Should I postpone my flight to see my boyfriend, who has Asperger's, until he gets more settled into his university degree?
March 13, 2010 9:48 PM   Subscribe

Advice on a long distance relationship with a man with Asperger's

I'm a 33 year old neurotypical (but geeky) woman.

Since April 2008, I have been in a long distance relationship with a deeply wonderful 37 year old man with Asperger's.

He is funny, smart, kind, considerate and creative.

He draws cartoons and has written a novel that is laugh-aloud-so-hard-you-can't-breathe funny.

My friends all love him, and they all agree that he is very good for me, and that he seems to care for me very much. We share a lot of interests and values.

He has flown to my city, and me to his city, many times, and we have spent many wonderful times together, with visits varying from 4 days to 10 days at a time.

He understands me, and I love him more than anyone else who I have ever dated. I could see us spending the rest of our lives together.

I was planning to move cities to be with him in April/May of this year.

This is not a decision that I make lightly. I have many close friends in my home city, but I really care for my boyfriend and I really want to be with him.

He feels like my family, my community, there is a sense of belonging and deep trust.

But ever since he started his first year of university (his second degree) on March 1, he is stressed and has really changed.

Now, he doesn't want to talk on the phone more than once a week.

Also, we had agreed for me to book flights for a visit in early April, and quite a while ago I bought my plane tickets, but now he is no longer sure that he wants me to come.

The last time that we saw each other in person was the visit that ended January 27, when we had a wonderful time.

He is also not sure that he will have enough time for me if I move to his city, and he worries that I won't be happy if he is busy studying.

He is very honest and very trustworthy. It is not that he is seeing another woman - he really is feeling overwhelmed by and stressed out about university.

I still want to visit him in April. Even seeing him around his study commitments would be better than not seeing him at all.

Also, I have had a really, really difficult three months with a back injury at work, severe work stress, and my landlord selling my flat so I have to move house (among far too many other problems.)

The thought of being wrapped up in his arms in April has been the only thing getting me through. The thought of that not happening feels like a marathon runner almost at the finish line being told "Sorry, no gold medals this year, not even silver or copper." Or someone being told after a long fast and so many days of only drinking water, "Sorry, no food."

How can I convince him that it will be okay for me to come and visit in April, that I don't mind that he will have lectures and homework?

Or should I just reschedule until late April or early May, even though it will be really, really emotionally painful for me to wait even longer to see him again?

I genuinely want him to do well at university, and I want him to be happy.

But the thought of having to wait even longer to see him is so hard...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The thought of being wrapped up in his arms in April has been the only thing getting me through.

Aside from Asperger's, which I do not see as an issue, I guess the real question is "can you survive without him"? However,

my landlord selling my flat so I have to move house (among far too many other problems.)

that alone tells me you need to deal with your stuff first. If you go and see him but come back to living on a park bench that would not be acceptable.
posted by zombieApoc at 10:05 PM on March 13, 2010

If your question is how to convince him it will be okay for you to visit: In my own experience with a close friend with Asperger's, it's pretty helpful to be almost as blunt with the person as they are with you. Tell him you have already booked tickets and it would be very inconvenient for you to cancel. Also tell him that it will be very disappointing not to get to see him. If it would help, tell him that you can actually be helpful to him during his studying, not just a distraction. You can help him with things, like maybe make him dinner, so that he is still able to study.
posted by ishotjr at 10:11 PM on March 13, 2010

My brother has Asperger's and often has a difficult time dealing with stress, especially with tasks as large/nebulous as "Pass this class." Have you had a conversation with him where you both bluntly talk about how he is feeling stressed and how he can deal with it productively? When my brother panics/gets frustrated/feels bad he can't easily step outside of the moment and realize that he's feeling that way, that the emotion has a cause, and that it won't be like that forever. It helps to name the emotion he's feeling and then have a long conversation about why he's feeling that way (let him vent for a little but not too long), and then talk about how to deal with the problem.

