Occasionally people react with surprise when they hear that I’m on the autism spectrum and have been married for nearly seven years, and I’m not sure why that is. In a lot of ways, a wedding is the ideal setting for a person on the spectrum: everything is choreographed and planned, you’re wearing an outfit you like regardless of its practicality and, depending on where you go for your honeymoon, there might even be some train travel involved.
The wedding, of course, is the easy part. A marriage tends to lack the predictability and fixed routine that many autistic people find so comforting. So, I deeply appreciated when I happened to turn on Amy Schumer’s Netflix special “Growing” last month and heard the comedian discuss her experience with her husband, chef Chris Fischer, and reveal that Fischer is on the autism spectrum, too.
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“Once he was diagnosed, it dawned on me how funny it was, because all of the characteristics that make it clear that he’s on the spectrum are all of the reasons that I fell madly in love with him,” Schumer says, going on to describe how Fischer’s bluntness and lack of artificiality benefit their relationship.
It made me think — far more than I expected any comedy special to in the first place — and helped me take some time to consider how being on the spectrum has in fact made me a better husband.
Rethink empathy and autism
For decades, the prevailing stereotype was that autism spectrum disorders manifested as a lack or deficit of empathy. More recently, however, research suggests it’s precisely the opposite, that we may in fact experience higher levels of empathy.
This updated understanding of autism was emerging before I met my wife Raychel, but it took her becoming the most important person in my life for me to really understand it. I almost literally can’t stand to see her in distress or discomfort; even when it’s a problem that has nothing to do with me or is out of my control, I feel it so deeply that I’m driven to distraction trying to solve her problem.
What can I do?” is one of my most frequent questions to her, and while I’m sure she appreciates my concern, I also understand, upon reflection, why it’s not much use when her problem is something like an upset stomach or being caught in traffic.
It’s not a one-way street, of course; Raychel understood what she was getting into marrying someone on the spectrum, and she’s always been up to the task. Another common characteristic of autism is an intense interest or encyclopedic knowledge of a certain subject, and in my case that meant early in our relationship, my love of movies was a big part of how we bonded.
Aside from the occasional dinner, we didn’t go on many “traditional” dates, but one of our first real dates was watching the 2008 Academy Awards together in our college dorm and watching “our” song, “Falling Slowly” from “Once,” win the award for Best Original Song. To this day, we still make sure to make time to watch the telecast together every year.
Jumping into a new routine, together
Another common feature of people on the spectrum is devotion to familiar, comforting rituals and, conversely, discomfort with breaking from them. Raychel and my engagement lasted through our final two years of college, during which our routines — putting in hours at our retail jobs while also being full-time students — were rigorous but predictable.
Then, a few months after the wedding, we entered territory that was wildly unfamiliar to me when we moved from Richmond, Virginia, to the Washington, D.C., area. The plan was never to stay in Richmond permanently, not after we’d spent years getting degrees in urban planning and journalism, respectively, two fields with far more opportunities farther north.
It was only about a two-hour move, but after living in Richmond all my life, a step this big was quietly terrifying. It wasn’t the thing I already knew I could do; what if I failed? What if I’d trapped this woman I loved with all my heart in a marriage with a failure?
That didn’t happen, of course. Despite some hiccups, today we’re both in a better place professionally than we ever expected. But when I made the decision to take the plunge, I accepted the possibility that it might. That, for a creature of habit like me, was what being in love really meant: caring enough about someone that the risk was worth it.
Again, though, it’s a two-way street, and to this day I remember a conversation early in our relationship when Raychel told me about her deep fear of roller coasters. “But,” she said, “I’d go on a roller coaster with you.” Sometimes, that’s what being married means, especially when you’re on the spectrum: not knowing what the future holds and having no guarantees you’ll land in a soft place, but taking that leap with a person you know you’d ride a roller coaster with.
Zack Budryk is a journalist in the Washington, D.C., area.
Zack Budryk Opinion contributor
Published 2:11 PM EDT Apr 7, 2019 source: usa today