Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. In too deep: I am non-neurotypical, diagnosed with Asperger’s when I was 9. I am now 32. For the past four years, I’ve been in a relationship with a woman whom I love and consider to be my soul mate—let’s call her “Jessica.” The problem is that I have never revealed to her that I have an Asperger’s diagnosis.
I’ve always been relatively “high-functioning,” and thanks to several years of social skills group therapy from the ages of 10–14, and a lot of trial and error, I almost always present as neurotypical. For social and professional reasons, I am very guarded about who I reveal my diagnosis to. In adulthood I have always been fearful of “scaring off” potential friends or romantic partners. I also work in a career where soft communications skills are very important, and I do not want people whom I might encounter professionally to lose confidence in me. My family and my close friends from childhood are pretty much the only people who know about my diagnosis.
I know that I likely cannot keep this from Jessica forever, but at the same time, we have been in a committed relationship for the past four years, and now I worry that it’s “too late” to reveal it to her without undermining her trust in me. Why did I not reveal this to her years earlier? After all, I had ample opportunity, and she has always been very open with me about her struggles with anxiety and depression. In my mind, it’s a pretty big thing to hold back: It provides context to some of my quirkier behavior, and there are questions about heritability given the fact that we both want to have children. I am also aware of the strong likelihood that she will eventually find out anyway one way or another; while my friends and family don’t ever really bring it up, all it takes is for one person to let something slip. To be clear, I’m much more worried that she will see this as a breach of trust than I am that she will think something is “wrong” with me.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because we just got engaged a couple of weeks ago (yay!), and in light of this new chapter in our lives, I want to resolve this once and for all. Do you know of a graceful way to talk to my partner about this?
A: Congratulations on the engagement! I think you should tell Jessica in a way that accounts for the fact that this is not a big deal. I don’t mean that being non-neurotypical doesn’t matter (I’m sure it matters a lot for your life!), I just mean that what matters is the way you are, how you relate to people, and how you move through the world. And these are things she already knows and, I assume, loves. What a doctor said or didn’t say about you many years ago does nothing to change what it will be like to be married to you.
Your announcement to her should also include an explanation for why you waited so long to bring this up. How about something like, “Jessica, now that we’re engaged, I want to tell you something I should have told you a long time ago. When I was a kid, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s. As you can see, I’m very high-functioning and it just kind of became something I kept to myself. I guess I’ve been worried about being judged. It doesn’t change anything about our relationship or who I am, but now that we’re getting married, I just thought I should let you know—especially since I’ve seen how helpful it is that you’re open about your anxiety and depression. Maybe knowing my diagnosis will help you to understand me better. I wish I would have told you earlier and I’m sorry. You can let me know if you have any questions.”
Q. Changing religions: After some traumatic events, I’ve chosen to distance myself from my religion. However, my husband is very religious, and when we got married he expected us to always share a faith tradition. I don’t blame him, I did too—but after my experiences, I’ve changed.
I have no idea how to talk to him about it without it turning into him accusing me of being misleading and heading down a bad path. I also feel like no matter how I try to tell him that I totally support him continuing to be religious, and whether or not I continue to attend services, he’ll still feel like I’m insulting him and his faith. Our relationship is so great—until we discuss religion. Now I’m kind of stuck pretending I’m a believer.