My brother's way is often to try to brute force a solution, which in school often means studystudystudyallthetimeneverstop, which only makes him more stressed. Perhaps your boyfriend only sees one way to pass his classes and doesn't recognize other ways to make it through the semester. (Alternatively: perhaps he only sees one way to interact with you and doesn't realize he doesn't need to spend 100% of his effort on you when you visit.) Another long conversation where he tells you what's stressing him and you brainstorm together will help uncover that sort of situation and help him readjust his plans/expectations.

It really does sound like you've had a difficult few months. I'm sorry. Please be aware, though, that it's possible he won't be able to give you a lot of emotional support when you visit him. He's wrapped up in his own crisis at this point and may have difficulty stepping outside of it when you visit (no matter how many conversations you have about it). If you are looking for him to support you through this difficult time during your visit, it may be best to postpone the trip until after he finishes for the semester. If you visit while he's in school, the trip will likely be about you supporting him through his crisis. Obviously you know him best and can better judge how well he compartmentalizes than random mefites so YMMV, but I've always found it best to be 100% clear when dealing with a person with Asperger's what you would like them to be doing and know whether they can handle that at that moment.
posted by lilac girl at 10:36 PM on March 13, 2010

My work involves people with high-functioning Asperger's, and last week we had to intervene and help one of our guys out with what would have been a really pretty simple problem for most people, but it involved problem-solving about a social-interaction situation and he just flat-out cannot do that when he's stressed out. One brief conversation with the guy's boss and boom, problem solved, but it had been dragging on for months and stressing the guy (and us) out like crazy to that point.

Which is not to say your guy has that particular problem, but that it can be a feature of Asperger's in some people. If school is stressing him out like crazy, he may not be able to step back and problem-solve how to deal with that and have you in his life too. He may not be able to see that you'd be okay with just part of his time, or that he could try to work ahead a bit or ask for an extension on a project or two to clear out some time for you. There's almost certainly one or more programs on campus that exist to help people with ASDs get through university - probably there's someone there he can talk to who could help him with school in general, not just this particular visit crisis, but he may not know about that or be able to figure out how to get at those resources on his own.

I agree with the other posters - you need to have a very clear, calm conversation. If he is willing, maybe you can help him brainstorm some ways to deal with his school stress in general, and secondarily with your visit in particular.

(Side thought - it might also help for you to do some problem-solving about your own situation so that's one thing he doesn't have to worry about. Do some research, find some stuff you would like to do on your own in his city. If he's nebulously worried about "what will she do when I'm at class," it may help to be able to be able to rattle off a few specific things that you found that seem like fun that you'll be just fine doing on your own, and then meeting up later in the day for dinner or whatever.)
posted by Stacey at 5:11 AM on March 14, 2010

First, take out the fact that he has Asperger's and look at the situation from a stress level point of view for both of you. Are you too wrapped up in seeing the move as the solution to all of *your* problems, focusing only on the end result of being in close proximity with him? Do you really want to spend the first month of your move constantly reassuring him (and maybe yourself)?

I'm sorry both of you are going through so much stress right now, but it sounds like postponing would be the best thing. Take the time to take care of yourself and communicate with him that you're holding off moving because you both need the time. From personal experience, being flexible in a loving relationship works.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:00 AM on March 14, 2010

Has this been diagnoses by a doctor? Because if it hasn't, take away the label and re-ask the question of yourself and see if you get a firmer answer.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:52 AM on March 14, 2010

My husband has Asperger's and I undersatnd a lot of what you are saying. We were in a long distance relationship for over a year before I moved in with him and we got married. He (like your boyfriend) would get stresssed out and detach himself from conversations we had. I felt even more distant from him during these times... I understand that you really want to see him. Discuss the possibilty of still coming at the same time, or maybe postponing it a few weeks. You should also make sure you can get yourself somewhere to stay in your own city, because you still need a home...

Keep reminding him that his stress is part of your stress and that you are supporting him in his schooling. Even if he is studying, remind him that when you come to visit, its okay if he needs to study because you really feel like you need to be close to him, even if he is busy.

It possible that he doesn't fully understand how important it is to you that you come for a visit. Just let him know, and hopefully he'll begin to see where you are coming from. Good Luck. :)
posted by shortbus at 5:31 AM on March 22, 2010

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