Stacy Courtney

It's Just Like Starting Over

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8 min read
A dozen scarlet red rose heads.
Just like roses, we too have seasons.

After ten years of marriage, I'm striking out on my own.

It took a long time for me to accept that I wasn't happy with my marriage and an even longer time to call it quits. Like so many parents, I stayed for my son. I didn't want to be a statistic.

Photo of Stacy and her child making funny faces and smiling. It is in black and white and says, Yearbook Staff.
Sitting on the courthouse steps with Tiny. This was his favorite place to be.

I had been a stay-at-home parent for nine years and a homeschool parent from kindergarten through third grade. I knew leaving meant going back to work. I had never missed a track practice or a therapy appointment, and knowing I would miss out on so much of his life broke my heart. It's common knowledge that the divorce rate is significantly higher for parents of disabled children. Still, I can assure you that my autistic son had nothing to do with the separation. The divorce is simply because two people grew apart. I went undiagnosed my entire life, and after discovering that I was autistic, I was beginning to genuinely understand myself and my needs.

Today, I have a job that I love, and my son, Tiny, is starting public school for the first time; and he's adjusting so well! The only thing missing is someone to share my new adventure with.

For anyone who thinks I'm rushing, mind your business. I'm not. I knew my marriage was over for years before I packed the first box. We tried everything, marriage counseling and date nights. Nothing worked. The damage had already been done. I grieved that loss and mentally checked out long ago. I want to find someone who wants to be with me, not out of obligation but just because they want to be. I'm a hopeless romantic, and I have to believe that the cheese to my macaroni is somewhere out there. The trouble with that is I have never been great at dating… or cooking.

Selective mutism was not my friend. My early teens were spent trying to snag a boy named Kevin*. The first time he asked me out was in seventh grade. I had always thought he was adorable, but he did something during spring break that year that made me fall for him. Hard. We were in Florida with our church youth group, and an unhoused man asked if anyone had the money for food. Of course, everyone was telling him no. Not Kevin, though. Kevin went to his room and, if I'm not mistaken, came back with two hundred dollars. That was it. I saw how good his heart was and was head over heels

Needless to say, I was ridiculously excited when he asked me out! At that age, dating was mostly holding hands and passing notes, but talking was still a decent part of it. It didn't take long to realize that something was different for me than it was for others. I couldn't speak. I didn't understand why; I just couldn't. Kevin would try to talk to me, but all I could do was look at him and hope that, somehow, he could sense how much I had to say. He couldn't. He broke up with me not long after.

Picture of a child wearing a scout uniform and holding binoculars up to their eyes.
Tiny dressed like an explorer for dress like your favorite book character day at school.

He tried to connect with me a few months later for a second time. I had hoped that things would be different this time. I could talk to him one-on-one as a friend, but everything changed after the dating label hit. My anxiety went through the roof. It was too much pressure. I tried to have conversations with him. I wanted to speak to him more than anything, but all the self-loathing in the world couldn't force the words to come out.

One night we were standing outside a friend's house, just us. It was the perfect opportunity for a conversation about our feelings. Kevin waited for me to speak; I watched the frustration grow on his face for every second that passed without a word. I was angry with myself. I hated myself. I didn't understand why I physically couldn't make the words come out when I had so many thoughts running through my head.
I have to give him credit, though. Kevin did try with me. He asked me out again the following year. We went to the movies, and he asked me to hold his snack at one point. When he returned, I knew the logical thing to do was simply hand him back the snack, but I couldn't. I couldn't speak. I couldn't move. It was so uncomfortable. Eventually, he reached over and took the box from my lap.

He called me a few nights later and told me things weren't going to work out. He had met someone with whom he could have a real relationship with. It wasn't a shock. I understood why, but it hurt deep. I cried myself to sleep for weeks. Everyone said that I was just shy. They said I would outgrow my awkward phase. It turns out they were a bunch of liars. Ha-ha. With time I did start talking, but that didn't necessarily make things any less awkward. As it turns out, once I start talking, I have no filter.

At sixteen, I went on a date with James. I had met him once through a mutual friend. The date was alright. As usual, I was super quiet, and we could have made the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest game of pool ever played. Later that night, we went back to his parent's house to hang out. And no, I don't mean hang out with quotation marks. I think we watched a Flogging Molly show on tv.

I was going through some traumatic events at the time (subjects for another day), and once we started talking, everything spilled out. That's not how I envisioned our first date. Autistics tend to trauma dump, and apparently, I'm not an exception. James listened; at that moment, he was the most understanding human I had ever met. I turned away when James leaned in to kiss me goodnight. When he asked what was wrong, I said, "I can't. I feel stupid." As though the night wasn't embarrassing enough! Believe it or not, that landed me a second date. Was that because he pitied me? Probably. I'm okay with that. He ended up helping me through one of the worst times in my life. And for the record, I eventually got the kissing part down.

