Although I typify High-Functioning Autism in many ways, I also possess the unusual ability & marked tendency to interact extensively with other people, including strangers, in spite of my disability, & to rarely let my condition be obvious unless I choose to. For those of us who are autistic but also gifted with great intelligence or skill, it is often almost as if, early on, we pick a major in life the way other people may pick a major in college, a single area of interest to learn & engage with(, or a few, for the exceptionally talented); this specialization often persists throughout our lives, & it is very difficult for us to change focus( near-impossible to do so intentionally). The complementary advantage is that we typically achieve hard-to-match expertise in our chosen concentration–but no other, meaning that if our extensive competence is narrow in scope, we often are unable to get related degrees or find related work. This is seen in a particularly dramatic manner in savantism, a related condition; perhaps 10% of those with moderately or very severe autism are known as savants & display extreme abilities relating to memory & cognition, especially artistic or mathematical, despite heavy impairment otherwise.
I was often terrified as a child by the prospect of interacting with strangers( meaning anyone but my parents or other daily acquaintances) & potentially making a mistake. In spite of that terror, or perhaps because of it, I have had a deep fascination with people, communication, & relationships for most of my life. While most with an ASD decide after a few failed interactions & relationships that people just don’t make sense & never will, consequently giving up on social behavior quite young, it has become my specialty. Given that most of living in society entails dealing with people( or with objects & ideas they have produced), anticipating & reacting to their intentions & actions, I think it was a good( if unconscious) choice; understanding them has provided me a basis for learning nearly anything else I might encounter in day-to-day suburban or urban existence–similar to Latin being a good choice for a first foreign language to study, as it aids in learning various other languages descended from it. My years of observation & analysis, along with 30–80 hours a week of processing, planning, & practice, enable me to roughly emulate neurotypical behavior, & to make observations about it from a unique perspective.
My mother, a psychotherapist, has pointed out several times that while I often credit my interest in people to my parents( my father is an attorney, who witnesses & assists people in their relationships with businesses, governments, & society through legal procedures), & my learning about them to her specifically( in her profession, my mother witnesses & assists people in their relationships with themselves & each other through counseling); she also sees it as a result of me watching old situation comedies extensively as a child: I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore & its various spin-offs. She credits Lucy in particular, & I have said that what makes Lucille Ball’s humor timelessly classic & widely-appreciated, if not universally, is that it rarely if ever relied on people tearing down others to build themselves up( successfully, at least; those who tried usually got their comeuppance). When celebrities were criticized, it was usually in good fun & they played themselves. Because the humor in some older shows like that is mostly about the central characters themselves, & not about politics or pop culture, nor how much better or worse overall they were than the viewer, famous folks, or anyone else, it doesn’t suffer too much from cultural shifts that have occurred between the era in which they were made & the present.
Recently, I made a connection for the 1st time between that & my oft-repeated commentary regarding modern Hollywood & television over the past three decades: Eschewing valuable humanity in favor of glamour, a huge proportion of successful mainstream media( especially aimed at kids) from the ’80s, ’90s, & ’00s often teaches all sorts of terrible life lessons: about taking advantage, about vengeance, about the little guy screwing “the man” before “the man” screws him(/ again); & even(, insidiously,) worse, about discarding all the elements of one’s life that one is not happy with, pursuit of glory, attaining perfection, & resolving all one's problems neatly & permanently. Many Saturday morning cartoons from my childhood shared that message; others were about never-ending conflict & struggle–but nearly always against oppression or evil. All too rarely did fiction, especially media for children until late in that period, deal primarily with struggle against oneself, &/or resolutions that involve indefinitely continuing effort–let alone explicitly.
( Significant improvements gathered steam from the late ’90s on & have intensified in the last decade, examples include TV’s The Big Bang Theory &( mostly) the movie Frozen.)
In contrast, the older stuff that I also used to watch usually derived drama & comedy from several very clearly & openly flawed people dealing with each other’s outrageous misbehavior in a loving way. Much of the conflict & dramatic tension in each episode came down to the same basic issues that recurred time & again, because they were born of inconvenient personality traits that endured over time & through various circumstances( which provided slightly different window dressing to showcase them without becoming stale & tedious).
In I Love Lucy, the stories revolve around the titular screwball & her loving husband Ricky Ricardo, who are played off each other & close friends Fred & Ethel Mertz. That’s 3 people with very strong personalities, & 1 who exemplified their shared trait of being relatable & rational( in varying degrees), but easily carried away by extreme ideas & actions from the others. The humor arose from letting their exaggerated characteristics bounce off each other, often in response to one or more particular flaws becoming exacerbated by circumstance. The plot would then follow along as good intentions & misunderstanding between such very different folks quickly devolved into absolute chaos.
In the end, though, however much of a mess any one, pair, group, or the lot of them made, they would all usually be forced to apologize & come clean about everything they had done wrong, in misunderstanding or selfishness, & to recognize( often explicitly, now I think of it) that they all loved each other. Friendship & partnership were more important than anything else; no matter how angry they became or how much time/effort they had to expend mitigating the impact of each others’ fiascos. And then the whole thing would start again the next week.
I suppose that displaying such extreme levels of patience & forgiveness on a regular basis might strike one as inhuman; even the lives of the actors who played those characters seem to bear that out. I’m not the first to recognize that, nowadays, the Ricardos & the Mertzes would probably all be labeled codependent & mutually enabling. Lots of people in today’s world fret that whenever folks rely on each other or make allowances in return, they are being codependent. Me, though... I like to say that the rarely-recognized element that distinguishes any unhealthy relationship, such as codependency( parasitic in both directions), from every truly healthy adult relationship, like its counterpart interdependence( reinforcing in both directions), is at once subtle, clear, & unimaginably profound: unflinchingly honest communication.
Loving, penetrating, intense(, & occasionally painful) honesty, expressed openly about both self & others, allows those in interdependent relationships to correctly anticipate( & thus plan for) what they can reasonably expect from partners & friends, vs. what they must do for themselves or in compensation for others’ deficits, as well as what others are willing to do to compensate for theirs.
In codependency, on the other hand, people who fail to interact with each other in an unguarded, constructive, discerning, & appropriately self-critical manner are constantly drained by attempting to live up to unanticipated or inappropriate expectations from others, & by having to to handle( at the last moment) various concerns that they incorrectly anticipated others taking on( or to cope with the fallout of such things that have gone unaddressed).
Of course, although by no means easy or comfortable, abiding acceptance & self-honesty are prerequisite to maintaining real honesty between people...
So, while some might say that, in real life, such a foursome as the characters in I Love Lucy would be fools to never insist that the others change their ways, or for never escaping from each other to break the cycle; I say they avoided the most devastating & foolish mistake of all: denial. For all their weaknesses(, & unlike, say, the Seinfeld protagonists), they never gave in( for long) to denial about their vanity, denial of their selfishness, of their flaws, of their fallibility or their mistakes–or denial of the essential truth that people who truly love each other should always do what it takes to stick together( except in cases of abuse, which is tragic).
To know perfect love, the only true perfection humans can experience in this world, we must overcome fear of failure, of toil, & of pain, so as to freely recognize & accommodate grave imperfection in ourselves & others; because no matter how difficult standing by each other may sometimes be, those of us who love truly & deeply can never be separated from the ones we love without grievous & lasting trauma.
[To comment, for now at least, click over to this post on the main D.R.T.Y. blog. Sorry about that!]