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  Why We Can't Just Marry Them All Off
Jerry Newport
 

In 1996, Mary Meinel (My wife then, we have since divorced and remarried) and I were featured on "Sixty Minutes", ironically while our marriage was in real trouble. The other irony was that we apparently led some people to believe that the possible solution to adult autistic isolation is to marry us all off to each other.

There are several flaws to that strategy and the statistical one, the observed 4/1 male to female ratio is not the biggest hurdle. After all, we could have reverse polygamy and allow each autistic female to have four husbands! The main barrier is this: Even if there was a one-to-one ratio, most men and women with autism are too similarly challenged to do each other much good as partners. Friends, absolutely-but marriage? Rarely.

Why is this? I can only offer the collective experience of my support group, AGUA, aka "Adult Gathering, United and Autistic," now in its ninth year. For one thing, AGUA women have had much more social experience. Most, by the time they risk an AGUA meeting, (and the "pleasure" of being stampeded by a roomful of clueless autistic men), all but one so far has had a boyfriend, most have been married and more than half have had children. Two of AGUA's women are grandmothers.
On the male side, the reverse, in the extreme. Many AGUA men, even in their thirties and older, haven't had a date or it has been years since the last one. Girlfriends? Maybe ten percent have had one. Marriage? Two out of 80 so far, and one was totally suckered into an arranged marriage by a South American "mail-order bride" scheme, with a woman who hit the road as soon as her American citizenship was safe, keeping the ring of course.

Why this difference in experience? Several reasons bear more research. My crude guess, from what I've heard, is that the inherent social naiveté of autistic females leads them into liaisons. They aren't often good ones and the low self-image they share with males keeps them in bad relationships and marriages for far too long. But the bottom line is that good or bad, autistic females do get social experience. Socially, they are light-years ahead of their male peers.

Other autistic traits may work out differently, according to gender. A passive woman is attractive to many men. A passive male attracts few women. A shy woman or little girl? No worry. A shy male? What's wrong with him? Men are still the designated hunters and women are the prize and that hasn't changed in eons. What if a woman just wants to talk all night? Your little girl has no eye contact? Good. She won't flirt her way into a shotgun wedding, at least.

I have never believed the four to one ratio. Autism is seen more in men because basic autistic traits rub more against accepted male behavior than they do against accepted female behavior. If a girl is upset with a lack of order, add to the dollhouse. She can grow up, marry an Orthodox person and stim on cooking rituals. I mean, who'd have known? If a guy blows his cool for a similar reason, he is noticed,
big time.

But the ratio, whatever it is, is not the point. What you have is a social arena where our men, supposed to be leading the dance, are so scared of trying a step that the women, more experienced besides, aren't going to put up with that basic difference. If they want male company, they will find a man who is focused, sincere, tactilely patient, orderly, and maybe has some oddities that parallel autism, but who does the expected social things: initiation, follow-up, attention, mating etc. that scare and baffle my male peers.

Here's my script of a date between an autistic male and female adult, randomly paired:

She: (thinking to herself: Is he going to try to touch me? Does he know how and when?)
He: So what do you want to do now?
She: You don't seem to know what you want to do, so I guess I should go home.
He: (with a sigh of relief) Okay. Or, autistic man, on phone, asking any woman out:
He: Hello, is Peggy there?
She: Speaking.
He: Uh, uh, uh. . .you wouldn't want to see "Men in Black" with me, would you?
She: I guess not.
He: Oh. I'll talk to you later. Goodbye.

You may think I am a real creep for posing these examples, but if we are to change the current reality, we have to face it. And the present social truth is that grim, if not worse. Most peers I know won't even get to trying what I described. It's not a lack of interest in our males. It is just utter cluelessness; too much or too little. In addition, many get in trouble for staring and other "stalking" behavior; getting fired, arrested or both.

On New Year's Eve, Mary and I invited AGUA to a party. Her youngest son visited, en route to another party, with two lady friends. I never saw a room get sexually excited before. On New Year's Day, Mary asked the girls what they thought of AGUA. They smiled, rolled their eyes and said, "No foreplay!"
Mary and I were a definite exception. She showed up at a Halloween party, very -stressed, on the rebound from some Hollywood lowlife, talking so loud that AGUA members cowered in the kitchen of the host home, begging me to quiet Mary down. I talked to her for a while, noticed she at least knew how to dress like a woman, but so what? I was 45 and, unlike most peers, never looked -at AGUA meetings as a pickup joint. I thought she was too interested in herself and tried to talk another member into asking her out, but of course, he would rather agonize about calling for a year.
You have to appreciate that many of the present adults, like that 38-year-old friend of mine, were 'beneficiaries" of intervention, sixties and seventies style. Not electric shock therapy, they will never get to AGUA. But about everything else; pepper spray, slaps, shouts and in general, while they have learned some drills, they are too scared to initiate. They have learned, all too well, that it is a terrible, terrible thing to be wrong.

I used to compare some of these people to trained seals, but most seals have better luck dating.
A month went by. Mary showed up again. This time, she impressed me, going out of the way to help other people come out of their shell. That was nice to see. The next day, she called me up and apologized for not spending more time with me. That's right, she basically asked me out and the rest is history. Why me? Not for the money. I was a delivery man and lacked even a car. Looks? Other males looked and dressed better. It was this: Mary knew that I called the shots in my life. That means more to a woman than anything else and it is one of the things that my peers rarely have.
It should not be so extreme with the next generation. I think there
are other reasons. Little boys with autism get teased more. They have more humiliating experiences. Finally, when it is obvious that none of the "cures" will work, many are dumped into group homes, where they sit around, unemployed, pick fights with staff and roommates, destroy property and learn to hate anyone with autism, including themselves. If that is your self image, you are socially hopeless.
I feel sorry for a majority of my AGUA male peers. Somehow, thanks to segregated educational

environments, abusive "therapy", being male and behind the eight ball to start, many have less social skill than an average junior high school boy, and much lower self esteem. They drown in insecurity, indecision and inexperience. Some of the taller ones find older women to mother! lover them but for most, it is just too late in life to play social catchup and with every day, it gets later.
So I try to help the upcoming generation and my advice is this:
man or woman, autistic people will be social late bloomers. Most of us lack superficial stuff that makes people popular in high school or even college. But as time goes by, our true qualities, honesty, reliability, sincerity and focus, get more attractive. That goes a long way to explaining why it took forty six years before my first marriage, even with social experience more normal than most peers, an above average 10, and an inclusional education with no aversives.
Things should be better for the next generation, though the odds are still stacked in favor of relationships at later ages. With earlier, more positive interventions, more inclusive settings, appropriate inclusion in interest groups, adult support systems and mentors, it can't get any worse. But this much is true: we will never marry off our autistic people.

- If they get married at all and if it is to be a good marriage, it will only happen after they learn to love themselves first and seek a complimentary, compatible partner, probably close to but not in, the Autism Spectrum