a certain point, there is no going back. When I let my feelings get hold of me, I feel strongly. I feel with my whole heart, and body. My love life is often very black and white. Some say strong feelings are a blessing, but I would rather be stone cold like some people seem to be. Maybe then I wouldn’t be able to love as strongly, but at least I wouldn’t hurt so strongly either.
They say with time you learn to read people better, and you learn with every experience. But in many ways I feel just as clueless as always what comes to dating, and falling in love. No one can tell you when it is safe to let yourself get attached. No one can say for sure if someone will change their mind. No one can teach me how to avoid getting rejected over and over again. Most people feel clueless about love, so when you also have Asperger’s.. it’s scarier than anything in the world, yet we probably crave for love even more strongly than the average person.
‘He completely cut me off and I didn’t know why. What I did know was that I always interpreted things differently from everyone else.’ [… ] ‘The phrase “It’s not you, it’s me” made no sense to me. It was always me. There was something wrong with me that made me constantly mess up.’
Excerpts taken from Cosmopolitan August 2019 issue ‘My life with Asperger’s’ pp.95-98.