Sunday, August 12, 2007

Current Relationship Adventures

I've written a lot already, but the starter package of my blog would not be complete without some tales from my relationship with my AS boyfriend.

It's an adventure for both of us, as we are only each other's second significant others and the first since high school (and our high school relationships weren't as deep), and both of us have a lot to learn about love and ourselves.

The latest episode in the adventure involves the clashing of my boyfriend's religious upbringing and AS-related cognitive quirks with the need to make one of the biggest decisions of his life: what level he wants to observe Judaism at, and whether he's willing to risk losing ties to more observant friends by continuing to maintain and deepen his relationship with me and live his life in a way that goes against some of the oldest rules he's been taught.

All his life, he's valued community and hard-earned (or hard-maintained) social acceptance within it. He was raised Jewish, with a fairly strong level of observance taught to him in childhood and adolescence. As an adult, he can see a lot of the logic behind some of the rules he was taught, yet thinks that they are not the only way to obey the spirit of Jewish law and obtain the benefits. However, he has a hard time breaking many of these rules that seem unnecessary, for fear of social rejection and that vague but powerful sense that "bad things will happen." It's also not easy for him to uproot himself from past connections and contexts, such as synagogue communities and service styles he's comfortable with. Changes like these are no trivial matter for an Aspie.

So all his life, he's managed to slowly drift away from some of the stricter religious circles, while at the same time making an effort not to offend them and cut off completely from them, because he is afraid he will hurt them, and he doesn't have the dangerously abusable but sometimes useful NT ability to dismiss certain emotional or ethical problems by appealing to perspective and scale. ("It's only a minor slight. It wouldn't be a major slight in my eyes if they did it to me. They'll get over it. If they judge me, it's their problem." This is how we NTs would tend to think...or think we would a situation like his.) Oftentimes, his emotions and the emotions of others, according to him, register as a binary all-or-nothing output of "positive" or "negative," so if people are a little bit disappointed with his choices, he can't tell that very well from having deeply hurt them; all he can see is "I caused a negative emotion in them. That's bad."

He sat on the fence reluctantly but with reasonable stability, maintaining the status quo and reasonable contninuance of his social acceptance and community involvement...until late last summer and early last fall, where we opened up to each other to the point where, by November, we figured we might as well call ourselves "dating" 'cause that's how most people would probably see us.

And that meant he was breaking a very big rule: don't seek romance outside the Jewish community. He bent it a bit too far.

He's been trying to maintain the status quo for a while by keeping me secret from his most religious friends (generally more distant friends - the closer friends and family are tolerant), but more and more that's getting harder for him to do. I'm a major part of his life now. He's going to want to mention me more often in general, or to mention me by accident within earshot of religious folks, or bring me to events where the religious folks will start to gossip. He's done a bit of this already. The results, though, were not especially promising: the religious people are not all tolerant and supportive of him making the choice to pursue a relationship with a Gentile.

So he can't sit on the fence much longer. He has to face the risk of rejection to stay with me, or lose his connection with me to easily remain on good terms with as many Jewish friends as possible. He has to finally work through what it is he wants, besides simply not to hurt or be hurt. His parents have been waiting for him to start making such decisions. His therapists want to see it happen too. But he's scared and confused.

And I'm not always the world's most supportive listener. I tend to push him a bit too hard sometimes, trying desperately to see if I can help him reason his way into putting hope in the social safety net he has among the more tolerant people in his life (he says they don't quite make a "critical mass" yet), or to see why most of us do not see anything immoral in choosing to live by beliefs and philosophies that a few people you know might disapprove of. I'm reading a book on listening, and I realize that I'm listening poorly in these situations much as he is when I vent about my non-relationship-related issues: I'm giving advice he may not be ready for, invalidating his perspective, and focusing on my anxiety rather than his. (Naturally, I'm anxious about the possibility that he might dump me so as to restore the old social status quo, but he wasn't entirely happy with it anyway and has reassured me many times that he really wants to stay with me.)

So here, he gets to learn about making decisions and clarifying his own feelings, and I get to learn about how to be supportive and avoid invalidation of the other (which is intricately tied to invalidation of the self).

It can be frustrating not being able to have perfect communication of one another's perspectives. It's frustrating to have trouble imagining how the other will react due to unusual cognitive style differences. But learning to stretch the imagination and relate to other people is good. Even the frustration doesn't register as all bad, because it's a sign of passion on my part. It's not easy for me to feel passion these days.

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