By CASSANDRA ACKER
What I learned from dating someone on the spectrum
Before COVID-19, I had already made up my mind about what I was going to do.
I became a missionary. I watched God provide again and again for all the things I needed. Whether that was two strangers from Virginia buying me nice baking supplies for scones, or unexpected encounters with people who wanted to support what I am doing.
I survived the Coronavirus. It was scary.
But the most challenging thing that happened to me was dating Garrett.
When I first met Garrett, I thought this could not be real. He consistently talked to me, opened up to me about his past, spoke clear intentions, and affirmed me. In March 2020, we decided to officially start dating. The challenging part? We decided to do this a week before the pandemic began.
I had a feeling that something was slightly different between me and Garrett. I thought that it could be that he is way more introverted than I am. I remember moments when I was frustrated with him in social situations, and how he would casually say he was tired or didn’t feel like having a conversation. A moment came when he first told me he loved me. That same night is when he also told me he had Asperger’s syndrome.
He tried to explain the syndrome to me. He talked about how he was diagnosed, his feelings about it, and what that would be like for us as a couple. I remember going home that night wondering if this was what I wanted to do. For weeks I didn’t tell anyone about it because I felt shame for not knowing. I researched and watched tons of videos. I even called a friend who specialized in working with children and young adults on the spectrum. She told me that it was going to be hard, and that the relationship would be far from normal. Garrett did tell me that night that it was going to be challenging to love him. Communication was one of those challenges. I was frustrated and didn’t know how to address it without him feeling attacked.
So I prayed. The Lord told me I should love Garrett where he was. I shouldn’t try to change him because God created his brain so unique, and He made it good.
So, here are some things I’ve learned since dating someone on the spectrum:
Funny, I already had that with the fruits of the Spirit. But it’s hard to use those fruits in everyday life. I needed patience when Garrett was having a difficult time explaining his emotions, or when he misinterpreted my emotions. I also needed patience when I didn’t understand his emotions.
◼ He just wants to be understood.
Garrett’s life has consisted of his family and friends not understanding his emotions or why he does the things he does. To the outside world, it’s weird, but to Garrett, it makes up who he is. All of his quirks and things that made me love him more were the same things that he was sometimes insecure about. The reason he opened up to me so much more than to others is that I chose to sit with him, listen, and not criticize how he felt. Even if I didn’t fully understand everything, I was willing to learn with him.
◼ Recharging is more than just an introvert thing.
Just like a battery, Garrett needs recharge time. I am a hardcore extrovert, and it was extremely difficult to let him have alone time. I needed alone time too, but not as much. For him, recharging looks like sleeping, turning his phone off, and having time with God. I had to respect his space when recharging happened.
The cool thing was that I was not doing this alone. He was still learning more about himself each day, and I was able to process it all with him. Some days were harder than others, but the fact is, there is grace in it all. Anytime we have questions and concerns, we can go to the Father to help us. We go to the Father because He is the one who created the beautiful minds we all have, and I am thankful for the differences.
Cassandra Acker is a Mississippi Gulf Coast native and Jacksonian. When she isn’t obsessing over fashion trends, she is loving others intentionally — and makes a mean latte at Coffee Prose in Midtown.