Black and white photo of the authors friends.
Kelly, Tessa, Stacy and Nikki on spring break 2000.

I had hoped that dating in my thirties would be easier, as I had been told so many times, but that has not been my experience. Knowing a stranger is mentally debating how bang-able I am while inhaling tacos and avoiding eye contact is not the best way to showcase my personality. I'm fun and love witty banter once you get to know me, but the all-important first date will most definitely be a train wreck. If I manage not to clam up completely, I will infodump everything I've ever learned about Selachimorpha.
At this point in life, I'm only interested in dating fellow neurodivergents, diagnosed or not. I don't want to have to explain why I could only eat bread with peanut butter and bananas every day for months, but now the thought of it makes me want to barf. Or why I feel the need to wear socks at all times. I want someone who, without question, understands me. However, dating neurodivergent folks comes with its own set of challenges. Why you ask? Because I'm not going to pick up on the fact that someone is flirting with me in the first place. The odds are they won't either. I need direct words for reassurance. If neither of us is willing to take the leap, our conversations will steadily decline until we don't talk!

I can see where my past relationships went wrong. I know what I value in a partner. I'm smart enough to know when I'm making a mistake but not quite controlled enough to stop myself. My heart is like, "Take your time; the right person will come along when you're ready." but my brain is like, "You're a single mom barreling towards forty, and those milk bags have a shelf life. Take what you can get. Bitter and unattached? Take it. Not sure what they want? It's cool. You can conform when they decide. Open relationship? Sure! Why not constantly wonder why you're not enough?".

Black and white photo of Stacy. She is pulling back her hair from her face.
Paducah Pride Festival 2022

When I say I know what I want, I mean it. I want laughs and cuddles. I want to feel safe. I want to be excited when they get home. I want to be their biggest cheerleader, where they feel most comfortable. I want to be with someone who is as happy to be with me as I am with them. But people don't "date" anymore. There aren't couples anymore. They eat together, cuddle, talk, and do the dirty, but they're "just friends."

If you're interested in trashing any self-worth you have managed to accumulate over your lifetime, then a situationship might be right for you!

A situationship is a romantic relationship treated as though it's platonic. No one's feelings are validated. You pretend they don't exist. Instead of taking the bad with the good and everything else, people only take the good: the good moods, the good feelings, the happiest parts of you. You're left with the features they discarded when the party’s over. It feels so incredibly lonely. To be completely honest, I have a few situationships. Some days I feel like a trollop; they rotate in and out of my life of their own volition.

One situationship in particular guts me. He lives in my town. He sleeps in my bed. We snuggle. He makes me laugh. I keep snacks for him at my house. He calls me "hun." My favorite messages are the ones that say, "face, please." We miss each other when he's out of town for work. We talk about everything. He's blunt and extremely intelligent. If I were a betting woman and this was Vegas, I'd lay down ten to one odds that he's got the -tism. We care about each other, but we're "just friends," and some days, it breaks me.

I've talked to several people since my separation, and this is all anyone seems to want. I know it's not me. Everyone has their baggage and feelings of inadequacy when it comes to romantic relationships, but that's not much consolation. As I started writing this piece today, "face please" messaged me to say that he's not anyone's happily ever after, and he doesn't want to hurt me. I wanted to say, "Then don't come over! Don't give me forehead kisses! Don't tell me you miss me!" but I settled for, "Don't worry. I'm a big girl. Ha-ha. I have no one to blame for my inner turmoil but myself.

A black and white photo of Stacy with her hair is high pigtails a striped shirt, and jeans. She is looking down.
Two steps forward and one step back. I'm finding my place after all these years.

The truth is, I don't understand how you can want someone and not want them at the same time. I don't know how you can share your life with another person and then walk away at the end of the day like they are something you could take or leave. I don't understand how you can desire so much of a person without some commitment.
As an autistic person, my attachments and emotions are intense. I can't maintain the emotional distance needed to make a situationship work. That said, I don't think situationships are easy for anyone.

I'm tired of saying I can handle things like a big girl. I want to scream. I want something real, but I feel like it isn't out there. Today was one of those days when I couldn't find the humor in any of this. All I could do was cry.
This is not where I'm supposed to be.

*Update: I reconnected with Kevin last year. I asked how things felt from his side. He said that when I didn't talk to him, it made him feel like I wasn't interested in him. He thought I didn't like him. I told him that I really did like him. We talked about autism and selective mutism. He apologized for not being more patient with me back then, but we were just kids. He had no way of knowing what was going on. I didn't understand the silence myself.

It was comforting to understand each other after all these years.

Editor's note: This article, titled 'It's Just Like Starting Over,' was originally published on the Alora Farm Blog on December 8, 2022 and is being republished here with permission from the author.

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Just your average queer, autistic, single mom navigating life in rural America. Nothing to see here.