One of the defining characteristics of having a nonverbal disability is the never-ending conga line of social gaffs. You say the wrong things, misinterpret social cues, and hyperfixate on certain things–all of which can be deadly to any budding relationship.
Throw in the usual challenges of the dating scene, and it can be a lonely world out there.
This is where, sometimes, I wonder if I have been misdiagnosed with my disability. I’ve almost always had a boyfriend or been casually seeing someone since my freshman year in high school. On top of it all, I met someone when I was in my early twenties.
I’m now in my thirties, and we’re still together. My husband and I have been married for almost a decade, and have all the accouterments of a successful American marriage, ranging from the house with the low mortgage to our two beautiful daughters.
My NVLD is, unfortunately, paired with MDD (major depressive disorder) that sometimes manifests in the format of gross, negative self talk. When my husband and I were living together, but unmarried, I saw many couples who had been dating for a lesser time than us quickly get married. I often wondered what I was doing wrong.
- Communication: I have yet to meet another individual with NVLD who is not an absolute motor mouth. We love to chat, info dump, the works! The person who works best with us is an individual who is a good listener, as well as someone who can keep up with our banter. I’ve had previous partners complain about how much I talked–an issue that my husband has never mentioned, not even once (my mother has said it’s because he’s the only man who can keep up with me–and I’ve dated a rocket scientist!). Which leads me to the next point…
- Patience: Missing social cues, being uncoordinated, and having unregulated emotions can be awful in a relationship, especially when many aspects of a long term partner often need these aspects in order to work together. I’ve lost friendships and relationships because I wasn’t coordinated enough to try tango or play soccer with my boyfriend and his buddies. Before I was given medication, I sometimes had emotional meltdowns (though, to be fair, I was dealing with a ton of terrible things in my teens and 20’s, and now have given myself the grace to forgive my younger self). I’m fortunate that I married someone who is patient with me, and I recommend that for anyone.
- Common Goals: This should be an ideal part of any marriage, but it deserves to be said here as well. Your north star and your partner’s north star should follow the same compass. I’ve had previous boyfriends scream and/or lecture me when I told them my goals in life were academic in mind, with a bit of hippie-dom on the side. Even though it hurt to end things with them, it was necessary.
- To Thy Own Self, Be True: Your NVLD is you, part of you. If your partner can not accept it, then it is perhaps the best for both parties to leave each other. It hurts, especially when you’re younger, or desperately in love with the partner. You will say you will change, you’ll do different things. But you know who that isn’t fair to? YOU.
To quote one of my mentors, “There’s billions of people on earth. You can find someone who doesn’t want you to change.”
And that person, who cares for you, will not care about your neurodiversity. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Kristen is a Program Director and Writer based in Illinois and was diagnosed with NVLD at 7-years-old. She is loves spending time with her daughters, hiking, and knitting and is always trying to convince her husband that she needs more custom art from “The Expanse.” in her office. She is also a Project Social Ambassador for The NVLD Project.Share your own story