This evening, Raimee and I participated in an interview with a producer from the Netflix series, Love on the Spectrum. For those of you who may not be familiar, Love on the Spectrum is a reality show that invites those outside of the world of autism- as well as those within it- to experience the pursuit of romantic partnership alongside a population of individuals who perceive and live in the world in ways that take a somewhat different approach to the neurotypical process of finding love.
I always find myself feeling somewhat anxious about interactions that are based solely on verbal exchanges, because, in these situations, Raimee’s beauty and his unique and charismatic personality are often eclipsed by his inability to define himself and his needs using language. Receptive and expressive speech are the most significant ways in which autism challenges his ability to connect, and yet, Raimee is one of the most loving and joyful people I have ever known; a devoted friend and a deeply compassionate human.These are extraordinary attributes that are easily overlooked and unseen in a 30 minute zoom conversation.
Our love language is not always (and not often) expressed in words. It is a compilation of the extraordinary and the mundane. The way we show up for our friends, our jobs, our everyday work around the house, our pleasure in a piece of music, a plant that is thriving, a meal prepared and shared. These are unspoken words that are, by and large, simple, but made profound by the person(s) we are so lucky to share them with.
Raimee’s expressions of love and connection surpass language. They are heartfelt actions. I don’t like to talk about Raimee in front of Raimee, and yet, as someone who knows him and loves him fiercely, I also felt an overwhelming desire to jump into the interview and elaborate on his behalf. I am proud to say that I kept my own voice in check, but I walked away with a lot of questions within myself about what it means to define love and partnership for our folks who need to experience those things in ways that are not relevant to society’s understanding of coupling in the 21st century.
What I gained from this experience was a small insight into what might be hopeful for Raimee; and it can be summed up in one beautiful word: companionship.
This is not to say that Raimee doesn’t long for the kind of romance and intimacy that most humans crave to attach to in their lifetime, but I believe that what my son wants most in his life is a kind of sincere and close friendship that fosters a spirit of togetherness, equality, a sharing-of-life, and a mutual okay-ness that celebrates a “we are who are” philosophy. A love that finds joy in making meals together, watching movies together, doing laundry together, gardening, hiking, resting, and being alone- together. It is such a simple desire. And yet, it is so rare for adults on the autism spectrum to find opportunities to live into that. I have to ask myself why? And I realize that, as a contemporary culture, aligned with ideals deemed important by social media and online dating apps, there is so much we can learn from the people who are drawn to take a more authentic and meaningful approach to finding love.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it feels like an opportune time to ask our communities to think about how we might examine our own ideas about love and the path towards finding it for the adults in our life with intellectual and developmental disabilities who desire to experience it in the ways that have meaning for them. We are communal beings- we thrive on interconnectedness to others, to some degree, and to belong, to share our lives, and to love.
Can I ask that we take a moment to celebrate the companionship we have in our lives and to work, with intention, towards creating authentic opportunities for everyone in our world to have the same?
As we come upon the day where we celebrate love, in all of its magnificent manifestations, may we channel a bit of our love language towards those who seek to obtain it in whatever way clears the path forward for them?
I’d like to propose the following Valentine prayer:
Dearest (whatever divine energy you are called to conjure in this moment),
May we be catalysts for love for others, so that all who seek it may find comfort and companionship in its presence.
Happy (early) Valentine’s Day.