That's what trying to date either an Aspie (someone on the autism spectrum) or a Nypical (a neurotypical individual not on the autism spectrum) without a knowledge of culture is like.
Here is the definition of culture from Dictionary.Com.
I've borrowed the specific shades of meaning most appropriate to dating:
a) a particular form or stage of civilization
b) the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group
There are many flavors of culture on the dating menu. More and more, the world has become a tapestry of diversity in terms of people's culture.
Thankfully, Aspie culture is becoming more and more recognized and embraced as yet another beautiful expression of humanity.
If You Become a Cultural Anthropologist, You'll Succeed In Appreciating Your Girlfriend/Boyfriend
If You are a Nypical, Learn About Aspergers. Here are some tips:
- Go to forums, like WrongPlanet.Net. Read different threads to better understand Aspies' challenges, joys, despairs, and ways of thinking.
- Check out Tony Attwood's Complete Guide to Aspergers Sydnrome. Dr. Attwood's book has been heralded as one of the most important resources for Aspies after they discover their diagnosis.
- Consider joining a local autism or Asperger's chapter/group in your area. You'll learn a lot from Aspies and their friends and families.
- Don't assume that all Asperger's traits apply to your partner. Your partner is on the autism spectrum. Spectrum means varied and different. While some of the characteristics are common, there may be many that don't apply.
- Recognize that it takes time. You can't expect to feel comfortable in Thailand as an American until at least five years of living immersed in the culture. That's a long time. So be patient, and enjoy the journey of getting to know that person you are dating.
- Read Dr. Cindy Ariel's book, Loving Someone With Asperger's Sydnrome: Understanding and Connecting With Your Partner
If you are an Aspie, Learn About Nypicals
Nypicals are also on a spectrum. What is normal? I don't think it exists. Your boyfriend/girlfriend has his own specific hardwiring: a generalized brain. S/he may have other mental health conditions.
- Pay attention to his or her interests, values, cultural upbringing, family.
- Remember that you have social blindness and difficulty seeing things from others' point of view. It does not mean that you are uncaring or insensitive. But your dating partner could view you that way. I strongly recommend you check out Michelle Winner Garcia's Social Thinking website to learn more
- Pretend that you are a Nypcial. In other words, learn about Aspergers Syndrome. You may not be aware of all the strengths and weaknesses you have. I recommend that you read John Elder Robinson's books: Look Me In the Eye, and Be Different.
- Appreciate that Nypcials' way of seeing the world and doing things is as different as yours. Not better, not worse. Just different.
According to Wikipedia, culture shock is the personal disorientation a person may feel when experiencing an unfamiliar way of life due to immigration or a visit to a new county, or to a move between social environments.
A person visiting the new culture goes through a honeymoon phase, when everything that's different is wonderful to him/her. But then the negotiation sets in, taking up to three months. Differences between the visitor's culture and the environment around her/him emerge, creating anxiety and discomfort, particularly in the area of communication. During the adjustment phase that follows (6-12 months), the visitor develops routines, understanding, and a basic level of comfort with the different cultural environment. Finally, during the mastery phase (up to 5 years), the visitor becomes very comfortable with the new culture. This doesn't mean the visitor loses his/her cultural identity; it just means that s/he is able to navigate comfortably in both his/her own and the others' cultural environment.
The adjustment phase is crucial. And I would say the same of your dating relationship. According to Wikipedia, these are the possible outcomes during the Adjustment Phase:
- Some people find it impossible to accept the foreign culture and integrate. They isolate themselves from the host country's environment, which they come to perceive as hostile, withdraw into a "ghetto" and see return to their own culture as the only way out. These "Rejectors" also have the greatest problems re-integrating back home after return.
- Some people integrate fully and take on all parts of the host culture while losing their original identity. They normally remain in the host country forever. This group is sometimes known as "Adopters".
- Some people manage to adapt to the aspects of the host culture they see as positive, while keeping some of their own and creating their unique blend. They have no major problems returning home or relocating elsewhere. This group can be thought to be somewhat cosmopolitan.
Which outcome will you choose for your relationship? It's up to you.
photo credit: via Flickr Creative Commons
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