Tag Archives: Relationships

Is it me? I honestly don’t think so

Every now and then my wife cold shoulders me, freezes me out, gets angry at me, puts me in the doghouse, gives me the silent treatment, pick any or all of the above.

It usually lasts two to three days, and can be extremely hurtful, since when it is happening, the only things she will say to me are criticisms or spiteful observations, or threats (to leave).

The cause can be anything – but you can be sure that she will make it look like something I did or said, or failed to do or say.

Currently I’m in the middle of a freeze-out, the reason being that I reacted less than positively when she announced that she intended to buy a handbag for £800 off Ebay. A second-hand Louis Vuitton, no less. I expressed my opinion that no handbag was worth that much, and it was a bit of a crazy thing to do when we were trying to save money for some fairly major life changes (involving emigrating half way across the world) and she was already working her notice at her job.

My reaction seems to have brought out some normally well-hidden insecurities about the fact that after we emigrate, she will be fully dependent on my income, something that I have absolutely no problem with (and have expressed this many times), and normally, neither would she – it’s just that when she goes off in high dudgeon like this, all the things that would normally not bother her, suddenly rear up and become huge issues in her mind. And now when I approach her I’m being treated to comments like “I can manage on my own”, “I can pay for this myself”, “I can be independent”, “I’m going to look for somewhere else to live”, etc etc. I generally don’t respond as I’ve realised that if I rise to the bait, things get worse.

In other episodes, it’s been a different issue that suddenly gets magnified – like can she trust me to stick by her when we’re old, or any number of other things that, honestly, people in their millions successfully ignore because it’s not something that justifies worry, or that worrying will help to resolve.

Sometimes, in the throes of one of these freeze-outs, I’ve taken a passive, apologetic stance, treating her as the alpha of the couple and agreeing that I was in the wrong (no matter whether I was or not). At other times I have stuck to my guns, when I know that my position is rational and logical, and hers isn’t either of those things. That’s what I’m doing this time around, and I actually think in this situation my Aspergers helps me keep a cool head because I can just use my autistic shell to retreat into and protect myself from all the emotion flying around. Not that it stops the hurt I feel inside. Curiously enough, whichever stance I take seems to make very little difference to the outcome – which is that, after up to three days of alternating silence and spiteful barbs, she transforms back into a normal human being and following a lengthy heart-to-heart all is forgotten.

Right now I’m hoping that today is the last day of the current episode and things will start getting back to normal overnight and tomorrow. She headed out an hour ago for ports unknown saying “don’t wait up”, so at the moment it’s anybody’s guess what I’m in store for when she gets back.

In the six or so years we’ve been together I’ve endured at least nine or ten of these episodes. Two or three were my fault, but not so the rest. Filipinos have a word for it: Tampo (link is to an enlightening article on Wikipedia).

At the end of the day, I endure. I do my best to hold my tongue, or to say placatory things if I think that’s appropriate, and I wait it out. I do this because, when it comes down to it, I love her more than I’ve loved anyone else in my life, I want her to have the best, happiest life possible, and I honestly believe that her life is better with me in it, and vice versa.

The things we do for love.

POSTSCRIPT: Sure enough, after almost three days of tampo, she apologised, explained how hard it is for her to be straightforward and express her anxieties when she’s upset, and everything returned to normal.

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Why does everything have to be so fucking hard?

Malta’s bureaucracy is so out of control that it’s amazing the island hasn’t sunk into the Mediterranean under the weight of all the paper generated by government departments and the money earned by local lawyers.

Since I met my partner six years ago, it seems that there hasn’t been a single day when we’re not chasing down documents or anxiously awaiting news of a government decision about our lives. After a while it gets seriously detrimental to my health, and I don’t think my anxiety levels have been below a 6 out of 10 in the last six years.

My partner is from a non-EU country, whereas I was born in the EU, and in essence, that is the cause of all the difficulties. Just happening to have been born in a particular country affects our lives so much more than it should. We’re all human beings, right? What is the purpose of national boundaries, of passports, of visas, of apostilles, of work permits and restrictions? I’ll tell you. It’s racism, xenophobia and naked greed. It’s one group of people thinking they need to protect themselves and their wealth against another group. It’s one arbitrarily-bordered country deciding to restrict the rights of another. There’s no fundamental reason why the world has to be split into countries. There are enough natural resources for everyone.

And it’s simply egregious that when two people fall in love, they should have to jump through so many legal and bureaucratic hoops just in order to be able to live where they choose.

It started when we first got together. My partner was (informally) separated from her Maltese husband, and that meant she lost the right to stay in Malta, unless she took employment in a ‘reserved occupation’ which basically meant drudge work as a carer for the infirm – not exactly the life we wanted. So our first task was to find a way to legalise her residency based on our relationship instead of her previous one. That took 40 documents from an assortment of sources, 6 months of uncertainty and nearly €2000 in legal fees. We also had to wait until we had been together 2 years, which meant 2 years of not knowing if or when we would have to deal with a government department cottoning on to the situation and deciding she had to be deported. Anxiety score: 8. Luckily bureaucracy tends to breed inefficiency and confusion, especially in Malta, where most of the time the left hand hasn’t a clue what the right hand is doing, and I think we have that to thank as much as anything else, for getting things sorted without deportation.

