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Decisions, Decisions…

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Decisions, Decisions…

By Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Autism Asperger’s Digest  July/August 2014

In your life, I hope that you will allow yourself to be sad, but never allow yourself to be unhappy. Well, actually, I’d rather you were neither, of course. I’d love for every day of your life to be filled with adventure and joy and anticipation. But that’s not going to happen. And my telling you so isn’t a buzzkill/gee-thanks-a-lot-Jennifer. It’s a friend being honest because you deserve it and can handle it. Sad is a mood. It’s real—but temporary. Unhappy, though, well, that’s a state of being. And it’s an awful, trapped, stifling place to be.

Real life isn’t a little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, both whispering in your ear and vying for your attention. That’s just not how it works. Instead, as you get older, you’ll find that you must make choices where the good decision feels absolutely terrible…and you’d give anything to avoid certain hurt for an uncertain “possibly improved” future.

Let me give you an example. There’s an old country song called “Unanswered Prayers” that tells the story of a man, now grown. One evening, he accidentally meets a woman who, years before, had been his first love. They are both married to other people now. But upon seeing her, the man remembers how desperately he had once hoped, with every atom of his being, that this woman would be his forever and ever.

I remember being told that life isn’t like a drive-through restaurant where we can order up whatever we want. You can’t just walk up to a guy at a counter somewhere and say:

“Hi, I’d like this particular girlfriend for the next, umm, 40 years, please.”
“OK, and would you like kids with that order, sir?”
“Sure. Why not?”

For the man in the song, the twist is that his prayer hadn’t gone unanswered. It just happened that the answer was someone else—someone, it turned out, he’d love even more. But let’s be honest. When your heart is actually breaking, that’s your reality—not some future possibility that you can’t even fathom. So, I’d reimagine the drive-through a little bit closer to this:

“Hi, I’d like this particular girlfriend for the next, umm, 40 years, please.”
“No. Sorry. Not going to happen that way.”
“Excuse me? I said, ‘Please.’
“Yup. Still not happening that way. Don’t worry. There’s great stuff ahead, but not with this person.”
“I don’t understand! I don’t want to lose what makes me happy! I don’t want to feel lonely, or rejected, or sad. I really, really don’t want to hurt! I’m happy! I want this!
“I know, sir. Sad stinks. But unhappy is worse.”
“What! What’s the difference?”
“Sad is a mood, sir. It hurts like heck, but it will pass. Unhappy is much bigger. It’s regret and longing and feeling trapped and scared and alone. And it doesn’t go away. And you know you deserve better.”

At many points ahead, you will be faced with situations that make you want to stomp your feet and bang your fists and yell, “But I don’t wanna!”

It may be, “I don’t wanna break up,” or “I don’t wanna move,” or “I don’t wanna change schools,” or “I don’t wanna follow the rules.” But it won’t matter. I get that. I’ve been there. So. Many. Times. I’ve been there as a kid, teen, young adult, and parent. Choosing to stay behind while my entire school music department went on a cross-country adventure because I had a hugely important advanced placement end-of-year exam the day after the return, and I knew I’d be too exhausted to give it my all. That’d mean a less impressive college application and a year’s worth of serious academic dedication thrown away. Yet not going on the trip would mean I’d be left out of the memory making, and, I feared, left out of everything in times to come. In the end, I didn’t go on the music exchange; instead, I cried the whole weekend. Come Monday, though, I rocked that exam. And while there were a few stories I’d not be able to be a part of, nothing else changed because I’d been absent from one adventure.

There have been so many other examples. Romance that began like a fairy tale and turned out to be anything but…meaning I had to end a relationship with someone I still loved. And even though it would cause deep sadness and shatter dreams I’d held precious, that breakup was the right decision. The trouble was how much I allowed to go wrong before I put a stop to things. Why?

I’d say fear of pain. By design, pain is a good thing. As babies, pain is our teacher. After an “ouchie” or two, we learn what hurts, and the fear of it protects us. Avoiding a burn from a hot stove is a good thing. Avoiding a cut from a sharp knife? Also good. But when the pain we fear is emotional—sorrow, loneliness, shame—there’s a difference. That fear doesn’t protect us; it paralyzes us like a caterpillar too afraid of change to climb into the chrysalis. It doesn’t know that wonder is ahead, just that the familiar will be gone. We’re much the same. Terrified of heartache, we bury our heads and avoid tough decisions. We take what other people dish out. We surrender our dignity, endanger our safety, and cut ourselves off from life’s most magical opportunities.

