When Chloe met Riley: the power of neurodivergent love

Ahead of our Symposium on Autistic Relationships, we’re exploring the magnetic attraction of neurodivergent love. We interviewed the Director of Studio Misfits, Chloe, and her husband, LGBTQIA+ and mental health advocate Riley, on the benefits of being similarly – and differently – neurodivergent.

Chloe and Riley, how did you first meet?

Chloe: We were a Covid Tinder romance. We had a lot of video dates before we met in person. Our first date was a socially distanced walk around a lake.

Riley: Chloe was insistent on keeping 1.5m apart at all times!

Chloe: Riley thought I was joking and couldnt believe I was following the rules so insistently. It was a great early relationship experience, as it meant a lot of talking and getting to know each other as people before we met and set a great foundation for our relationship.

Yes, a lot of us in the Reframing Autism office like to follow the rules too! What attracted you to each other at first?

Chloe: I was attracted to Riley because he’s so playful and funny, but also has an incredible depth to him. Where Im very much two feet on the ground and all about the practical, pushing forward and solutions, Riley is very connected to emotion and spirituality. The juxtaposition of who we are was very attractive.

Riley: Chloe was so incredibly unique and very much her own person. She knew what she wanted and has this remarkable ability to chase her dreams and goals, uninterrupted. She was rather mysterious, intriguing and the moment I met her, I knew I wanted to discover all there was about what made her tick and her experiences that formed who she is today. Her genuineness, wit, warmth and passion for life immediately captivated me.

At what stage did you learn of your own neurodivergence?

Chloe: My mum has been telling me for years that she thinks Im Autistic, but I only just started realising myself about a year after Riley and I started dating. I was formally diagnosed mid 2021. It has been a crazy, intense, beautiful journey learning about myself, and how that shapes who I am and our relationship.

Riley: I was diagnosed with ADHD in September of 2020 and underwent an Autism diagnosis in September of 2021 after Chloe and her siblings also sought a diagnosis. We went down the path of diagnosis at a similar time. Chloe: I had suspicions Riley was neurodivergent very early on. The way Riley interacts with the world, and the way life works best for him were very obviously different. Finding strategies that work for him was a huge game changer.

Neurodivergents have many of our own love languages. Amythest Schaber famously coined: infodumping, parallel play, support swapping, Please Crush My Soul Back Into My Body and “I found this cool rock/button/leaf/etc and thought you would like it.” What are your love languages?

Chloe: Parallel play is a big one for me! Also, acts of service. Riley loves physical touch and quality time. Its a struggle to understand what quality time is. (I need examples and often ask what would that look like – whereas, for Riley, its a feeling.)

Riley: Quality time, physical touch, words of encouragement and info dumping for me all rank quite similarly. Chloe definitely likes parallel play. She really enjoys doing her own thing while being in the same space, I think that encourages autonomy for both of us, whereas I am learning that its okay to be doing different things to my partner without constantly needing to be attentive. Chloe loves to do things for others that show shes thinking about them which is so incredibly encouraging.

What do you think are the benefits of loving a fellow neurodivergent person?

Chloe: Its been a huge learning curve figuring out what a neurodivergent relationship looks like. All our parental/peripheral examples of relationships are based on neurotypical models and values. Charting our own path of what an intimate, romantic relationship looks like for us is a journey. Realising that traditional markers of a goodrelationship dont always apply for us has been a game changer.

We have complimentary executive dysfunction, which is convenient! Things that I struggle with, Riley finds easier and vice versa – which is helpful!

Riley: For me, personally, this has been life changing. Being able to uplift and support each other when executive functioning or burnout occurs without having to expend energy explaining why we struggle is such a bonus.

Chloe: Our personal needs are often very different, so navigating how to look after ourselves before each other is a work in progress. Also, We operate life at very different paces. I am a steam roller through life, all go all the time. Whereas Riley takes things at a slower pace. Its hard sometimes to not get frustrated at each other, and live true to our own pace. Constant communication is the key. Anything left unsaid can often be misunderstood or misrepresented in our own heads. We are always clarifying with each other what things actually mean, what we heard and whether the meaning we put on things in our own head is actually what was intended.

Also, trying not to be each others carers has been a big one to learn. We know we need to be partners rather than carers, and utilising outside support since diagnosis has been a huge help. We individually only have capacity to look after one person, and if we are constantly looking after each other, were not taking care of ourselves. Utilising a professional support network outside of our relationship means that we are more able to relate as husband and wife, rather than taking on the role of support worker for each other (which can certainly dull the spark).

Riley: Body doubling is something that I’ve learnt about recently. When there’s a task you have to do and it’s really overwhelming to think of doing it yourself, it really helps if you do it with somebody else. So the other day, we had a massive pile of clothes that we hadn’t put away and Chloe just started doing it and instantly I got motivated to do it with her. Body doubling really helps with productivity for us.

Chloe: Yes, body doubling is a skill that’s really under-utilised and it’s been life changing for us.

Riley: Absolutely, because we both find different things quite difficult to do. I’m great at putting the washing into the washing machine. Not so good at hanging it out. That just seems very overwhelming.

Chloe: I struggle to bring it in. Just like – it’s out there. That’s a struggle. So there’s different parts of different tasks that we just find insurmountable.

Riley: Our differences complete each other, and that’s what I really like about us.

To learn more about this dynamic couple, you can read Chloe’s guest blog for Reframing Autism on how she established Studio Misfits or Riley’s interview on his transgender journey and his experience being an empath with ADHD on The EMpowering PATH Podcast.

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