I’ve been in a long-term relationship for almost five years and during that time I’ve learned that I’m a very controlling person in waking life, and in sleeping life.
By
Madeleine Ryan

22 Oct 2018 - 6:00 AM  UPDATED 22 Oct 2018 - 10:11 AM

Verbal communication is overrated when it comes to intimacy.

I’m autistic, and the way I sleep has always been more revealing about the dynamic between me and another person. Although I still have a tendency to talk too much, and to try and ascertain someone’s values through what they say, and come to know them via the stories that they have about themselves, when it comes down to it, it’s how I sleep beside them that shows me the most about who they are, and who I am when I’m with them.

I’ve been in a long-term relationship for almost five years and during that time I’ve learned that I’m a very controlling person in waking life, and in sleeping life. However, a controlling nature is very different from a jealous, or possessive nature.

Verbal communication is overrated when it comes to intimacy.

While I need to know what’s happening when, and why, so that I can prepare myself mentally, emotionally and physically - I do not need to know what is happening when, and why, so as to ‘keep tabs’ on my partner, or to ensure that his attention is upon me at all times because I’m scared of losing him.

I’m domineering when it comes to my time, space, sleep and energy. I may not seem like an especially ‘organised’, ‘disciplined’ or ‘controlling’ individual because, well, I’ve learned how to hide it. Yet the crystals adorning my writing desk, and the pillow mist and salt lamps and earplugs sitting at my bedside, and the hours spent thinking in the bathtub, and doing gua sha to my face, and riding the exercise bike are not to be meddled with. When these routines and rituals are interrupted unexpectedly, problems arise.

My partner and I live in the country and it took a while to get the hang of going back and forth between home, and the city. One weekend, he was going in to spend time with his mates and he wasn’t sure if he’d be home later, or the next day, which made me feel uneasy. Was I going to be able to sleep uninterrupted? Did I need to time the activities of my evening so as to be able to pick him up at some point?

Sleep is particularly sacred to me and, when it’s disturbed, I struggle to recover. An ex-boyfriend once rocked up at my house in the middle of the night, pissed, banging on the window, wanting to come inside and make love to me, because he thought it was ‘spontaneous’ and ‘romantic’.

I didn’t.

Romance to me involves fresh air, stars, sobriety, perhaps a nourishing, plant-based meal, curling up in bed, sensing each other’s bodies, and falling into a deep, restorative sleep.

Yet I didn’t know how to express my needs to my partner that weekend, and as I waved goodbye to him at the train station, I said nothing. Sometimes it can feel like there’s a wall between me, and myself, and speaking through it can be hard. Thoughts and feelings and worries and words all swirl around in a big pool of confusion and uncertainty and what I actually want to say becomes unclear and out of reach.

Romance to me involves fresh air, stars, sobriety, perhaps a nourishing, plant-based meal, curling up in bed, sensing each other’s bodies, and falling into a deep, restorative sleep.

Throughout the night he dutifully texted me saying that he wasn’t sure what was happening. Then he said that he wasn’t coming home. Then he said that he was. Then, he wasn’t. Then, the next day, he arrived back to a sleep deprived and damaged autistic woman.

It took a lot of work to recover from this, and to find a way to communicate through the various fears and projections that we had upon one another. He struggled to believe that my distress wasn’t to do with trying to control him, and monitor his activities. Amidst these ideas and feelings I became lost, and overwhelmed. I didn’t sleep that night. I lay awake until I realized that all I had needed was a softer sound than him banging on the window, and for him to cease texting me after a certain point, so that I could sleep.

I shared this with him the next day, and he looked around the room, found a small gold bell, and I burst into tears. Actions really can speak louder than words. This small gesture reassured me that my needs could be met, and so could his.

This is intimacy. If the occasional sleepless night leads to growth, and greater awareness, then I can withstand it. Finding ways to meet my own needs, and that of the person that I love is priceless and, often, not about what’s said. It can’t be bought, or negotiated, either. Roses are expensive, dinner dates are overrated, and sexy lingerie stretches in the wash.

Intimacy is about what’s done on a day-to-day basis, the quality of the sleep, and the sanctity of the world that we come home to.

Madeleine Ryan is a freelance writer.

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I’ve been in a long-term relationship for almost five years and during that time I’ve learned that I’m a very controlling person in waking life, and in sleeping life.