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(Katy Lemay for The Globe and Mail)
(Katy Lemay for The Globe and Mail)

Why the man I love can't love me back Add to ...

I am in love with a wonderful man. He's intelligent, kind, honest, hard-working, gorgeous and interesting. I want to share my whole world with him, connect with him on every level. But he can never completely connect with me, or anyone else. He has Asperger's syndrome.

Part of the autism spectrum, people with Asperger's have normal or above intelligence and are relatively socially high-functioning. Although they can integrate into society on many levels, they are mainly characterized by having difficulties in communicating. They can't fully empathize with or understand others, especially in terms of reading their non-verbal information. They show a limited range of emotions and easily feel out of control if routines are not followed.

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Looking back, I should have known that he had Asperger's from the beginning. We met at a local restaurant, where he invited me and my friend to join his table. Within 10 minutes, I learned he had a PhD in mathematics, was 37, lived with a roommate in a small rented flat, worked as a hedge fund manager and was devastated when his ex-girlfriend died of cancer. All of these were red alerts: People with Asperger's are often highly intelligent, austere and have no qualms about revealing personal information to strangers.

As we began dating, signs that something wasn't quite right kept cropping up: His text messages were often one-line responses to mine; when he called, conversations were more like monologues than interactions; if I wanted to discuss his oddness, he would just change the subject. He loved routines, was in bed by 10 p.m. every night and rarely came over to my (much nicer) place.

I stuck around because there was also a lot of good stuff. We took exotic holidays. He showed me his family's villa. He was sweet, smart, honest to a fault and sexy. We got to know each other more, and I was falling in love. I desperately wanted to tell him, but waited for him to make the first move. He never did. The closest he came was whispering that he didn't want to share me with anyone else.

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We carried on fairly happily for another year or so. Although he didn't show affection conventionally, he showed he cared in many other ways, sharing his favourite "alone" spots around the city with me, helping and encouraging me to run a marathon, being there for me when my father was ill.

Yet, I still felt there was something missing. The relationship was stagnating. He insisted on maintaining his routines and refused to sleep at my place. We were inseparable, but I still felt we were somehow separate, disconnected. I poured my heart out to a friend whose son has Asperger's, and she suggested I research it online. It was an eye opener: He met most of the diagnostic criteria. His behaviour suddenly made sense.

Excited, I brought this information to him, and gently asked if he thought he may have Asperger's. To my relief, he admitted it seemed like he did, and then asked what the cure was. Unfortunately, there is none, but patient partners can learn to communicate more effectively with each other once there is acknowledgment of the problem and a desire to improve the relationship. He later was formally diagnosed.

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Sharing his situation brought us somewhat closer. I understood his need for isolation more - people with Asperger's can be overwhelmed with stimulus and need time alone to regroup. I tried to teach him what people would do in situations where he acted inappropriately (no more high-fiving in lieu of a handshake). This seemed to help him, and his confidence and, I thought, our love grew.

Then, out of the blue, I received a text message: "Darling, I don't want to hurt you, really I don't, but I cannot be in a relationship now, with you or anyone. If we stay together longer, you'll suffer more, so it's best to end it here. I hope you find a proper boyfriend soon."

I was destroyed and cried for weeks. I wondered why he was doing this: I was sure he loved me, and despite his Asperger's, I was deeply in love with him. What saved me was online support groups. I learned that my experiences were not unusual in the Asperger's world, and I was warned off pursuing the relationship by long-term wives of men with Asperger's, who said it was a heartbreaking struggle to constantly remind the man you love to show some empathy and warmth. I learned that leaving a good relationship cold is typical, especially if the sufferer feels it may be forcing him to change in some way he's not ready for.

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Despite all his faults, I still love him and miss his company. After our breakup, he completely shut himself off from the world. Maybe one day, we can be close again. I want so badly to reach out and help him, to be there for him, to take care of him. But first, I know I have to do all that for myself for a change.

Cheryl Morris is a Canadian living in London.

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