So, what is it like to have a girlfriend with Asperger’s? To put it simply, it’s incredibly awesome! It’s been a lot of fun sharing stories with Megan about growing up feeling a bit different from everyone else and realizing how much common ground we have.
Like me, Megan was the smart, shy kid in her class and tended to spend a lot of time thinking silently to herself. She has intense areas of interest (languages, Japanese culture, manga, Biblical word and topic studies, and a host of other creative projects that can occur without warning!) that she pursues with a tireless focus and gleeful joy. She loves her friends, but being in social situations– even ones she enjoys– can be very draining, and it takes quiet time spent by herself to recharge. (I can’t count how many times I’ve messaged Megan saying “Sorry I wasn’t online for a while; I was taking a nap,” only for her to respond “Me too!”)
The first time Megan came to visit, we went for a walk around the neighborhood together and talked about all sorts of things. That’s when I began to notice something interesting. Ordinarily in this situation, I would be devoting a lot of my energy to coordinating my body language, facial expressions, and trying to maintain some rhythm of eye contact in order to give the correct appearance of being attentive.
But in talking with Megan, I started to lapse back into my more natural habit of letting my focus remain on the path ahead of me, or drift off into the distance as I chose my words. I would still look over at Megan and smile (how could I not?), but I stopped worrying about how my natural expressionless, unfocused face would look and just talked. I knew that Megan would understand, because I noticed she was doing the same thing!
The feeling of peace that came over me as I settled into this pattern was amazing. I had never realized how much energy and worry I had been putting into social interaction all these years in order to appear more “normal.” I suppose I was finally “being myself.” When I needed to pause to think of how I wanted to complete a sentence, Megan never interrupted me, always patiently waiting for me to find the words. It was wonderful!
What makes me even happier, though, is that I thought I saw the same transformation in Megan. When we first picked her up at the airport and immediately went to lunch, I could sense a little tension in Megan’s voice and mannerisms– she spoke quickly and softly, with the same slightly exaggerated nodding motion that I always use when I’m afraid people will think I’m not paying attention. But during dinner that night, after we had all had a chance to rest, Megan spoke more slowly and confidently, sharing her knowledge on a lot of fascinating topics while displaying a delightful range of emotions. I was so happy to see that she felt comfortable with me and my family.
I don’t know if that was how I came across when I was talking to Megan, because the fact is that– for once– I wasn’t paying attention to how I looked or sounded; I was fully focusing on what I was saying and whom I was saying it to. But I felt at peace.
All of this seemed to point toward a happy possibility– that Megan and I are both made better by the mere fact of being together.