The next problem we had was that her passport still bore her maiden name, whereas when she married she (unfortunately) took her husband’s surname and her Maltese identity card showed that name. Never change your name, people, we are witness to the hell that can cause. Every time we went abroad, we had to take her marriage certificate with us and run the risk of being denied passage because she was clearly not travelling with the husband whose name was on her identity card.

Could she have changed her name on her passport? Only by travelling to her home country and enduring more bureaucracy by registering her Maltese marriage there. She didn’t want to do that, not least because even early on in the marriage she was already having doubts about the relationship and was fairly sure it wouldn’t last.

In Malta you cannot legally change your name simply by filling in some legal forms like you can in the UK and other civilised countries. No, the only way to legally revert to her maiden name in Malta was either legal separation or divorce. WHY THE FUCK CAN’T MALTA GROW UP AND LET PEOPLE MAKE THEIR OWN DECISIONS ABOUT THIS STUFF? With legal separation taking 1 year and divorce 4 years, we opted for the former, to try and rectify the situation as soon as possible. That little process ended up with us having to produce another 20 or so documents, and was complicated by the fact that her husband had already moved abroad. In the end it took 10 months and entailed 2 court appearances and over €2000 in lawyers fees. Anxiety score: 9.

Finally, after those two prolonged and stressful processes, we were living together legally in Malta and could travel (subject to visas) without eyebrows being raised at the clash of names on her documentation.

You’d think at that point we’d breathe a sigh of relief and say, enough. Well, we wanted to, but couldn’t. Why? Because we wanted to exercise our human right to get married, that’s why. And marriage allows me to retire with her in her home country in the future.

In my partner’s home country, a nation stifled and held back by religion, divorce is not permitted. End of story. There is simply no divorce allowed. The ONLY exception is when a person of my partner’s country has married a foreigner, and the foreigner divorces them abroad (the foreigner must be the one initiating the divorce).

So my partner couldn’t legally divorce her husband in Malta and expect that divorce to be recognised in her home country. No, it had to be the other way around, otherwise if we ourselves married and travelled to her home country, she would be breaking the bigamy laws and could be arrested. He had to divorce her, which meant reaching out to him, cap in hand so to speak, and hoping that he would agree and do the right thing.

We swallowed our pride and managed to persuade him to divorce her in his adopted country – luckily a civilised, relatively secular country where divorce is easy and not too expensive. In the end it took 5 months and we had to send him about €800 to cover the fees (that was a condition of his co-operation). But at least he is now legally relegated to the status of ex-husband.

End of the story? Not quite. In order for us to marry in Malta, her divorce had to be registered with the Maltese authorities, which meant going back to her former husband and persuading him to request an apostilled copy of the divorce decree and fedex it to us, so that we could hand it in at the Maltese public registry and in return receive a Maltese divorce certificate. Anxiety score: 8.

I tell you, you couldn’t make it up if you tried. It’s like starring in Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil or being stuck inside a Kafka novel.

That brings us pretty much up to the present, where we’ve set a date for the wedding, our relatives have booked their flights, and we need to hand in all the necessary documentation (more visits to notaries with witnesses to get more meaningless rubber stamps). Except, my partner’s apostilled birth certificate, which she handed in for her previous marriage, now needs to be countersigned by her home country’s consulate in Malta ( I WASN’T told about this in advance), and the marriage registry won’t release it into our care, even temporarily, so we have to try and get this done using a photocopy and hope the consul doesn’t turn his nose up at it.

There may be a fallback option, which is to use a web-based service in my partner’s home country that promises to obtain birth certificates and get them authenticated (apostilled) by the government before sending them anywhere in the world by courier. So we’ll probably do that as well in case and I’m currently waiting for a quote from them. But it looks like this process needs us to obtain a special power of attorney (from the consul in Malta) and courier it to them first. More delays, when we have only 4 weeks to get this sorted before our wedding date becomes invalid and our relatives have to start cancelling flights.

Anxiety score: the needle broke.

I’m trying to think of a moral to this sorry tale to round things off, but to be honest there’s no clear message – not a realistic one anyway. But maybe some nuggets of advice, born of painful experience:

Nugget 1: If you marry someone and you’re female, hold on to your maiden name.

Nugget 2: If you aren’t 110% sure of someone, don’t marry them.

Nugget 3: If you need to deal with the Maltese government, get a valium prescription first.

Nugget 4: If you’re an EU citizen and thinking of living in Malta, check out some other places first.

Nugget 5: I’m running out of nuggets. Looking back at all this stress and torment, I honestly don’t see how we could have done anything differently given the circumstances. I’m just really, really angry that marrying someone takes 6 years and over €5000, just because one person has been married before and the two of us come from different countries. It shouldn’t be this way. We should be welcoming each new day of our life together, not approaching it with trepidation, waiting for the next official to tell us we did something wrong and something extra is needed.

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An Autistic Christmas

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.

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