Dating is probably one of the most difficult social areas for someone with Asperger’s Syndrome, yet it’s rarely spoken about in that context. I imagine this is because of the stereotype that everyone on the autism spectrum hates physical contact and therefore has no interest in finding a sexual partner. Plenty of autistic people love hugs. Plenty of autistic people love sex, although it can be difficult for us to interpret the flirtatious behaviour and romantic signals. If you are an adult Aspie who’s experienced difficulties with dating I suggest picking up a copy of Nick Dubin’s Asperger’s and Anxiety. The author himself has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome and did not start dating until he was twenty four. However, he provides many useful tips for increasing your confidence and modifying your behaviour in order to make it suitable for the dating.

I began dating when I was in my early teenage years and in complete denial regarding my Asperger’s. I had a few casual flings with boys that were generally the result of a desperate need to act “grown up” rather than a general attraction to each other. I won’t say that I felt nothing when we kissed, rather that whatever was going on in my body seemed completely detached from my mind, and my thoughts tended to wander when I should have been in the moment, enjoying myself. I thought that was as good as it gets. Then when I was older, I started noticing girls and everything just sort of clicked into place.

I say that as though dating was instantly easy. Things actually got far more complicated when I began to date girls. Homophobia and discrimination aside, suddenly my feelings were on the line and I was far more socially awkward around people I felt a genuine, palpable attraction to. I had one successful, long term relationship with a woman when I was about sixteen, but that was severely hampered by my mental health. Since I was self-harming regularly, sex just wasn’t an option because I could not allow her to see the scars on my body. The few relationships I tried to form after my long term girlfriend and I split up fizzled out very quickly. That may have been because I was still hiding my scars and therefore couldn’t get naked, but I suspect it was more to do with my autism. I was terrible at reading romantic cues. I often initiated physical contact where it was unwanted. Occasionally I even ignored sexual propositions from women I was very attracted to because I did not have the social skills necessary to interpret their requests. On dates I came across as awkward, rude and just plain weird. That’s certainly not how all autistic people come across when dating, but it was my experience, and it wasn’t long before I gave up altogether.

It took me several years to rebuild my confidence and self-esteem to the point where I was ready to start dating again. A big part of this was coming to terms with my disability and outing myself as an Aspie. This meant that I could concentrate on developing my self-awareness and social skills, rather than pretending there was no problem or scolding myself for being so bad at talking to other humans. The first step I took was to join a lesbian dating website. At the time this was a really big deal for me. It took loads of courage, so I was surprised when the responses I received from family and friends were purely negative, mostly along the lines of ‘don’t expect too much’ or ‘expect nothing at all’. When a friend fixed me up and I went on a few successful dates it was the same responses. ‘Don’t get too excited’ ‘don’t expect anything’ ‘don’t think of it as a date.’ I think the worst (although completely well-meaning) response I got was this: ‘I’m glad you’re seeing someone who’s not from that website. Those kind of things tend to attract real creeps!’ I joined that website. If the rest of the women on there are creeps then what does that make me?

I am sure that the people who made these comments had my best interests at heart. They loved me and they didn’t want to see me get hurt again. However, I have taken extreme measures to avoid being hurt in the past, only to find myself miserable and isolated. I was very hurt by the number of negative responses that my re-entry into world of dating seemed to elicit. If there is one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that successful dating requires a healthy level of confidence and self-esteem. This is something people on the autism spectrum often lack due to stigmas against disability, and may be the main reason we tend to struggle with dating. I knew that if I allowed them to, the negative comments I had received would become self-fulfilling prophecies.

‘Don’t expect anything to happen.’
Why not? Am I really that unattractive?

‘Don’t expect too much.’
Hmmm… perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a nice woman to fancy me…

‘Don’t think of it as a date.’
You’re right. She doesn’t want to date me. I’m far too strange and ugly for anybody to want to date me.

Low self-esteem and neediness are not sexy. Its confidence and self-assurance that turns people on. Besides, if you believe you are undateable then you’re not likely to put much effort into the dates you go on, causing you to become undateable. See what I mean about self-fulfilling prophecies?

Asperger’s Syndrome is an invisible disability. Unlike someone who’s say… blind or in a wheelchair it’s not always obvious which areas of life autistic people will struggle with. Therefore we have to spend a great deal of time filling out needs assessments. These are forms that basically list everything we have ever failed at or found difficult, and filling them in is the only way to receive the financial, social and medical support we need to live a normal life. You try writing a list of all the things you are incapable of… I can guarantee that by the end of it your confidence will be completely shattered. This anecdote highlights the fact that it can be difficult for adults on the autistic spectrum to maintain a healthy self-esteem. Nowhere is this more apparent than when flirting and dating. If you want an autistic person you know to find love and happiness, please think twice before you say something to undermine their confidence.

My experience of dating as an Aspie has been tough (just like dating would be for a neurotypical) but it has also been enjoyable and rewarding. In order to make my love life easier, the first thing I had to do was change the way I thought about myself. Now, when I hear those negative comments mentioned earlier I take a deep breath and do my best to challenge them.

‘Don’t expect anything to happen.’
Something might happen. I am attractive.

‘Don’t expect too much.’
It is not unrealistic to expect a nice woman to fancy me.

‘Don’t think of it as a date.’
Some women do want to date me. I am not strange. I am not ugly. I am good enough.

Dating is still hard. I know that I struggle to interpret people’s facial and body language, and often compensate by being far too analytical. The straw in her drink is facing away from me? That must mean she doesn’t fancy me after all. No tongues when we kiss? I am about to get dumped. It’s easy for autistic people with a developing self-awareness to get caught in this kind of trap, where it’s impossible to relax in social situations and the simple twitch of an eyebrow must mean something terrible is about to happen. The best way to avoid needless paranoia is to establish direct communication between yourself and your partner. Be honest about your diagnosis. Explain that you struggle to interpret body language/facial expression and therefore they might need to be more direct than usual about how they are feeling. Coming clean about your diagnosis can be terrifying. The concern that you will be rejected by a potential partner purely because of my autism is a very common one. If that happens, try to reframe it as a positive. After all, you wouldn’t want to date someone that prejudice anyway. It’s a good job you’ve found out what they’re really like before things got serious.

Finally, I would like to highlight the fact that although I have examined dating from the point of view of Asperger’s Syndrome and high functioning autism, it is perfectly possible for those of you with high support autism to go on dates. This could present a new set of challenges, such as explaining why you flap your hands or finding an alternative form of communication for none verbal autistics. However, people with severe autism have as good a chance of finding love as anyone else. Having a disability does NOT mean you are out of the game.

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6 thoughts

  1. I found this to be a quite stimulating read. I’ve never been diagnosed but many people have said in the past that they think I may be autistic. I’m almost certain I fall somewhere on the scale but I’ve always thought it would be better to just not label myself. I’m weird yeah… but I’m me. People who can’t accept that can go away. When it comes to relationships I often find myself getting paranoid. In regards to one of my past relationships I feel I came off as smothering as I would always tell her I loved her(alot) as I needed the confirmation of her saying it back to reassure me that things hadn’t changed in the half an hour since the last time I said it. If she ever didn’t say it there was this world destroying feeling of heaviness…. your blog was an interesting and enjoyable read that opens the mind to thinking about these things. You’re right that this topic is discussed enough.

    Like

    1. glad you enjoyed it 🙂 you seem to have a great deal of self awareness, but sadly this can result in paranoia regarding the actions of others, I know it’s not easy, but it’s good to at least try and let go of the things beyond your control

      Like

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