I remember my days in high school with more than a little bitterness. My adolescence
was in the late 60s and 70s. This was post “sexual revolution”. We can thank the pill, Playboy, Cosmo, and Helen Gurley Brown for that. And thankful we should be!
I was surrounded by young people coupling up. (Figuratively and literally.) Everyone had a bf or a gf and those who didn’t were working on it. (Of course, I didn’t notice those who were likely in as much pain as I. We tended to curl up in a defensive ball or hid.) I was defeated before I even started. Didn’t have a clue how the social game worked. Had a reputation as a nerd I couldn’t shake. Things changed a bit after I left high school. Not enough for a happy heart but barely enough to survive.
One fine day in Houghton, Michigan at a computer science summer camp for high school grads, I wrestled with a girl for about an hour, trying to get her clothes off. She wrestled back. The whole time she and I both knew that if I were serious it would have been no contest. But she trusted me not to push too hard and I would rather have hurt myself than hurt her. Her clothes stayed on (mostly). We were in a wooded area not far from a heavily used trail and she could have said no or screamed at any time. The risk of getting caught was part of the thrill. It was a lot of fun for both of us.
Another time at that same summer camp I finally lost my virginity to a girl. For some reason, she was most anxious to pop her cherry. I had no complaints – she was kawaii and moe and very intelligent. Everything worked out to mutual satisfaction. She said she was planning to enter Michigan Technological University. Thought this virginity business was something she wanted to get out of the way. I guess I felt honored for such a choice as the students there were 90% male and she had her pick. She was cheerful and friendly for the rest of the camp and was already a far better programmer than I could ever be.
In both the cases above, the girl had approached me. Taken out of a toxic environment and leaving my reputation and expectations behind, did this success mean I could be desirable??? Completely counter to my life experience. Hell of a “teachable moment”. Would never have gone after them on my own for fear of rejection.
I was that kind of guy. I didn’t push things. Even at my horniest, I still didn’t push things. At the time I saw this as a defect but one I was stuck with. Those girls who did not see me as an eggheaded freak saw me as a “nice” guy. Hear “Let’s just be friends” often enough and you start to feel neutered.
Nice wasn’t what turned the girls on. (Or at least not the ones I knew.) A certain level of confidence and assertiveness was what did it, of group status. They were looking for the Alpha male or as close to it as they could get. Guys who were not-so-nice were often the ones who were always smooching in the hallway or making out at the drive-in. At the time that was what my heart wanted.
I mentioned before the times I came close to suicide and seeing this in high school was one of my “triggers”. You could have told me anything about how great my future would be and it wouldn’t have made any difference. The heart wants what the heart wants. Love. Affection. Validation.
Here’s an example that hopefully won’t set off too many triggers for my readers. Let’s say you are a teenage boy. Every time you ask a girl out on a date, something bad happens. (Not an uncommon occurrence for a boy with Asperger.) You get laughed at. You get strange looks. Might even receive anger. You become the butt of jokes as other people hear about it. After this happens a few times…
a) You stop asking girls out. Fine. A common response to repeated failure is to stop trying. If it hurts badly enough you don’t ever try it again – even if it might just work out. You have a very high risk-to-benefit ratio.
b) Every time you see a couple acting lovey-dovey in a movie or read it in a book, you relive the trauma of rejection. Seeing it IRL it hurts ten times as much. It tears you apart. There is no purpose to life without it. It was what your heart wanted and couldn’t have.
Some people can just shake that sort of thing off. I saw guys who were constantly rejected out of hand by girls (and later women). It didn’t phase them in the slightest. They assigned no emotional value to it. Their theory was to swing at every ball that came their way and eventually they’d get a hit. Being rejected didn’t cut them to the core of their being because they had enough ego in other areas to compensate. Having little sense of self-worth, a small setback in an area that involved my heart made me want to die.
I had to approach getting what my heart wanted in a way most people would consider unnatural. Took decades and is still a work in progress
“Learning” to be attractive to a girl was an extraordinarily difficult curriculum. To a kid in my situation, it came glacially. Even basic grooming was alien to me. Didn’t learn that I should wash my hair until high school. Never thought of weightlifting or martial arts to keep away the bullies. Clothes were mismatched and might have been stylish 40 years ago. Steep and long learning curve.
I still feel like an alien from a distant star, trying to figure out the complexities of emotions and subtle signals that dominate human relationships. I learned to interpret body language as an adult by algorithm while everyone else mastered it instinctively as children. I do many things by algorithm, things that most don’t even think about. Algorithms take forever to process when compared to intuitions. Combined with the inability to do small talk, it can make me seem aloof and cold.
I “learned” fashion, I “learned” grooming and I “learned” conversation. Even flirting can be “learned”. When not in public socially, these things have zero value to me. (The older I get the less they mean again.) I learned how to look sexy, talk sexy and act sexy. Those algorithms are still there.
I never did master small talk or all the little meaningless (to me) things people do to communicate. I tended to zero in on the smartest woman in the room and offer her someone a bit more intelligent and easygoing than the character she is trying to gently fend off. (I have the knight in shining armor routine down pat.) Or a guy who just wanted to talk of things of substance. There is no topic of substance I can’t talk about.
If I don’t find someone simpatico, parties are horrid affairs for me. I’ll leave. Or I’ll go for long walks while my wife flits and small talks and gossips with her friends. Or I sit in a corner and desperately try to keep my mind busy. It isn’t just Asperger’s. It is also the ADD and my INTP personality type. (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI) God bless the smartphone!
I am much better at written communication. There is a fixed subject and not random noise. I have time to run my computational engine. I can think and slowly coax feelings out that for most are lying right there on top. When confronted by someone who is highly emotional I vapor lock. My mind goes blank. The more important the person is to me, the blanker my mind goes. In writing, I can stand back, assess and analyze. I may still not come up with a useful response but at least I can process.
In the end, my heart never got exactly what it wanted. A couple of girls in a pre-college summer camp. I lived with a woman who would have been my ideal mother or big sister but as a lover, it couldn’t last. I met a much older woman who took advantage of me – but I still managed to get something back to make it worthwhile. There were a few one-night stands, remembered fondly. There was a woman who had my heart and I thought I had hers – but she said she couldn’t handle the commitment. Then there were many more pleasant one-night stands and brief lovers. And a few very strange experiences. Happy for the acceptance and affection they represented but sad for the lack of continuity.
Not quite enough pain to kill me but many times damned close. Instead of what it wanted, my heart only got occasional hints of it. Over time what my heart wanted changed – if glacially.
And then I was married (30+ years now) and we had two children, something I’m not going to discuss. My personal privacy may not matter terribly but my family’s privacy matters a great deal.
For the last 20 years, I’d been on Prozac, among other antidepressants for recurring depression. (Probably should have been on it my entire life.) I phased out the Prozac when I quit my last job, a frustrating, mind-numbing job where little by little all individual control over what I was doing was being chipped away until it was nothing but a checklist and parroting what an AI said. The heart wanted out of there ASAP and I listened for once.
My heart still wants things I can never have. Too old – and my body is wearing out long before its time. Most of my retirement dreams are beyond me. But I am still getting dribs and drabs of what it needs. I am in a place where Asperger’s and ADD just don’t matter. I don’t spend my days trying to compete in areas where I have little native skill. I can relax and tell the world to fuck itself.
But the heart will never stop wanting what it wants.