Matt's commitment to celibacy has helped him deal with Asperger's Syndrome
I am a 26-year-old virgin and committed to remaining so permanently – by design, by default AND by choice. The origin of my ‘situation’ is that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, but celibacy has come to mean far more to me than just ‘part of the package’ of my condition, and here’s why.
I was born to devoutly Christian parents who, naturally, brought me up to believe that sex was to be saved until marriage. Throughout most of my childhood and early teenage years, during the latter of which Asperger’s was only just starting to become widely recognised, it is fair to say that – in true ‘Aspie’ fashion – I lived in my own little world of obsession with a litany of subjects, and completely scoffed at the notion that I might ever want a girlfriend or eventually a wife, or even to have sex at all. During adolescence, I dismissed my hormones as a mere ‘phase’ which would pass. Everything changed when, at 16, having recently started studying media at FE college, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s following my parents’ revelation that they’d latched onto my condition while listening to a radio programme. The timing was horrendous, for it was only now that I was starting to feel simultaneously the physical urge to have sex and the emotional desire to be in a relationship.
As soon as I was diagnosed, a part of me knew that I would never be in a relationship or experience ‘the joys of sex,’ and it did depress me for a while as I struggled to adjust to this triple whammy of blows. At one point I actually tried meditating to purge my desires, but this did not have quite the result I intended; and moving momentarily forward to the present, it is not something I would ever try again except on the advice of a medical professional. Ultimately I found that my determination to prove wrong the diagnosing psychologist who said I would never be capable of social interaction or indeed just cutting it in the real world, and my resultant blitz of university applications, was enough to lift me out of the doom and gloom, and in that I succeeded, getting a place on a well-respected film studies degree course and making several friends both before and after I started university. All of them, though, told me that despite my condition I was guaranteed to meet that special person at uni, and in the end I got so fed up trying to explain why this was unlikely, I just started pretending to agree with it. Some of them told me I should build up confidence by hitting the dance floor in the hope of getting a one night stand – even if that meant deliberately getting a girl drunk – but this was never an option; for while I had abandoned my conventional religious beliefs and no longer considered sex before marriage to be wrong, I have always vehemently opposed promiscuity and all forms of exploitation. By the end of my first year, with the social grind itself having taken its toll on my studies and my health, I was firmly resolved never to push my mind beyond its natural limits to try and seduce a woman, or even to appear remotely flirtatious; the only way I was going to get involved with anyone was either if she offered herself freely, or if the chemistry was so unbearable that even a person with full-blown autism would know what to do. Some mates said this wasn’t going to happen, because all women want the man to make the first move; each time I replied, “Well that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along.”
That, I think, covers the design; now, then, to the default. Throughout my 2nd & 3rd years at university, I continued my ‘neutral’ stance with little grief, reasoning that if in fact I was going to meet someone it would surely be in a mature working environment rather than a rowdy student set-up. But when, having attained a First Class Degree, I enrolled on a prestigious Masters course in film archiving, my life was turned upside down once again. I found myself flatsharing with a woman 9 years my senior who was also a passionate film lover, and with whom I therefore immediately got on like a house on fire. Within minutes of her arrival we were drinking together and a few evenings later, in a very drunken state, she came onto me – having brought her boyfriend round the previous evening. It transpired that she was having serious relationship problems and she started crying on my shoulder; then our mad live-in landlady got involved when the troublesome boyfriend came round again; and finally it all exploded into a cosmic row between the two of us. Seeing almost at first-hand what damage relationships can do despite not having been in one myself, and in my flatmate’s behaviour a demonstration of how relationships completely defy the rationality and logic which are the guiding principles of all Aspies, I decided immediately after the argument that I was definitely meant to be single and celibate for the rest of my life. For the next several weeks she and I avoided each other’s company, until finally she moved out in dramatic fashion. It was only then that I realised, in the classic scenario of sitting on an inter-city train as evening fell, that I’d been head-over-heels in love with her all along; and here she was accusing me of deliberately destroying her life.
This was the rudest awakening I had experienced to date; for despite my observations on the irrational behaviour resulting from relationships, I had always thought of the cause – sexual attraction on the part of two people as individuals – as lying comfortably within the realms of logic & reason, i.e. one person’s scientific pre-disposition towards another person of a certain appearance and personality. Friends at uni told me that when I met that special person, I would realise how utterly wrong I was – that there is no rational explanation for attraction, and that you just can’t help who you fall in love with – but this only increased my blitheness to remain celibate, for I was absolutely convinced that Herr Asperger would protect me from such follies as je-ne-sais-quoi. Yet as it turned out, neither side was really correct; for I now realised that I had in fact managed to fall for a woman whom I did not consciously consider especially attractive, and whose personality I found at times quite annoying despite our common interest, but that even as I’d got to know her better & better I couldn’t get to grips with those feelings, which were therefore left to unconsciously motivate my contribution to the argument which caused us to fall out so spectacularly.
