Thursday, August 18, 2022

My Worst Date

It was 2006 and I decided to try dating again. It had been just over two years since my breakup with Emily, which is the story at the start of Finding Kansas, so I was ready to tempt fate again. Fate had a lot more in store for me than I bargained for.

Thinking back to then, it's hard to remember just how difficult it was to tell a person that I was on the autism spectrum. There weren't shows on television with characters, and the thought of a Netflix show being an international phenomenon such as Extraordinary Attorney Woo was not even in the realm of possibilities in the best of imaginative worlds.

This date, I met her online, and she was a chemical engineer with an awesome job. We chatted for a couple weeks, and we had dinner planned at an Olive Garden. The initial pleasantries came and went, and she asked me for more detail about me saying I that I was writing. This led to talk about the chapters I had been writing and this, of course, led to the talk of Asperger's.

I held my breath each time I told anyone this because, and do remember this was 2006, people generally didn't know what Asperger's, or the autism spectrum, was. Maybe they had heard of it but had no frame of reference on what any of it meant. 

It was always a hold my breath moment. Would they ask, "what does that mean?" or the "my great uncle's third niece's mother's friend's teacher's son has it, I think." I wasn't sure yet which I loathed more, but I knew people didn't know what it meant. However, this person did "know".

"Autism spectrum?" she said with a raised eyebrow, "Oh, I know, that means you're unable to care or love anyone else, is that right?" I now knew what I hated the most, misconceptions. It was bad enough I had endured the horrible information on the night of my diagnosis, but this? How was I supposed to deal with this? It's one thing to have negative self-talk, but to have another person so blatantly say a mistruth as if it were as holy as a religion was crushing.

Needless to say, there wasn't a second date, and since that day I told myself I would wage a fierce battle against such misconceptions. There are now a multitude of shows depicting individuals on the autism spectrum and the understanding that it is, indeed, a spectrum is becoming more and more prevalent. I hope that 16 years from now, misconceptions are a thing of a bygone era. It is difficult for me to think back on the fear of a person never hearing of the autism spectrum, but now that's not as big of a concern. 

Maybe this date was ahead of her time. The battle now is with such wrong misconceptions. To have a belief as she did guaranteed the outcome. If you tell a person they can't, or that they'll fail, or that they shouldn't even try will almost ensure that outcome. My hope is that there won't ever be a situation like that Olive Garden visit back in 2006, but I know there will be. There will always be confusion and an air of mystery over something as mysterious as the autism spectrum, but all we can do is try, and not let the misconceptions define who we are.

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