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MARRIAGE, the next chapter in my life - PART 1

Some questions to ponder upon... What is marriage? What is marriage to an Aspie? What was marriage to me? What was my marriage like? Questions to be answered to decipher my own thoughts. Marriage in the conventional sense, was the union of two partners to come together and form some sort of mutual alliance. The institution of marriage had several purposes, one of them being financial security, at least in India. Culturally it differs in its expectations, but when you have grown up in a certain culture, you tend to follow the cultural norms. Again this is not standard in a country, since the norms can differ between castes, religions, languages, socioeconomic status and individual families even if all things remained exactly equal. From the perspective of a person with Autism, derived from the word "Auto" to mean "being with the Self", it is not a logical institution. They don’t feel the need to be with someone to find fulfillment. They are completely content with either objects they embrace or pets in a lot of cases as has been shown. However, in the time I grew up in India, parents felt that it was their responsibility to get their daughters married off to a boy who was from a good background and capable of taking care of their daughter for the rest of their life. In a country which practiced child marriage for a long time, not being married by age 20 or 23 seemed like it was too late. Of course things have changed in the last 30 years with the tech boom and more girls joining the work force and focusing on careers. That brings me to my own marriage, the next chapter in my life. I was 18 when I got engaged and 20 when I got married. Many people may consider that as child marriage in today's environment and they are not wrong. I was young not just chronologically speaking but also based on my mental age, which was barely 12 at the time of marriage. I had aspirations to become a doctor but with the competition those days and my lack of putting the necessary efforts to achieve that goal, I was not awarded a Medical school admission. Again, I did not have the proper guidance to tell me what I needed and was not smart enough to find out for myself. My grades, surprisingly, in spite of my minimal effort were pretty high, just not enough to make the cut off that year. The quota system in those days was also skewed to a different sect of the population, to which I did not belong. I was a little disappointed, but thinking back I got what I deserved for the effort I put in. However, that didn’t stop me from trying again the next year. I voiced my desire to my father and he enrolled me in a tutorial to get some help with studying for entrance exams. I spent time doing the work although it was quite exhausting. However I did not get very far, because my mother who was away for sometime with my brother, returned and pursued a marriage alliance for me. Not sure why I did not resist... Was I tired of studying and looking for an easy way out? Was it fate that kept me from resisting? No way to tell. Long story short, they did find me a prospective groom, one who was a physician and suitable from all angles, religion, community, language, caste and financial potential to support me. Given my surgical history, I was led to believe that only a physician will understand and accept my condition. Seemed like the ideal place to send their daughter. My three brothers, almost 2 decades older than me, were already settled and into their own lives and were in complete agreement. Thus started my journey as a married woman, a wife. So what did marriage mean to me? My idea of marriage did not come from watching my parents because they didn’t really stay together many days as my father had a traveling job. When they did stay in the same house, there was a lot of fighting and conflict and it was unbearable to listen that I would mostly hide in my room. As luck would have it, they both were the only child to their parents, which left me with no aunts or uncles to learn from or cousins to learn about people skills. So you could say, I pretty much grew up in an island. My brothers were practically strangers who visited occasionally from the US and time with them was limited. My concepts of marriage developed watching movies and plays. Between the engagement and marriage there was an almost 2 year period of ‘dating’, sort of. Basically we used to go out and spend time like in traditional dating, to get to know each other. That’s probably one of the best times of my life, since I was so attached to my fiancé (more like a child with its favorite person), and spending time with him, someone who gave me so much attention was exciting. Unlike the stereotypical Aspie, I loved to dress up in pretty sarees or clothes, jewelry and makeup to go out. For me that was a form of Art, transforming into someone else, ready for the show. The best part was I always came home and back to my room to listen to my music and shut the world out for sometime. I still enjoy that aspect, although the moment I come home I want to change into my comfy clothes, usually pant and shirt and relax. I often made elaborate plans as to how to dress, down to every detail of our meeting. This all came to a screeching halt when my future in-laws decided that we can’t do this anymore as neighbors were “talking”. Not sure that was really true but us going out did not sit well with his mother, who was very attached to her son. Being so young and dependent on them and keen on pleasing them at any cost, he had no choice but to oblige. When I heard this, especially on a day when I had mapped out our date to the last detail, I had my longest meltdown since engagement, and it lasted over 5 hours till the wee hours of the morning. It was several hours being consumed by sadness and despair and my mother sat with me all night trying to calm me down. Unfortunately she did not try to advice me that these things happen in life and sometimes we have to adjust. She did not have in-laws and had no experience to draw from. That should have been a red flag to my parents that I was not ready for marriage. Marriage did happen when my green card was received, few months after I turned 20. When I got engaged, I was in my first year of college, doing undergrad in a subject I had no interest, botany, something that my father had signed me up for, when I was away visiting my brothers that summer. My choice was Nutrition but somehow this is what he heard and got me into. I always wonder why I didn’t switch later on. I was comfortable in college as one of my closest friends from high school was with me in a different major and we always ate lunch together. She switched to dental school the year after, but I had reconciled to marriage and botany, since my husband was clear about not wanting a doctor for a wife. Not sure I even had the smarts to decide otherwise. Did I mention late bloomer? Hind sight is 20/20 but no can change destiny is my conclusion. If you have a daughter in a similar situation, take note of her behavior. Place close attention to what triggers her meltdowns and guide her through the change. Change is a huge trigger for anxiety and something that never goes away even when you get old. It’s a wiring in the brain. Even when we know its coming, nothing prepares us for the anxiety to ensue. It's like a Tsunami or Wild Fire. But there is no way to get through it but to just go through it with the faith that we will be okay. If that leads to a meltdown of some sort, please have compassion and give it time to sink in. The processing time after a change is longer than for neurotypicals. It is the fear of the unknown, the unpredictability, the fight or flight response and not having the access to the skills to cope immediately. It is a response to stress that most people face, except magnified 100 fold. Not something we can put into words but only feel at every fiber of our being. Sometimes it is taking on the anxieties of others around as well, which magnifies the problem. With parents and immediate family it is somewhat predictable, but with strangers it is not. So we need time to study, evaluate and come up with coping strategies for survival. With experience as I am in my 50s, things click a little easier but on the flip side, having learned to constantly evaluate, leads to exhaustion. ASPIE BURNOUT! That’s when we want to retract into a shell and hibernate for periods of time to recharge, be asocial even. Marriage was a rough road, one full of trials and tribulations from Day One. So much growth happened being in another environment, which was hostile and not nurturing to a newly married girl. Will share in my next blog...

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