Friday, August 17, 2007

Rules and the Prime Directive

So...I've been talking to my bf A LOT to try to figure out what's going on in his poor confused head. And also talking to some friends about the situation, because they often ask questions I didn't think to ask, and then relaying those questions to him.

This seems to be the best model I've worked out so far:

My bf has two kinds of rules: absolute rules and social rules. The absolute rules are things he learned in childhood, be they religious rules like "don't eat pork" and "don't drive on the Sabbath" or rules related to the sensory integration quirks and imprints he had at the time like "I can't eat soup 'cause I don't like the texture" or "hair washing, hair cutting, and nail clipping are unpleasant so I'll procrastinate them as long as I can." Absolute rules are only broken in isolated unusual situations, if at all. I've never seen him try a new food that has a wet or slimy texture; the hair washing, hair cutting, and nail clipping are only done often enough to look reasonably presentable, often with much nagging from his mother re: the hair cutting; Kosher laws are never broken except by accident (and he's lax enough about it to take the risk of eating in a restaurant that isn't Kosher certified, as long as he doesn't eat meat or poultry); and driving on the Sabbath is only done in emergencies like having gotten unexpectedly stuck in traffic on a Friday evening.

The social rules are adaptations to the presence of certain friends or communities in his life, and are generated according to the Prime Directive (which may be closer to an absolute rule): "Don't piss off my friends." He values friends deeply and fears deeply to lose them. So he finds out, as best he can, what a given friend or group of friends likes or doesn't like, and follows the rules to make sure these people stay friends with him. Social rules are changeable when the life situation changes...except, it can often be hard for him to realize when a life situation has changed. He told me the story of how he was given a bedtime at 8:00, and he just kept going to bed at 8:00 for a very long time, well into adolescence and possibly even young adulthood, not thinking that the situation that caused his parents to impose that bedtime might have changed once he was more grown up. (If he were still at home, he could have asked his parents if he could go to bed later now that he was older; if he were already at college, he could have just gone to bed when he felt like it. I don't remember how long he said he followed that rule for.)

"No interfaith dating" turns out to be merely a social rule for my bf, because it was not taught to him at home or in elementary school explicitly. His elementary school was a Jewish private school, but was nominally Conservative and quite open, allowing in many interfaith children. To not lose the tuition from these children's parents, the school decided not to teach about the rule against interfaith dating.

And right now, he's in a really tough situation because it's getting harder and harder for him to obey the Prime Directive now that he has both relatively close religious friends and relatively close secular friends (especially me), and has to straddle two directly opposing social rules to keep all the friends he currently has: give a nod to the "no interfaith dating/marriage" rule with the religious people either by keeping me secret from them or by assuring him that it's not serious and may never become serious, while also maintaining the relationship as it is with me (not dumping me).

Things are okay as they are, and I'm indifferent to marriage anyway, and am pretty sure I don't want children. He's kind of ambivalent about both - could go either way. But now that it's getting hard for him to keep me or his feelings about dating me a secret from his religious friends, and he's finding out that they stand by the no interfaith dating rule strongly. So it might be getting to the point where he can no longer obey the Prime Directive. Somebody or another is gonna get pissed off sometime or another. He'll probably adapt when he needs to, but he'll probably procrastinate the situation as long as he can.

Oh yeah...I just realized that there's at least one other rule that I guess would be a social rule, but is such a general social rule that he cannot really fathom an exception to it unless someone tells him otherwise in a specific situation: in order to make people like you and stay around you, you have to talk to them. He overapplies this rule and ends up talking almost constantly in general social situations, to the point of dominating conversations and driving hapless NTs away because he doesn't shut up long enough for them to think of something to say (maybe he expects them to interrupt and add in their own two cents?) or he obsesses over things like money and diet that they don't like to obsess about themselves.


Axinar said...

Oh ... It's just aspies like to hear themselves talk and don't pick up on body language that people are falling out ... :)

reform_normal said...

But there are some times when he's aware that something seems wrong, but he has no clue what to do about it. So he keeps on doing whatever he's been doing.

That's a very common theme for my bf. Maintain the status quo until the situation changes enough for the change to register fully and he has to adopt a totally different strategy. In this case, the NT walks away.