Sunday, February 14, 2016

Autism Answer: A Story Of Love Evolving

"A human being is nothing but a story with a skin around it."
~Fred Allen
When I was a teenager I went through a year of skipping school to wander the streets of Toronto, reading books and talking to strangers. Reading books was a familiar addiction, but chatting with strangers was new and exhilarating. They were like books to me, but more interactive. I discovered that the more I truly listened to these people I was meeting the better their stories became. My questions grew more personal and deep and I found I was able to draw from them ever more multi-layered stories.

I started to realize, though, that my interest in them was deeply selfish. I wanted more ideas, more perspectives, more stories, and though my book-people-strangers always thanked me and appreciated my honest interest in them, claiming I had helped them rethink one thing or another, I also knew that I would easily do the same thing with another stranger soon. I knew that my deep interest and authentic curiosity was for something different than them, something elusive and important to me. During my time with a new person I would feel as though all of the answers to everything were being offered, and for a while after the conversation had ended I'd feel nourished and complete. I'd feel connected to everyone in an invisible but undeniable way. For a while. But then the feeling would wane, uncertainty would creep in and I'd need a new story, a new reason to feel, a new excuse to dive deeply into the reasons and motivations of someone drastically different than me. I was never satisfied! 

For a while I worried that my selfishness made me the worst kind of liar. Because in the moments that I was into a person, listening and exploring their lives and reasons, I was honestly in love. Sometimes romantically, sometimes friendly, sometimes simply being to being, but the love was active and real. Yet when they tried to make it last, tried to make plans for another day, I'd cringe at the thought. I felt done. I felt we'd had something special and had given each other personalized gifts, and that was enough. Time to move on. 

Rather than be honest I would stumble and make pretend promises. I would build a small escape route into the plan, in case they tried to follow up, generally reminding them that I had to ask my mom first, knowing I wouldn't ask. Knowing I'd just use her as my reason to say no if they called. This lie, offered at the tail end of a deeply authentic and enlightening conversation, tainted the entire relationship. It tainted me. 

And then I started to realize that being selfish is okay, and that in any relationship we are responsible for taking care of ourselves and keeping an eye on our motivators, so a degree of self awareness and even selfishness can be healthy. As long as I stayed honest and aware and willing to allow others to do the same, to have their own motivators and needs, my selfishness was okay. With this in mind I started to practice honesty in transition. How funny, I realized, that I could be deeply truthful and candid throughout these conversations with strangers yet have such trouble when the conversation was coming to a close. How strange that I struggled so much with endings and transitions. 

I thought of the novels I read so voraciously. I struggled with their endings, too. But I didn't feel responsible for how they felt; indeed, I loved how easily I could reach for another book to take their place without feeling too much guilt! Even more delicious was the way I could imagine more to their story! The way I could write more in my head and feel the freedom of fiction! So, perhaps that was the secret to comfortable endings with strangers. Perhaps embracing my willingness to walk away and create stories for myself would help me be honest with them. 

I allowed myself to see my fellow human beings as stories with skin around them. I started to find a clear way to give them gratitude for their time without feeling obligated to pretend I was willing to give them more of me. And then I realized that I, too, was a story with skin around me! And boy, was that ever powerful!! I was a story that I was responsible for.

I've never been a fan of responsibility, so it took me a long while to truly accept my role, but it was immediately powerful knowledge. 

With the added understanding that I was responsible for my own story, married with the new clarity of my willingness to walk away, I began, paradoxically, to follow up on new friendships and romantic love. How often is this true? So often! By stepping into our responsibilities and being clear about who we are, we often open new doors of possibility. Because I embraced my willingness to walk away I became more willing to stay; because I knew myself as someone who would, if necessary, walk away. 

Turns out, my fear of staying had more to do with not wanting to get too tangled and tied in a "bad" relationship. Oops! In truth, fear of bad relationships is what brought them to me in the first place. Fear always invites danger, I know that now. 

Relationships are gifts. It's quite possible that they are the greatest gifts. The people in our lives are like stories with skin around them but they are not books, they are not movies, they are not a blog post. They are an interactive infinitely valuable and necessary story that is forever evolving. When you invite that story to become part of yours, when you influence the story of another by sharing your own, you are becoming bigger than just you. That is quite a valuable gift!

For those of you seeking relationships this Valentine's Day, for those of you celebrating them or avoiding them or harrumphing them, please at least give yourself the gift of understanding them.

Give yourself that gift,
and chocolate with coffee. That too!

Happy Valentine's Day!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Relationships are gifts of discovery and connection.

Random Love Advice, to You from Me: All of our relationships grow stronger and more comfortable the sooner we learn to identify the difference between inconvenient or annoying vs an actual problem. Everyone we love will do and say and believe things we find inconvenient or annoying, this is okay--this is actually healthy! Allow this! But when we come across a belief or habit that is a real problem, we must take the time to untangle it and examine it. Almost always it can be worked out together, but sometimes it's a problem that means we need to sever a relationship. This is okay! This is healthy! Allow this! It will give all of us room for more nourishing relationships with their inconvenient and annoying moments that keep us comfortably able to allow difference. Habits that encourage us to argue our points clearly and listen honestly. Inconvenient and annoying is not a problem, it's a valuable part of diversity. Learn to appreciate it!