If the love of your life were autistic…

This essay is my response to an offensive article published a few weeks ago in Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper. The original article was such a mixture of outdated and misleading information, prejudice, nentism and discrimination, that the term hate speech is quite fitting. In addition to publishing this essay, Kaiao contacted Finnish non-discrimination ombudsman’s office. This essay demonstrate, that it is entirely possible to discuss love lives of autistic people in a kind and constructive manner.

If love of your life were autistic…

…then they would be a human being, in many ways just like any other person. They would have lots of positive sides, plus a few more exotic traits that would be a random mixture of strengths, weaknesses and personal quirks. They would be an adult person, perfectly able to strive to be a good person, capable of learning from their mistakes and working on improving their communication skills. In light of metaphysics, they would live in a parallel reality (from neurotypical viewpoint) that we like to call Takiwatanga, a term borrowed from maori language, which is directly translates as “in their own time and space”. They might have a lot to bring into a romantic relationship.

Just like you, they would also be human: imperfect, fallible, vulnerable, needy every now and then, a work in progress. Just how every human being is, in one way or another. Getting to know them closely would be the only way to find out, if you would find their weaknesses and needs quite manageable and their baggage light and easy for you to carry.

They would have lived history about as much as their age suggests, their personal shadows and blind spots, as well as probably a few physical issues. They would have both good and bad days, moments of triumph and (rarely, I hope) they would make terrible mistakes. As their partner, your would be there to witness most of all this, and same would be true the other way around. As in all equal relationships, inspiration porn would be something you would have to find from somewhere else (or even better, learn to do without, for inspiration porn is not ethical porn).

Would they be the kind of person you would like to have in your life holding an umbrella over your head when your life turns into a pouring rain? Would they be too much for you, or would you run away, if they felt empathy in autism typical way so that they would not just grieve and rejoice with you, but experienced your strong emotions as if those feelings were their own? Every inhabited corner of Takiwatanga is different, but to many of us, our partner’s emotions can be like a flame that can pass from one candle to another so that suddenly two candles burn shine the same light. Totally dull and gray days might be less common than usual, because, as science can tell, Takiwatanga is an intense world. At the same time it is a very gentle world. What living close to it would feel like -well, that is something you would need to find out for yourself.

When it comes to character improvement, you would start from the same line. You both would need to practice virtue with equal diligence, if you would like to grow in it. Your particular moral strengths and weaknesses might vary, but autism does not bring any quantitative difference. Autism does not mean some sort of deficiency in ability to take responsibility from one’s actions, and experiencing the world differently does not mean that our perspective is distorted or misses something essential. You may hold us responsibile for our wrongdoings just like you would anyone else. It is difficult to learn from one’s mistakes, if nobody even bothers to tell, what those mistakes are but quickly glosses them over using autism as an excuse.

They would be quite ordinary also when it comes to relationship and emotional skills. When it comes to communication and relationship skills, most people are not born geniuses, and many of us have had less than great upbringing as well. Ability and willingness to learn from life, from both one’s own mistakes and from those made by others help  a long way, though. Hopefully, you and your partner would be able to negotiate many mutually satisfying solutions, and there would also be some less excellent but acceptable compromises…and maybe a few things you would just agree to disagree about. You both would need to be flexible at times, make concessions and accommodate the other’s needs related to neurotype or something else entirely. A relationship where one feels like a martyr who just gives and gives endlessly to their own personal burden is not a healthy or a balanced relationship.

If the love of your life were autistic, they would be a thinking, probably deeply feeling, and fully capable of expressing love and empathy. You might, however, need to learn to understand autistic communication style. Our society does not (yet) teach about it much, or even see autistic love language as equal with that favored by the majority, but autistic community (and Kaiao as part of it) is trying to help.

