In the latest episode of the New York Times‘s podcast Modern Love, Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe read “Somewhere Inside, a Path to Empathy,” a heartwarming yet hilarious essay written by author David Finch about his struggles with Asperger’s syndrome.
Although his disorder threatened to ruin his marriage, he spent 11 years working with his wife, Kristen, to develop a sense of empathy and establish channels of communication within their relationship.
With an enigmatic voice that seamlessly switches between Kristen’s patient tone and David’s agitated one, Radcliffe brings this story to life and beautifully conveys Finch’s vulnerability, frustrations, and eventual sense of triumph.
Finch opened the essay by sharing how his eccentric and standoffish behavior created many tensions, causing his marriage to deteriorate:
“Ashamed by my seeming insanity, I withdrew, until our life together became long car rides without conversations or silent evenings watching TV in the same room but feeling worlds apart, months without any real connection.”
However, Kristen was unfazed by this setback. As a speech therapist, she began to piece together the various clues indicating that there was more to his behavior than met the eye. It would be another two years before she administered an Asperger’s syndrome evaluation. Finch vividly recalled that evening, when he finally found the answers he’d searched for since childhood:
“That day in Kristen’s office was a watershed moment for me, and ultimately, for us. As she continued her evaluation, I laughed and cried as the questions so perfectly revealed me. My score? 155/200. That meant, as Kristen put it, ‘a whole lot of Asperger’s.”
But what does it feel like to live with Asperger’s syndrome? To provide a better understanding of the disorder, Finch took us into his mind and described the lens with which he views the world:
“Three defining characteristics – egocentricity, odd and sometimes repetitive behaviours, and an obsession with a special interest. The obsession tends to make us experts in strange subjects with an enthusiasm for discussing them at length [at] cocktail parties, oblivious to audience interest.”
The diagnosis brought much comfort and relief to Finch, who had developed a newfound understanding of himself. Determined to save their marriage, his wife set out to help him develop better empathy and communication skills.
“So we worked on how to vent constructively, a process that began with her actually having to explain to me why my insolent behaviour might upset people. Positive changes, me talking reasonably about a problem, was rewarded with her newfound joy of being in my company, which was what I craved more than anything.”
It was a difficult process, and the couple had multiple hurdles to cross. Finch shared the anecdote of being irritated by their messy house to demonstrate the significant improvement that he had made within a few months. Now, he was able to show genuine concern for his wife and display small acts of kindness. Finch concluded on an optimistic note, reflecting on the success that he and his wife have achieved:
“When something is wrong, Kristen is able to whisper those three magic words, ‘Can we talk?’, and instead of shutting down and freezing her out with silent brooding, I’m able to provide an equally magical response, ‘Yes.’ “
“Somewhere Inside, a Path to Empathy,” published in 2009, has become one of the most-read Modern Love essays in the column’s history. Finch reflected on its widespread popularity:
“What I didn’t know was that it would affect so many people in a deeply personal way. It would help them to understand somebody in their life better. […] I think what delighted people was that, here is a husband and wife who started out as best friends, who said, ‘This could take us down but if we work together, it doesn’t have to.”
As for what listeners could take away from his experiences, Finch had a simple message: