If you’ve never told a conservative, religious woman that you love her son but you fear he’s on the autistic spectrum and it’s making your life a living hell, I don’t recommend it. My ex-boyfriend, Chris, was from a lovely, supportive, and close-knit family. They were kind and generous toward me, and treated me like one of their own. His “mommy,” however, told me more than once that she liked me, but that her allegiance would always be with Chris.
This made sense, really, but seemed like an unnecessary thing to say. It was almost as if she could see the writing on the wall, “It’s quite possible my son is going to fuck this up, act like a sociopath and destroy you, but just so you know, he’s in and you’re out.” Okay, noted, thanks lady. And that is, in fact, pretty much what happened.
My immediate family is highly dysfunctional, but thankfully my extended family is not, and so I understand the importance of closeness and connection to family. I believe you should go on outings together, spend time with each other and aging parents, take trips together, etc. However, Chris’s mom had a need for control unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
I sensed it was because she was aware of his limitations, and trying to control both his and her environment brought her some sense of peace; she was trying SO desperately to be perfect. But her enabling behavior wasn’t helping anyone, and I was exhausted from a competition I didn’t sign up for and had no interest in participating in.
The control was often subtle, and disguised as “helpful.”
“Oh, I just happened to go shopping, buy all of Chris’ s favorite things, and put them here at the house, so he’ll “stop by!”
“That laundry he brought here is washed, folded, and put away in the room I keep here for him, just the way he likes it!”
Fantastic, how helpful! Will you be breastfeeding him later too?
The situation was exacerbated by the fact that Chris was most definitely on the autistic spectrum, so having a conversation about his mother, or my feelings, or any emotional matters in general was the equivalent of banging my head against a wall repeatedly for several hours, except the emotional toll it took was probably more painful.
I’d describe a relationship with someone like this as “a living fucking nightmare that nobody around you fully understands.” I feared, for years, I was going insane. But it turns out, other people in my situation feared the same, and finding help and support through research, reading, and websites is one of the only things that kept me sane in an otherwise isolating, lonely, and awful situation. This website was particularly helpful: http://heartlessaspergers.com/aspergers-partners-speak/
I loved Chris and knew it wasn’t his fault, but I obviously couldn’t get support from him for much of anything, and during an attempt at addressing the situation with his mother, out of love and concern for him, I was reminded he was perfect, things were “just fine,” and I should just try to be happy.
The following sums up many of the unsuccessful and unproductive conversations Chris and I experienced over the years:
One evening, Chris’s mother and I went to get pedicures. The plan was for Chris to meet me at my apartment when we were done, and go over to his parent’s house to eat dinner with her. I liked his mother, but I could practically see the blood draining out of her white-knuckled hands from holding such a tight grip on her adult son, and some days it was especially exhausting.
This was one of those days, so when she told me, “Oh, I told Chris he needed to go over to the house at 5:30, put the oven on, and that there was beer and that cheese he likes there,” I could feel myself losing it.
Of course you fucking did! God forbid you let the poor kid have a separate life…
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, really, but it was a snapshot of a much bigger picture. I grinned and made it through dinner, then looking at family pictures after dinner, then a movie after that. When we finally left, close to 9 p.m., leaving time to walk to my apartment, not spend any time alone together, and just go to bed, Mommy called after Chris, “So, I’ll put coffee on for 7 a.m. tomorrow?”
She also liked to “suggest” that he join her for coffee before work in the mornings, you know, after leaving her house at 9 p.m. the previous evening. I could feel myself starting to lose it. Losing it, however, is not allowed with someone like Chris. I knew this, so I stayed silent. He was somehow able to figure out I was upset on the walk home and asked why.
“Listen,” I said, “I could tell you, but what’s going to happen is you’re not going to understand because it’s more of an “in general” feeling, and you’ll look for a specific, and we’re going to get in a horrible misunderstanding.”
This was a common occurrence at this point, perhaps it had improved a bit since I’d mostly just stopped trying to talk to him about much of anything, and stopped trying to feel things in general. This, in retrospect, is a fucking awful way to live your life. And I did it for a long time.
It wasn’t very common, but this time, he insisted I share my feelings. It wasn’t because he was interested in them more than he was attempting to quantify them according to his logic. “We just had a nice night together with my mother, everything was fine, what could possibly be wrong?” he asked.
“Never mind,” I said, “You won’t understand and I’m too tired to deal with arguing right now.”
“No,” he insisted, “You need to tell me EXACTLY what happened or what my mother did to make you upset.”
Jesus…here we go
There was no specific, so I tried to think of an example to use, knowing full well it wasn’t going to work.
“Um, your mother gets really overbearing, it’s annoying and why the hell did you have to go there to turn the oven on?” I was grasping for something because I was upset about something that was a recurring abstract theme, and he, as usual, needed a concrete example.
“There is nothing wrong with me turning the oven on, my mother asked for my help, and I’m happy to help her,” he said. This is how a relationship with someone like Chris works:
“Please explain your feelings in concrete, logical terms. If I am able to see a logical correlation between the emotion and circumstance, then, and ONLY then will I determine the feelings are valid, and agree to discus them.”
It didn’t happen often, but that night, I lost it. I didn’t have a voice in the relationship and the years of built up frustration, exhaustion, and molding my life to fit a very one-sided relationship bubbled to the surface, and I lost it. I cried from sheer exhaustion, knowing that he’d just stare at me and provide no support or comfort whatsoever, and he didn’t.
When I felt myself start to get angry, I told him I was going to leave for a while, that I needed to go calm down, that I knew he could only function in complete absence of emotion, so I left and went for a drive to calm down.
This seemed logical and perfectly reasonable to me, but not to Chris. When I came back shortly after, I thought my efforts to regain composure would be appreciated. But instead, Chris told me, “It’s not normal to get so upset by something that it requires you need to leave.”
OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! THIS IS HELL!
I lived this way for years, and I loved my ex-boyfriend and would’ve stayed with him forever had he been willing to work on this with me. He wasn’t. Though not intentional, this relationship was incredibly emotionally and psychologically damaging, and it’s taken years for me to feel whole again.
After we broke up, he started sleeping with his 25 year-old co-worker. They wondered what was “wrong” with me for being upset, and why I was hurt. I knew her, and we shared many mutual friends. She fit very neatly into his “system” of operating in the world, so the whole thing made a lot of sense to me.
I then lost my job unexpectedly, and had to leave the place I loved, where I had friends, a life, and support, because I knew I couldn’t be anywhere near him. I still sometimes have bad dreams about the whole experience. When recounting the story to people in the recent past, I’ve been asked if I think he’s a sociopath. “No, he’s not really,” I say, “but it feels that way.”
When you start talking openly about your life and experiences, especially if they involve circumstances people may prefer to keep private, people have all kinds of opinions. I’ve talked openly and honestly about my abusive and traumatic childhood and mentally ill mother, and been accused of seeking attention and “needing to work through some things.”
Of course I’m working through some things, who the fuck isn’t? I’d rather do it openly and honestly than from behind closed doors.
This relationship with my ex-boyfriend, for a very long time, left me a shadow of my former bright and hopeful self, and it took me awhile to realize how significant the long-term effects would be. I’ve been recovering from emotional abuse. Sure, the abuse wasn’t intentional, but unfortunately, the effects are still the same.
I also waited a long time to write about it because I was angry, hurt, and resentful, and I didn’t think that was fair. We share many mutual friends, and I didn’t, and still don’t, wish for any of my writing to be retaliatory; that’s not how I roll.
There’s been a lot of turmoil in my life, and a lot of pain. I’m proud of what I’ve overcome and what I’ve accomplished in spite of it. Ernest Hemingway said to “write hard and clear about what hurts,” and that’s what I’m doing.
Perhaps someone needs my strength and courage, or maybe someone else will be inspired to share or write about what hurts in his or her own story. That’s how you connect, and connection promotes healing.
I realize some of the things I write about won’t be popular with everyone, but they will always be authentic. Because this is my story, and I’m sticking to it.