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NTBP
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19 Jul 2015, 9:08 pm

I'm a gay man with bipolar disorder who recently was dating an Aspie Friend. He told me he had Asperger's but I must confess I didn't know how much this would affect things. Needless to say, due to the very different ways we process emotions, relationships, and sexuality, dating didn't work out so good. Nobody's fault, we're just very different that way. It was a bit painful for us, but we really want to stay in each other's lives. He is a good friend and we get along very well for the most part. Romance is out of the picture now, but I would like to learn how to be a better friend and more understanding of the challenges Aspies face every day. In trying to understand the way he processes life, I've learned a lot about myself and how bipolar disorder has affected my life, being frequently overwhelmed by my emotions. I'd welcome thoughts, advise, suggestions, etc.



StarTrekker
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20 Jul 2015, 12:09 am

Welcome to WP, we appreciate your allegiance :)

One of the most important things you need to be aware of, is the fact that many aspies need and want less social interaction than others; a lot of us (though not all) find being with others for long periods of time to be physically and emotionally exhausting. If your friend doesn't contact you that much, or if he only wants to meet intermittently, it's not because he's not interested in you or in being with you, it's that he needs time and space to function properly.

Something else is that we also sometimes have difficulty with our emotions. They can be confusing and overwhelming, and we sometimes have a hard time identifying what we're feeling and why. In extreme cases, this can lead to meltdowns, which look like temper tantrums, but which are actually uncontrollable bursts of overwhelming emotions. Don't be afraid or get angry when this happens, just move all breakables out of reach, ensure that there are no objects around with which your friend could seriously hurt himself, and leave the room quietly until it's over. When it is over, ask quietly if your friend wants company or to be alone; note that he may have difficulty speaking during this period of regrouping, so be open to alternate forms of communication such as writing. After things have returned to normal, you can ask your friend if there's anything he'd like you to do to help him the next time it happens. Some find that proprioceptive input, or a lot of weight and pressure over the whole body (squeezing/hugging) are very helpful for calming the nervous system.

Many aspies have obsessive interests that dominate their attention and time. They can spend long periods talking about and studying these interests to the detriment of their relationships. If your friend starts discussing an interest you're sick of hearing about, you can give him a time limit; say, "Okay, we can talk about this for five more minutes, then I'm changing the subject." This lets him know that you're listening and that what he has to say matters, but also that you want to talk about other things as well. One of the quickest ways to an aspie's heart is to do something with him that relates to his special interest. This shows us that you care about us enough to put up with spending time with us doing things we enjoy; this is a very validating and rewarding experience.

Sensory problems are also very common in autistics; heightened or overly dampened sensitivity to light, sound, touch, taste, etc. can cause a lot of problems in daily life. Some aspies have difficulty doing things like grocery shopping because of the crowds, smells, or flickering fluorescent lights. Some of us can tolerate this kind of environment for a while, but it wears us down, and too much exposure can make us irritable, anxious, or otherwise unpleasant to be around. Sensory breaks are helpful, such as leaving us to sit in the car while you run into a shop to perform errands. After a lot of exposure to sensory input, we often need time alone to recharge and reset our sensory system. If you come back from a day of shopping, running errands or doing recreational things, don't be upset or put off if your friend immediately retreats to his room and doesn't come out; he's not angry and you didn't do anything wrong, he's just overloaded and needs time to cool off. In a similar vein, if, while the two of you were dating, your friend had an aversive reaction to anything physical you attempted, it wasn't that he didn't like you or didn't want to be intimate, he was probably just physiologically over-sensitive to whatever tactile thing you were doing.

Communication is often very difficult for aspies: we can be blunt or come across as callous and uncaring when we don't mean to. If you ask us for an honest opinion, we'll give it to you, omitting all the social niceties like "sugar-coating" or "white lies". Don't be offended when we say things like this; we don't mean it personally, just correct us by saying something like, "That sounded a little harsh, maybe try saying X next time," or "It's not a good idea to talk about X in front of other people; it might hurt their feelings/embarrass them." Similarly, we often have difficulty recognising when another person is "just trying to be nice" or trying to use subtleties to get out of, or change a conversation topic. If you see your friend ignoring someone else's social cues, pull him away and explain them, or if he's doing it to you, use the subtle cues (so he gets practise hearing them), then if he doesn't understand, spell out what they mean, and why they're used (e.g it's more polite to say, "I'm going to get a drink" than it is to say, "I don't want to talk to you anymore.")

That's all I can come up with for now, but I hope I helped. A good book on the subject is Tony Attwood's "The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome". It's a bit of a long read, but it has a lot of useful information in it. Good luck!


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"Survival is insufficient" - Seven of Nine
Diagnosed with ASD level 1 on the 10th of April, 2014
Rediagnosed with ASD level 2 on the 4th of May, 2019
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Marky9
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20 Jul 2015, 12:18 am

Welcome! It's cool that you guys were able to throttle it back and retain a good friendship. I also recommend the Attwood book.