So, you’re dating someone who is cray cray. Non-neurotypical, mad, crazy, mentally ill, mentally interesting. Whatever you want to call it, they are someone who finds life a little different to experience because of their neurological orientation.
From Asperger’s to Bipolar to Generalised Anxiety Disorder to Borderline Personality Disorder and on – there’s a lot of us kids in the world, and we’re often isolated (sometimes not). You may also fall on the non neurotypical spectrum somewhere, or you might be what Data from Star Trek calls “fully functional”. Not that we’re not fully functional in our way – it is more that the world wasn’t built to accommodate the way we function. Which is not our fault.
So what stuff might you need to consider when hooking up, getting romantical or dating the shit out of a lovely crazy person? Obviously this cuts both ways if you are both non neurotypical.
I’ve been mulling this over because I tend to generally be attracted to others of my ilk. I thought a short list of helpful tips on relationship hygiene – a flawed, incomplete list I can later expand on – might help some of us navigate ways in which we can better understand and accommodate non-neurotypicality in our relationships.
1. Ask your partner what they feel they are capable of giving in your connection. Don’t assume you have the same resources.
2. When they tell you, really listen. Mull it over. Ask them more questions to clarify.
3. Accept that sometimes your partner will do things that appear ‘anti social’ or ‘rude’ or ‘weird’. Retreating from company, being overly shy, being overly gregarious, having tics, having speech markers, being too tired/down/anxious to socialise as much as you’d like. Think about ways you can compensate for yourself around the impact of those things – how can you get your needs met elsewhere?
4. Never ever blame your partner for their state of being. Never EVER use it as a tool in an argument. If you do this, you are pretty much a jerk.
5. Make sure your house provides some kind of retreat space for the person if they’re going to be there a lot, especially if they suffer from anxiety or find company overwhelming.
6. Talk to your friends in an active, compassionate way about your partner’s non-neurotypicality so it is less difficult for them – only after you’ve checked that this is ok with your partner.
7. Accept that moods might change suddenly. If you’re out and about, your partner may suddenly get anxious because of loud noises, have tics triggered because of a crowd or a sudden event. Ask your partner what situations may be stressful or problematic for them, and prepare plans to deal with that ahead of time based on what they say they need.
8. Accept that some forms of communication won’t always be best for your partner – phone anxiety is common, or face to face in depth discussions may be too stressful.
9. Sex and intimacy may need to be heavily negotiated due to PTSD and a range of other things that can create different needs. Be extremely sensitive and non judgemental. Always ask what the person needs; never tell. Talk actively about consent, particularly the tricky topic of impaired consent.
10. Be up front about what YOU need. Be honest if you think your needs will be incompatible. Make sure you have lots of friends/other lovers/family/supports around to get your needs met if you are going through periods where you may have to a lot of crisis care or are just finding you feel drained. Remember that your partner is not the end of the line for you; you can seek love and companionship outside of the relationship.
11. And finally, be sensitive about privacy and information sharing. Just because you may be totally comfortable with talking about non-neurotypicality doesn’t mean your partner is. Be aware that they have a right to share their medical information/history etc with whom they choose. Ask them before you divulge stuff about them to friends and partners.
In the end, tact, sensitivity and an awareness that a helpful, considerate, empowering partner is better than a damning, judging one will get you further in most relationships than not.