I don’t make a big deal about Christmas. Why would I? I’m not religious, and I don’t have kids. As far as I can see, those two things are the only reasons to make a fuss about what, to me, is just an orgy of conspicuous consumption.
However, both of my major relationships have been with women who like to mark the occasion, so for almost all my life, I’ve reluctantly engaged in the annual activities of finding a tree (or dragging the artificial one out from under the bed), putting up lights, trying to find relatives’ addresses to send cards, cooking a roast dinner, often having to ensure the company of one or other side of the family, before taking everything down and putting it away a few days later and breathing a long sigh of relief.
In my current relationship, we’ve reached a kind of equilibrium where we have a small table-top tree with a handful of decorations and lights, we send small presents to my parents and my niece, we don’t send cards, we go for a walk on the morning of the 25th, followed by a nice dinner that I usually cook, and that’s pretty much it. I’m OK with that.
This year I had the bright idea of inviting my ex to join my partner and I for Christmas lunch. Not my best idea as it turns out.
Let me give this some context.
When I ended my previous major relationship in 2010, after a few months of awkwardness my ex and I decided that we should try to be friends; my own thinking was that if we couldn’t salvage something, then what had the last 20 years accomplished? Or something like that, it’s hard to explain. But anyway, we tried, and it worked, and we get along very well as friends. It’s probably how we should have stayed in the first place to be honest.
Since starting my current relationship in 2012, I made it clear to my partner that my ex and I were on good terms, and since then we’ve met up together (all three of us) a number of times – dinner at our house, coffees at my ex’s, etc. At one point my partner remarked that it was a hard concept for her to wrap her head around, the fact that I was still friends with my ex, but that she was OK with it. Too bad I’m hopeless at reading between the lines, otherwise I might have realised that the cultural gap was too great (my partner is from south east Asia) and she was just trying to deal with it for my sake, while feeling deeply uncomfortable with the situation.
Us autists are often labelled as lacking empathy, which is actually not true. We can feel things like compassion very deeply, but often it can be overwhelming because our brains can’t process it properly, leading us to try and block it out and by doing that, giving the impression of being cold and lacking emotion. Either that or we feel compelled to act on our feelings in situations where non-autistic people might have more success reigning in their emotions and realising what is appropriate and what is not.
Anyway, it was compassion for someone that I thought might be lonely over Christmas that led me to suggest to my partner that we could invite my ex for Christmas lunch. She agreed, said it was a nice idea, and so that’s what we did.
It wasn’t until early Christmas morning that my partner sprang on me her real feelings, which was that she didn’t understand why I would want to be friendly with my ex unless there were still some feelings there, and that she had serious doubts about our relationship and my feelings. My heart hit the floor and my head filled with dread as I realised that I hadn’t understood any of the undercurrents in the situation for the past five years. Though, to be fair, when she had always previously claimed that everything was fine with us socialising with my ex from time to time, I hadn’t stood much of a chance of understanding.
Though I love my partner dearly, I’m not blind to her faults, and one of those is the ability to become quite sardonic and spiteful if she’s not happy with how she feels someone is behaving towards her. I’m not trying to be judgmental about it – everyone has their own way of handling bad situations, that simply happens to be hers. Me, I either retreat and hide from it, or just melt down into a seething rage, so who am I to talk?
But despite my partner behaving perfectly well while my ex was with us yesterday, her mood seriously deteriorated afterwards, with all kinds of comments along the lines of “I don’t think we should get married any more”, “I think you’re still in love with her”, “I think you’re confused”, and more.
The rest of the evening was spent with me trying to defend my position but at the same time offering to stop social contact with my ex, and my partner launching into me with spiteful rejoinders, not accepting what I was saying.
I’m not going to accuse her of being irrational, because I don’t think that’s either fair or strictly true. What I do know, however, is that the only thing that will mend this is time. Time for her to think more about the issues involved and come to some kind of understanding.
I hope we’ll be OK. We love each other to distraction despite each other’s faults, and when it comes down to it, I hope that will carry us through.
One thing she did say after my repeated questions of “why didn’t you tell me?” was that she feared my feelings towards her would change if she challenged the friendship.
So when it comes down to it, what we have is that my partner has been lying about this issue for five years, simply because she was scared of losing me if she challenged the situation, when if she’d just been honest we could have resolved it so easily. That doesn’t make me feel great. Part of me is angry at her for assuming that her honesty might damage our relationship, and part of me is angry at myself for not seeing that it might be a problem, even if not discussed.
Today she’s back at work (another stress in her life – the hours are long and tiring and her employers don’t seem inclined to grant her request for reduced hours) and, although I have a long to-do list, I haven’t really been able to think about my own work. The best way to describe my activity today is probably “mooning around”.
There are more nuances to this story that I haven’t gone into, but they don’t change the essence of the problem, which is that I just don’t understand how people think unless they spell it out to me.