I started undergoing counselling to try and get my head around the whole thing, now that I was overcome by a desire which I knew could not possibly be fulfilled, yet whose very existence completely shook the foundations of my personality. I soon found, however, that the long fall-out from the argument made it impossible for me to continue living where I was, and when I eventually moved out in even more dramatic fashion than my flatmate had, legal threats started to fly around willy-nilly, and I quickly became so depressed that I had to abandon my studies and ultimately lost all interest in a film-related career. Thankfully, I found that sheer willpower enabled me to overcome my depression through an aggressive programme of medication, therapy, exercise, temp work, extra-curricular activity, painful lifestyle changes, and, most pertinently, completely ridding myself of any thoughts of relationships – emerging 99% certain that I would never be in one, but with absolutely no emotional desire to. I knew not a single day would go by when I didn’t think about my flatmate, but having beaten my mental & emotional state into submission I could live with this, and I also knew it was extremely unlikely I would ever fancy anyone again; for while I had felt briefly attracted to a woman whom I’d worked with in a long-term temp assignment, who like my old flatmate got a bit ‘touchy feely’ under the influence of alcohol albeit without actually trying it on, those feelings quickly passed once she’d exited the scene. After a 2-year scrap, I finally found a full-time job well-suited to my skills, in financial services. However, throughout that whole period my social life had stagnated – and despite my acceptance of celibacy this was a true Asperger’s curse, which I was NOT willing to accept – and I felt so weary and demoralised as to need a fresh start on distant shores. I therefore decided to go travelling after a year in the job.
That brings me on, then, to how celibacy became a choice. Some friends were convinced that travelling would finally bring me to the woman of my dreams – how wrong they were. The bulk of my year away was a working holiday in New Zealand, renowned as a microcosm of 1950s Britain – socially conservative, close-knit, transparent, enough to go around etc., for residents that is; for tourists it’s a completely different matter, and the extreme unpredictability of just about everything Kiwi, and the extreme laxity of Kiwis, caused my plans to collapse. Halfway through my trek, when I was virtually stranded in the capital Wellington, I grew so despondent that I contacted Autism New Zealand, and met the local information co-ordinator, himself an Aspie. Early on he reacted with incredulity when I told him there are people whom I can confidently call friends, yet later he talked in a casual tone about his (soon-to-be-ex-) wife before asking me – almost in positive anticipation – if I had a girlfriend; as though it is perfectly common for people like me to have sexual intercourse without ever mastering social interaction. I replied that I never had done and never expected to, he asked me if I was ashamed of being a virgin (a firm ‘No’) and told me that ‘one day’ the urge would hit me (because he found it hard to believe I was 25 not 18); and, in the ultimate shocker, he told me that many Aspies – mostly shy & incapable of independent living – forge sexual relationships with each other through special dating circles. I knew at that moment that for me to consider such an avenue – when I am much more socially adept than most Aspies – would morally amount to paedophilia; and when I’d had time to properly ponder all this, I realised how truly sick it is that people who can’t function independently and can’t have intuitive understandings with other people, could be encouraged to have sex with each other; and since the latter problem applies as much to me as to anyone else like me, I now finally accepted, 150%, that it would be a moral abomination for me to ever engage in any form of romantic relationship or sexual encounter with any woman, be she neurotypical or otherwise.
My experiences when my travels got going again soon vindicated my resolve, as my hard-forged Plan B collapsed even faster than Plan A, and I was unfortunate enough to fall in with a nasty crowd for several legs of my journey, which drove me to emotional meltdown. Sitting in a dorm room while pouring rain cancelled a scenic hike for what seemed the millionth time, trying to put up a brave front by joining in an afternoon drinking session, a seemingly friendly woman asked me randomly if I had a girlfriend, and from my ‘no’ she somehow deduced that I never had done, asking me how old I was before saying “No matter, I was my boyfriend’s first girlfriend.” By the evening, however, she was brutally mocking, lambasting and denigrating my whole attitude towards everything – my travels, my career, my personality itself, the lot, and after months of diabolical setbacks I could no longer hold myself together and so completely lost my temper with her. Later her boyfriend, who’d been ill in bed, told me that if he’d been there to see me shout at her he’d have given me a beating, a wanton act of violence which everyone else thought would’ve been perfectly justifiable in the name of lurve, and which for the same reason no Western judicial system has the clout to punish. As I lay in bed unable to sleep, I called upon God – in whatever form He might exist – to strike me down should I ever succumb to any opportunity that may arise to debase myself to that level by engaging in any form of romantic liaison in total defiance of Natural Law.
