He Killed My Cat: On the dangers of dating while autistic5 min read

Editor’s note: this article ref­er­ences animal cru­elty

My beliefs on how the uni­verse is ordered tend to oscil­late between two extremes: a solid recog­ni­tion that order exists solely in a sci­en­tific inter­pre­ta­tion, and a reluc­tant accep­tance that there exists a potentially-moral higher power dic­tating how our lives play out.

There are times in my life where the latter seems inescapable in its reality. The way I was able to become inti­mate with a psy­chopath over a period of about a year and walk away to talk about it is one of the sit­u­a­tions in my life that has thrust my belief meter full on to the spir­i­tual accep­tance side.

As is widely known, when a person comes from a trou­bled back­ground, they tend to find them­selves in places they don’t nec­es­sarily belong. As a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time at a local fine dining French restau­rant that turned into a jazz bar on the weekend evenings. I was obvi­ously too young to be there, but my older friend was well-known around town, so no one ever ques­tioned my pres­ence. If she thought I was cool, well, I must have been old enough to be there.

Growing up, I was always a bit awk­ward, and I often strug­gled to parse subtle romantic sig­nals from everyday inter­ac­tion. As the result of a tumul­tuous child­hood, I also had in my per­sonal emo­tional queue the full range of needs waiting to be met. So when that handsome-but-unsettlingly-intense older guy stared at me unre­lent­ingly across the dimly lit room those decades ago, I was all aboard for what­ever he had to offer. As it turned out, he didn’t have much to offer– and most of what he did offer was pretty scary.

I remember him being obses­sively tidy. He rode his bicycle every­where and was a busi­ness major at the local uni­ver­sity. Most of the time what he did was pretty unre­mark­able and what most would con­sider “normal.” We spent a lot of time in the dark lis­tening to Dave Matthews Band. Red flag number one! Just kid­ding.

Back then, I was so heavily masked that I went with what­ever everyone around me was doing without ques­tion. I had been gaslighted so much that I’d grown accus­tomed to ignoring what I felt, so much so that I could no longer really dis­tin­guish between safe and unsafe sit­u­a­tions. In ret­ro­spect, he put me in a lot of unsafe sit­u­a­tions, and I went right along, sort of half hoping I wouldn’t die, but not really knowing if I was over­re­acting. I’d been taught to be com­pliant without ques­tion as a result of much abuse throughout my then-eighteen years on the planet.

So I let him drive me an hour out of town into a field. A lit­eral field, far away from access roads. And we talked. And the talks always felt like a test. Somehow, I passed that time.

One night I had a few friends over, and he said some­thing to me so bla­tant and cold that I started crying. He seemed unfazed by my sad­ness, like it hadn’t reg­is­tered at all. He left my apart­ment without saying any­thing– just turned around mid-conversation and walked out the door.

Then I found him in the pitch black dark­ness of my new boyfriend’s dri­veway when my boyfriend wasn’t home. He asked me to walk with him to another yard and we sat and talked as he gave me another “test.” Miraculously, I passed again. I say mirac­u­lous because I recall this occa­sion being very fright­ening, and the con­ver­sa­tion was mostly just me talking him down from doing some­thing that he kept describing as “really bad.” It felt eerily like I was being made to talk him out of hurting me.

Shortly after that unset­tling inci­dent, I came home from work late one evening to find a dish of milk on my front porch– which fright­ened me. I noticed my semi-outdoor cat had not returned for the night. I thought that maybe someone had taken her, but I didn’t really know what I could do about it. A few days later, I noticed a foul smell coming from the bushes in front of my ground floor apart­ment. I went over to inves­ti­gate, and there under the bushes was my deceased, decap­i­tated cat. Afraid that I was being stalked, I promptly ended my lease with the apart­ment com­plex and moved else­where.

A few months after that, he was arrested for murder. 

It wasn’t until a decade later when I started to put together all the infor­ma­tion I’d learned about human behavior that I came to the real­iza­tion that he was very likely the person respon­sible for killing my cat and just how unsafe I had been during all of my inter­ac­tions with him.

A Cautionary Tale for Autistic Children

Autistic people from my gen­er­a­tion, espe­cially those assigned female at birth. Now, autistic chil­dren are iden­ti­fied and diag­nosed ear­lier. Ideally, this knowl­edge would help chil­dren grow into teens and adults who know how to iden­tify danger, how to trust their feel­ings, and how to set bound­aries to keep them safe; how­ever, behav­ioral ther­a­pies that begin as early as tod­dlers only 18 months old and can be as inten­sive as forty hours per week instead are focused on training autistic kids to be as “normal” as pos­sible.

These ther­a­pies, like ABA therapy, train chil­dren to interact and be friendly with people they don’t trust, to comply even when it feels wrong, to be polite on cue, and to not resist demands. This con­di­tioning, or “pro­gram­ming,” teaches autistic people implic­itly that their nature is flawed and that they need to trust that others know better what is good for them than they know about them­selves.

The knowl­edge of one’s neu­ro­di­ver­gence and what that means can be invalu­able, but it needs to be used to empower people to work with their neu­rology instead of against it, to accept their dif­fer­ences as opposed to being pres­sured to be assim­i­late at the expense of their safety, their mental health, their self-perception, and their access to live authen­ti­cally.

It could be a matter of life or death.


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  1. I’m so sorry that this hap­pened to you. Thank you for sharing your story and valu­able insight.

  2. The peer pres­sure to be part­nered endan­gers life. Emotionally savage comedy, + cool swagger-talk on TV, against sin­gle­ness or against late ages of vir­ginity, endan­gers life.

  3. I am sorry this hap­pened to you but glad you could get out. You make a really impor­tant point — so often our envi­ron­ment teaches us, delib­er­ately or not, that we are always the problem.

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