You would need to get to know them as a person, not as a walking list of “traits” you can graciously tolerate or disapprove from your pedestal. That sort of people should stay far from our lives. You would also be equal in the sense that neither of you are supposed to resign into being in a relationship. You both should feel lucky for having found such an amazing person to bring light into your life. You would not be heaven sent to your autistic partner because you are someone who has accepted such a flawed being as their partner, but because you are *you* and as such someone they find special and truly lovable.

If your partner were autistic, their life would be somewhat more difficult than that of an average person, such as lives of members of marginalized minorities tend to be. Likely, they would have some traumas, like members of marginalized minorities tend to have. If it is important to you to find a partner who has had an easy life (so far) , an autist is not suitable for you. But if you think that life is whatever it is, but good company can make it better in any case, it might turn out that best possible company for you is autistic.

A person that makes a good partner for an autist is not weak of mind, volatile, have serious commitment issues or fear responsibility. They have no need to raise themselves by putting down someone belonging to a vulnerable minority, and they do not suffer from a martyr complex. A person living in majority can never face struggles on behalf of someone in a minority, but an autistic person’s neurotypical partner may expect to find themselves from treating mental wounds and protecting their partner in different ways. I must emphasize here that this, too, is reciprocal. Takiwatanga can also be a strong support that extends its light, peace and protection to people close to autists, including our partners. People who are lucky and successful in everything they do are quite rare. Shiny personal brands of social media are just cardboard images. Reality behind them tends to be both complex and human. This holds true to all neurotypes.

You would also have physical intimacy and sex (unless aromantic/asexual partnership is what both of you want most from life) -the very term “special interest” should hint of the fact that autists are way more passionate people than commonly thought. Your sex life with an autist could be mindblowing. On the other hand, a happy sex life is something that typically happens (especially on long term) only when both partners are willing to take their share of responsibility instead of leaving matters to fickle hormones and ever-pressing stresses of everyday life. Among strengths of many autists is ability to communicate openly and without shame about issues related to sexuality, including issues that many neurotypicals find difficult to talk about, to be authentic and fully present the moment. Also, with a little imagination, those atypical senses can also be quite enjoyable…

You would be equal as partners, and both would have their half of responsibility to build a relationship that is safe, healty and supportive for both. You would have equal responsibility to learn to express your love in ways that your partner understands and that makes them feel valued and supported in ways that matter to them. You would have equal responsibility to negotiate basic rules of relationships into such that they are mutually satisfactory, as well as responsibility to reach satisfactory compromises about whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher and take out the trash.

Your relationship might start with fairytale dates, but main prize would likely include lots of weekend grocery shopping in local supermarket, struggling with pressures of daily life, daily routines and tired evenings. Everyday life is where you should be able to find decades’ worth of wonders and happiness. If you ask me, access to Takiwatanga might help with that. I hope you have already heard about autistic joy and autistic bliss- feelings that may emanate to lighten those able to understand them.

With luck and love, and working communication, your crush with an autistic person could grow into an equal partnership of adult people, one in which both parties both give and receive support and try to understand the other equally. You might become very happy together. Of course, it is also possible that at some point, luck will leave you or that you will encounter insurmountable obstacles or disagreements. Such is life. Love is a risk, always and for everyone. But that, too, would be normal and human, not a curse or punishment triggered by autism, waiting in shadows ready to crush those fools who are stupid enough to fall in love with an autist instead of a decent neurotypical candidate. All you need to do is look aroud to notice how also neurotypical couples break and turn into tragedies for a multitude of reasons.

So. If love of your life were autistic, I would hope that it would mean presence of great love and light, peace and beauty in all intense colors of Takiwatanga in your life. For certain I can promise, that you would have a lot of control over how your relationship would turn out, because you would be half of the story. One person can never build alone a relationship for two, you know.

Discrimination and abuse of autistic people is normalized in today’s pan-western culture. This is a reality that Kaiao is proudly working to change as part of the autistic community. Would you like to be part of the effort to build a gentler world? Contact me saara.reiman@kaiao.fi, and we can talk more!