God was certainly listening, and He soon revealed Himself in the forces of karma, bringing me reconciliation with New Zealand, an inner peace I never thought possible, and an unshakable faith that divine justice would have its way with my tormentors; this happened when I discovered that the wish I’d made while floating a candle on the holy river Ganges in India had come true in a way that could not possibly be coincidence. I had embraced my destiny, followed the path set out for me, and been rewarded. This was spiritual enlightenment that not even the most passionate lovemaking in the world could touch upon, and to hell with anyone who says that as a virgin I am not in a position to say that! Throughout the rest of my travels, I befriended a number of people as my sociability fought its way back, and by the time I left New Zealand I had fallen truly head-over-heels in love with the country. Looking back, I realise I was a fool for still letting all those problems I had on my trip get the better of me enough for me to abandon my previously-held goal to stay and seek NZ residency, for failing to realise that all the things which made the country so difficult for me as a tourist would’ve made it heaven for me as a resident. Because if my own experiences, combined with what I’ve read and heard elsewhere, are anything to go by, it would seem that most New Zealanders regard sex as little more than a bodily function – never to be talked about except in an educational or medical context – one of many things making them reminiscent of their British cousins before ‘flower power’ and ‘free love’ took over. The problem is that on the other hand, I think I had to come ‘home’ to the chaotic bustle of sex-mad Britain before I could realise just what a profound impact that 50s-style bliss had had upon me, even if it mostly manifested itself in emotional & financial turmoil which got me badly into debt with my parents, not to mention the native Maoris’ professed spiritual connection to nature; all these things brought me ‘down to earth’ and ended the aberration I’d become, just about capable of passing for a neurotypical by the time I got on the plane, and now left me religiously devoted to protecting my virginity as though it were my soul.
Although I am sure all my sexual urges, and all my lingering thoughts of the flatmate I’d loved, would’ve completely disappeared if I’d stayed long enough in New Zealand, neither of which has happened coming up to a year since my return, I must say that I do not lose any sleep over the matter. Yes it is possible that there was some real chemistry between the two of us, and that had I been in touch with my feelings we would’ve got together, in which case I could even be a happily married man by now; but knowing at the time how painful she found it not being a mother at her age, and having never been willing to entertain the notion of fathering children through fear of passing on my Asperger’s, I accept that that scenario could just as easily have ended in tears. Most importantly, I regard those sick child sex rings, which may or may not exist in Britain in the same proportion as they do in NZ, as worse perversions of Natural Law with every passing day. Furthermore, it doesn’t take much if any self-discipline to stop myself resorting even to any less morally outrageous unnatural method to try and force my way into bed with a woman, be it confidence-building therapy, mainstream dating agencies or whatever; and since I will never attempt to appear flirtatious for fear of my soul, and know that it is extremely unlikely any woman will ever offer herself to me freely, the chances of me ever being in a position to succumb to base temptation are virtually zero.
Not all is plain sailing, but every cloud has a silver lining. Every time I go out drinking with my colleagues in my current long-term temp job (back in financial services but in a less specialised capacity), with whom I have few common interests, I am always alert to the possibility that they will ask me about my private life; but however impossible they may find it to truly understand my reasoning, I have in my arsenal a weapon to kill the argument, namely the fact that the Autism NZ bloke told me about his gross enterprise within two hours of revealing that a small number of Aspies my age still can’t toilet themselves unaided. I do once again have on-and-off feelings of social anxiety, which I am sure would never have resurfaced if I’d stayed in NZ, and certainly haven’t helped me in job interviews; and with my current job not set to turn permanent this may prove a cause for concern further down the line. But I have faith that in the end all will be well, my integrity will be rewarded, as my travels showed.
The one genuinely regrettable part of the whole story is the impact it’s had on relations with my dad, who has now abandoned his religious and moral beliefs – to the point where he not only defends but advocates my younger sister’s lesbian liaisons, listens with interest as friends his age harp on about their fornications like excitable teenagers, and even told me he thought I should degrade myself in the manner that Kiwi guy suggested, and for this & other reasons he & I have completely fallen out. Thankfully I am still on good terms with my mum, but I can’t quite reconcile her insistence that she admires my self-discipline with her refusal to condemn my sister’s behaviour. For I believe my (hetero)sexual urges to be in the same moral category as the (homo)sexual urges of gay people: nature has given me them, but does not intend for me to use them; I shall neither fight them nor succumb to them, I shall ignore them, as I believe gay people should do theirs. The ‘people are different’ excuse doesn’t wash when it comes to basic morality.
In conclusion, I have come to see single life and celibacy as great blessings. I have seen far too many lives destroyed by both serious relationships and casual sex; but even if I do face an uphill struggle to secure satisfactory permanent employment, I have also seen the rewards of sticking to the straight-and-narrow, in my second career as a freelance writer, and am convinced that the state of serenity I have achieved will provide me with creative inspiration for all my life. I do find it annoying that there are people who are au-fai with my situation yet still say I just happen to have not yet met that special person; but given the fact that many of these people are wasting their lives playing a bizarre variety of text-message cat-and-mouse-cum-poker, somehow believing that the chemistry they feel they have with a potential partner means a telepathic bond which will render the ‘opponent’ susceptible to silent ‘come-and-get-me’ pleas, the joke’s on them!
To all people with Asperger’s, and all those who question the capacity for sexual intercourse to bridge the infinite divide between the minds of two separate individuals, or who accept it but fear it, I urge you to embrace celibacy as a friend; a friend who will never desert you as long as you remain true to them, who will guide you and comfort you through all of life’s trials and tribulations, and who will bring you to a state of peace and comfort far beyond the realms of the flesh.
Finally, if any woman should ever be so rash as to desire my body, I shall offer her these words, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Henry V: “Lady, save your labour. Come no more for ransom, gentle lady: you shall have none, I swear, but these my joints! Which, if you have as I shall leave to you, shall yield you little.”
Uploaded in May, 2009