I am a college-age male and in desperate need of your advice. There is in my class a wonderful young woman, someone with whom I have talked often but never deeply. I want to get to know her better but simply do not know how; in fact, I do not even know whether she is as interested in me as I am in her. This is made worse by my autism, which prevents me from detecting emotions and social cues.
What should I do? I seek someone whose hand I can hold and whose eyes light up when they look on me. That is all I want and all I need. — Forsaken
Dear Forsaken: There are a great number of books that go into more depth about the unwritten rules of dating than I ever could here, and some are geared toward people with autism – Kerry Magro’s “Autism and Falling in Love’‘ and Joe Navarro’s “Ten ‘Must Know’ Body Language Secrets for Dating,‘’ to name just two.
But I will say that the best romantic relationships start as friendships, so you’re off to a good start simply by talking to this young woman often. Perhaps you could ask whether she’d like to get coffee sometime. If she says yes, take the opportunity to build a connection by asking about her background – where she is from, whether she has any siblings, what she’s hoping to do after college, etc. Tell her about yourself in equal measure.
And if she turns down your invitation, don’t despair. I promise, everyone has felt the sting of rejection at some point or another. Simply take it as practice for asking out the next girl who sparks your interest.
After reading the letter from “Frustrated,‘’ whose cousin is constantly getting angry over minor things, I was compelled to write. The cousin’s behavior could be symptoms of a mental illness, specifically borderline personality disorder or paranoid personality disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health defines BPD as “a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships.‘’
There were several red flags “Frustrated’‘ used to describe her cousin that made me think she may have BPD: She’s always confrontational; she always quits jobs because of confrontations and blames the employers; and she has been like this for years, with the behavior getting worse.
Your advice to stage an intervention and express concern was good. “Frustrated’‘ should also encourage her to seek help from a mental health professional.
I realize that a disorder cannot be diagnosed based on a few comments, but learning more about personality disorders could help “Frustrated’‘ and his or her sisters when interacting with their cousin.
I learned about BPD two years ago after my son fathered a child with a woman diagnosed with BPD. It has been a difficult journey, but recognizing that she has a mental disorder has helped us cope with the situation. Most people in the general public, including family court judges, have never heard of BPD. The National Institute of Mental Health is an excellent resource for information about personality disorders and other mental health issues. — Advocating for Mental Health
Dear Advocating: Thank you for raising awareness about this commonly misunderstood disorder. Interested readers can find more information at www.nimh.nih.gov.
A few years back, my stepson, “Jaime,‘’ at age 23, announced to his dad (my husband) that he would be changing his middle name and last name, which are my husband’s first name and last name, and using his mother’s maiden name. He said he needed “space’‘ from his dad and asked him to cease contact “until further notice.‘’
We racked our brains but could think of nothing that warranted this – no specific negative incident – and he refused to explain why but was clearly emotional and upset.
Nonetheless, we have respected his wishes. After a year, my husband checked in with him to see whether he was ready to reconnect and got his head bitten off. Now nearly four years has passed with no word from him. We send birthday and Christmas gifts, and recently, when we were going to be visiting the area where he is attending school, we asked whether he would like to get together for dinner. Silence has always ensued.
We are heartbroken, especially my sweet and loving husband, who has been so devoted to Jaime and would do anything to heal whatever rift he has caused. We don’t know from one day to the next whether he is alive or dead, whether he is happy or suffering. Plus, we just miss our boy.
What can we do? We have given up hope that, as everyone tells us, “he’ll eventually come around.‘’ — Hand-wringing Gets Me Nowhere
Dear Hand-wringing: Living with a Jaime-shaped hole in your heart can’t be easy, and I’m sorry you and your husband are going through that. Of course you’re replaying events in your head, looking for anything that might explain the sudden cold front that swept over him, but it’s possible that you’ll never find an answer, and you must find a way to come to terms with that. If it helps, you and your husband could send Jaime a letter stating that if he’s ever willing to open up about what happened, you would love to know so that you can make it right by him.
Then turn your focus to what you can control. The U.K.-based group Stand Alone offers resources for parents dealing with estrangement. Visit standalone.org.uk for more information.
I would like to pen a reply to “Neil,‘’ who is grieving the loss of his wife.
As cliched as it sounds, time really does help one to heal from the loss of someone.
Fourteen years ago, my mother lost her battle to breast cancer. For the longest time, I didn’t want to deal with anything – cooking, cleaning, etc. I did what needed to be done, but I didn’t want to do anything with her clothes or go through the paperwork that she left behind. Four years ago, my boyfriend moved in with my father and me, and this gave me the courage I needed to move on and start to change. Two years ago, I started going through everything. I donated most of her clothes. I shredded paperwork that she’d been hoarding in the attic for 30-plus years. I started changing things up around the house.
There are still days when I miss her and feel sad, but those days are getting fewer and further between. — Will
Dear Will: We’ve passed your letter along to Neil directly. We were touched by how many people wrote in to express their empathy for him. Thank you all for reaching out.