Part of growing up means learning that being brave means being afraid but doing it anyway. It means learning that sometimes, the scariest, saddest decisions of all are the very best you’ll ever make. It means trusting that you, and all you are and will be, will get to the other side of sad…and that when it seems as though everything is falling apart, it may be that because of your courage everything is actually falling into place.

Jennifer O’Toole, winner of the 2012 Temple Grandin Award, is an Aspie
(married to an Aspie) with three Asperkids of her own! Her conversationalist presentation of useful insights has touched hearts, lightened spirits, and even led to the founding of Asperkids, LLC, a multimedia social education company. Jennifer is the author of five books, including The Asperkid’s (Secret) Book of Social Rules.

Copyright © Autism Asperger’s Digest. 2014. All Rights Reserved. Any distribution, print or electronic, prohibited without permission of author.

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  1. Wrenbot says:

    The comment above really hit hard. I met my man years ago and we kept in contact online. We both had partners but we decided a few years ago that our feelings were more than friendship. When we first got together it was so exciting! He was kind and thoughtful. The relationship was so fun and loving for a while but After a year, the more time I spent with him the more angry he would get, I later realised it was because he couldn’t ‘stim ‘ in front of me. This was when I realised he was an ‘aspie’. I used to try and talk to him about it – even try and stim with him (flapping in his case) so that he could feel the relief. I also realised he was addicted to social media – when asked he would get quite angry – he struggles to communicate when put on the spot. I later found out he was writing to girls he had met all over (he travels with work) the world. Some fans of his music and some even his friends girlfriends. When I asked him about it he broke down saying he struggles with intimacy and finds he can only talk to strangers. I did notice the more and more ‘real time’ we spent the less intimate we became. We are now trying to break up, it’s so hard. I don’t want to leave but he believe he can only carry on as normal if I do. I wondered if anyone had anymore advice?

  2. Etina Veenstra-Wouda says:

    I am so glad with all thiss information. My children ,husband and myself have to try living with different formes of autism. This kind of articles help me a lot to help all of us. Thanks very much.

  3. Thank you for sharing yet another powerful post. You were able to clarify something that I have been trying to figure out how to explain to my girls. It is also something I need to remember in my own life on occasion.

  4. Ana says:

    Thank you very much for your article. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about Aspergers. I’m currently going through a break up with this wonderful man I though he was the man of my dreams. After starting going out, even on the first date I realized something was odd, just different but it didn’t bother me. With time I noticed week after week more things that were different but he was still respectful and nice to me and I ended up folling in love with him. He always admitted he had a problem with commitment and that he didn’t want a relationship though after a while he started calling me his girlfriend and things like that. Well, I was separated from my husband when this guy and I started going out and though I should have put more time between one relationship and another, well I didn’t. Husband and I are still separated and moving forward to file for divorce but my “aspie” suddently felt after five month dating that it was wrong to start dating when I was still legaly married. He showed many sings of love and that he deeply care for me thought he never said he loved me. He just told me he felt like a horrible person because he was dating me while legaly still married though I told him many times the other person and I had been separated for a very long time. He told me on the phone after 2 weeks without seen each other that I deserve better and just like that cut me off but not without telling me in that same conversation that he misses me and had been thinking of me every day. I am so hurt and confused, I know he misses me as much as I miss him but I don’t know if I still have a chance to get him back or not. He never admitted to me he had aspergers though he admitted to have a problem with commitment and every single article and book I read about aspergers is like is describing him!. I don’t want to change him beacuse there is nothing to change or fix. I just want to be there with him and for him. I know the how hard this will be and how much I can get hurt but I do love him with all my heart and if I have to sacrifice part of me for being with him, I am willing to. I know I may be the one that will endede up having to find a support group or even therapy, who knows but right now I have a good friend that is helping me and is being my best support. This guy never knew I loved him and when we broke up at the phone I told him because I could not let the relationship to end without him knowing, that I loved him. I hear him taking a big breath and saying “that’s not fair” and I told him what it wasn’t fair was us to stop our relationship without me telling him how I felt. After that I sent him a couple long text telling him how I feel and that I love him and miss him. Of course so far no response from him. I read they need time to process and analize things but I don’t want to give him so much time that he will forget. I wonder if I should text him just and “I miss you” text every few days so he knows I’m still thinking of him or just let him be and hope he change his mind and comes back though he is a workaholic and try to burry himself in work to avoid thinking in anything else. Any advice you can give me will be greatly appreciate it! Thank you!!!!!!