Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Trap of Duty in Dating

As I posted on previously, I struggle with dating in some rather ironic ways. It is not that I do not care, on the contrary at times it is because I care too much, but it is an intellectualized caring lacking formal empathy. Because of this I get hurt from both sides. I am seen as uncaring; this is a damaging accusation since, as someone who often misses social cues, I cannot manage without a certain level of charitable understanding from others that I am ever malicious. On the flip side, since I do in fact care, I open myself up to being hurt.

To give an example, from one of my past relationships. Now to be clear, this relationship, in my mind, was an extremely positive one. It lasted as long as it lasted because we both came to it with the necessary good will and we walked away from it, for all the right reasons, but on very good terms. There have been many women about whom I would say they wronged me. Agnes is not one of them. Agnes visited me and got to meet my family. Things went very well, though afterwards my father made an astute observation to me. He pointed out that it was clear to him, from watching my interaction with Agnes, that I cared greatly about her. When she was in the room she was the center of my attention and what I cared about was making sure that she felt comfortable. On the other hand my father saw nothing to indicate that the feeling was mutual.

Of course in this situation it was Agnes who had gone out of her way traveling to see me; obviously it was my obligation to look after her and make her feel that her trip was worthwhile. (Again this has nothing to do with any personal feelings I may have had toward Agnes at a given moment. She was doing something for me; I therefore owed it to her to respond in kind.) Also I must admit that there is an element here of over compensating for being an Asperger. It was drilled into me that, if I did not want people to think I was unfeeling, I needed to actively show I cared for people and keep them in mind. So in any situation in which it becomes actually relevant to me whether someone thinks I care I am going to make them a conscious priority. Most people can get away with caring subconsciously so they can  keep it at moderate levels. Since this is something I need to do consciously if I am going to do it all, I lack a ready mechanism to moderate it.

This gap between the attention our mutual levels of attention, though, became very readily apparent when our roles were reversed. What ended this relationship was when, after traveling to spend time with Agnes, she informed me that I would be left to my own devices Saturday night. My response to her was that if I were single I would be looking forward to spending the evening playing Mass Effect, geeky, loserish, but loads of fun. If I were dating I would be looking forward to actually be spending time with my girlfriend. What I had now seemed to be the worst of both worlds.     

Care, as I conceptualize it, is an expression of duty. For starters I take dating and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously. If talking to someone in the first place is a big deal, how much more so if you are engaging in a series of meetings to negotiate a "till death do us part" agreement. (Part of being an Asperger is that one approaches everything with literal earnestness.) Furthermore there is my quid pro quo morality. How can I imagine asking someone to treat me with charity, a virtual necessity living as an Asperger in a neurotypical world, if I am not prepared to give in kind. If I need to rely on other people thinking to themselves that, despite my very real flaws, they are in a relationship with me and therefore owe it to me to give me that benefit of the doubt to try to make things work then I need to feel obligated in turn to honor that relationship and always try to work things out. In practice, though, this feeling simply results in me acting out this sense of obligation for people, even those I actively dated, who do not reciprocate. To make matters worse most seem to lack even a concept of such a quid pro quo sense of duty.  


Clarissa said...

Izgad, I understand the frustrations of realizing that there is this one area of one's life where one cannot bring order and control. I understand that it's extremely annoying that such a huge aspect of one's life is governed by things that are, by their very nature, completely unreasonable and impossible to analyze and govern logically. I have beaten my head against this wall for many many years.

It is, however, what it is. Feelings are illogical, unreasonable, and uncontrollable. One can pretend otherwise but it's useless. Careful planning and logical arguments are completely and utterly useless.

If you want any advice, the best thing you can do is try to relinquish control. At least a little bit. I think things will start working out a lot better after that.

Clarissa said...

"Care, as I conceptualize it, is an expression of duty. For starters I take dating and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously. "

-You make dating sound like this tedious chore when it is supposed to be fun. Just like any romantic relationship should be about fun and nothing other than fun.

Izgad said...

Any attempt to interact with someone else merely for one’s own pleasure or fun risks creating a manipulative relationship where one party is used as a means to an end, violating the categorical imperative. Furthermore there is no rational reason why someone else should enter into a relationship just because it will give me pleasure. A relationship may give me pleasure incidentally, but I need something else to ground it in.

Clarissa said...

What if both people derive equal pleasure from the relationship?