A dispatch from the world of autism
Trawl the internet and you'll find a lot of books written by women who have discovered that the seemingly shy, sweet and quirky men they married turned out to have Asperger's syndrome, and their books tell stories of unrequited love, shattering loneliness and neglect.
But you'll be hard-pressed to find a voice from the other side.
Thirty-year-old Daryl Blonder of Salem may be that voice.
Blonder is the author of a new self-published memoir, "Problem Child: Confessions of an Aspie," in which he shares, with relentless honesty, the pain and loneliness of a man who wants nothing more in life than to love and be loved but who could never get beyond his disorder.
And he makes what he acknowledges will be a controversial argument: that men with Asperger's are simply incapable of ever having a "normal" relationship with a woman.
This, in part, because men with this disorder can't pick up on social cues and often act inappropriately. The syndrome, considered a "high-functioning" form of autism, is also marked by extreme egocentricity, odd interests (Blonder has had a lifelong fascination with telephone poles) and repetitive or ritualistic behaviors.
Blonder says he wanted to write a book that would address what he sees as a gap in the literature of autism.
"I reach puberty on page 20 out of 200," he says. "I think that extensive literature has been published on autism in childhood, but there has just not been a lot about adults with autism. Children eventually become adults."
And it is when he hit puberty that Blonder's personal struggle began.
"I had a very happy childhood. I came from a very good family. My parents were there all the way," Blonder says. "Puberty is when the stuff hits the fan. It gets real tough. It's like a 'm'aidez' for people with autism. Stuff kicks in. And we get confused."
The other reason Blonder wrote the book "is because I think there's this connotation out there that people with autism can have successful relationships and they can learn social rules, and it's not that simple. Trying to establish relationships and maintain them and achieve basic emotional needs that we do have, especially with the opposite sex, is an epic quest for us, and it oftentimes is a lifelong venture."
Indeed, Blonder paints a fairly bleak picture of an Aspie's prospects of finding love. His book is a chronicle of heartbreaks, as he tries and fails - with one woman after another - to connect. These disasters have led him to "some very dark places," even to attempts at suicide.
"Autistic adults often go through their entire lives with no friends, no significant other," he says. "It's just not that easy, and I want the world to understand how we think. I want to put the reader inside my head. This is how I view relationships. And the social nuances that people just take for granted ... They're just a part of you; they're not a part of me."
The most controversial conclusion he has reached: that men with Asperger's seeking sexual gratification should resign themselves to hiring escorts.
"The defining moment for me in my life, probably the most traumatic event ... that really almost took me over the edge was when I liked a girl in high school, and I just didn't know how to approach her and I sent her anonymous gifts," he says.
"And it was revealed that she was really afraid of me. That was horribly traumatic. I mean, it forever tainted my ability to feel comfortable around women. ... I say stuff, and I'm shifty. It's just the way my demeanor is; I can't help it.
"And always after that: intense paranoia. Am I going to freak her out if I do this? Am I going to freak her out if I do that?"
And so the book is quite explicit in detailing Blonder's visits to clubs where he could find sexual satisfaction without having to be afraid.
"I feel that there will be controversy about some of my life decisions," he says. "And I really believe how I resign myself with my romantic life has the potential to generate a lot of discussion."
In his professional life, Blonder has worked for McDonald's, in movie theatres and - his dream - the movie business itself, as an extra, a caterer and, in "The Bronx Is Burning," an actor with a line.
He has an IMDb page and hopes to get larger roles in the future.
But he says his interest in the movie business wasn't so much about "the craft" as "wanting to be in the movies, everything was all about talking to girls."
But Blonder is quite honest in admitting he has no desire for a traditional relationship with a woman. He still lives with his parents, and would not want to change that.
"I don't want to get married and start a family. I live in my own world. I feel really weird about bodily functions. I just couldn't really live with someone, and I like to go on road trips by myself," he says.
"To be honest would be to say something like 'I'm committed to being single; I practice safe casual sex as a lifestyle, and I like to be with different women and enjoy them and experience them and share myself with them. But I'm just not interested in anything permanent.'"
Blonder says he does not pretend to speak for all Aspies, but only to tell his own story.
"I'm speaking for me. There's a saying: 'When you've met one person with Asperger's, you've met one person with Asperger's.' Because everybody has their own story," he says. "Due to the controversial decisions I've made in my life, I don't want to position myself as an autism advocate. I want my story to be told as somebody that has lived with it and has it to share."
And yet, Blonder feels his book addresses several questions: "How should autistic people live their lives? Should we tell our kids it may be hard now, but you can have a relationship too, or should we tell them it's going to be very difficult for you to have a relationship? What do you tell your kids?
"Because the reality is it's a really rough world out there for us. We have to find our way. We just live by a different set of rules. I mean, things that apply to other people don't really apply to us sometimes."
For more information about Blonder's book, visit www.aspieconfession.com.