1) Autistic people are often late bloomers when it comes to relationships.

Nick Dubin (author of Asperger’s and Anxiety and other self-help books) did not start dating until he was twenty five. In Asperger’s and Anxiety Dubin mentions another autistic man who didn’t date until his forties. That man is now married with two children. It can take autistic people a long time to develop the confidence and social skills we need to maintain meaningful relationships. But that does not mean meaningful relationships are impossible. Furthermore, entering the game late isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, as the above example should indicate.

2) Not everyone on the spectrum has an aversion to touch.

This is a very popular misconception. It’s true that while some people on the autism spectrum dislike physical contact or feel they need large amounts of personal space, that’s just not true of everyone. The autistic friends I have are actually way cuddlier than my neuro typical friends. They can occasionally take this too far, as it’s difficult for them to understand social boundaries. I love hugs and can be very affectionate when I’m in a relationship. However, if I am experiencing a great deal or stress or anxiety I generally don’t want to be touched or held. This is because all my senses are heightened, and any form of physical contact will result in my body pumping itself full of adrenalin because it feels like it’s being attacked. If you are unsure whether somebody on the autism spectrum will be comfortable with physical contact, just ask permission before you touch them.

3) An aversion to touch doesn’t always mean an aversion to sex.

This is a more tricky area. I can’t go into too much detail myself as I don’t have a constant aversion to touch. I’ve met plenty of autistic people who don’t do hugs, avoid most forms of physical contact and still manage to maintain sexual relationships. I won’t pretend to understand this, but it obviously works for them and brings them happiness. It would be unfair and prejudice to assume an autistic person does not have sex simply because they prefer handshakes to hugs.

4) A lack of social skills does not mean a lack of interest in socialising.

I have fallen victim to this misguided stereotype countless times. I’ll admit that I find socialising quite draining. Meeting new people makes me nervous and I don’t have the social skills necessary for interpreting peoples body language, facial expression and other forms of none verbal communication. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy socialising. I love chatting with my friends and going on dates. I just need to make sure I allow myself plenty of time to recuperate afterwards.

5) Our potential partners are not limited to other people on the spectrum.

I can see the benefits of dating someone who is on the autism spectrum. I wouldn’t have to explain the difficulties I face on a daily basis and I’d be less anxious of being dumped purely because I have Asperger’s. There is even a website http://www.aspieaffection.com for adults with Asperger’s Syndrome searching for likeminded individuals. However, it would be extremely limiting to suggest autistic people should only date others who are on the spectrum. I’ve never dated an Aspie myself (this wasn’t deliberate, the women I’ve been attracted to so far just happened to be neuro typical). However, I imagine there are a few downsides to romantic relationships where both parties are on the spectrum. For example: autistic people often think in black and white terms and can struggle to see things from other people’s perspectives. Imagine how violent an argument could be between two people who could not see the others perspective! I’ve already encountered this situation with many of my autistic friends, and having that kind of argument with a lover could only be worse.

6) We are very capable of love and affection; sometimes we’re just bad at expressing it.

There are a lot of people out there who seem to think autistics are not capable of love. I recall a time during my teenage years when I did not say ‘I love you’ to my parents and rarely hugged them. I was being bullied, and had dealt with that by retreating behind my walls, not expressing affection towards others because I felt it would make me vulnerable. I say “I love you” all the time now. I never stopped loving them; it was just difficult to express that love. After speaking with some autistic friends I’ve realised this kind of emotional shut down is quite common in times of crisis, particularly when the person in question is a teenager. I cannot imagine how difficult this is for our loved ones, whether it’s spouses, dates, friends or family. We will never stop loving you. Sometimes, it’s just so hard to express that love in words and actions.

7) Routine’s make every aspect of life feel safer, including dating.

One of the symptoms of autism is the imposing of a strict routine (to the point where any changes to that routine will cause a great deal of anxiety). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I remember when I had my breakdown. For a month Dad just kept repeating ‘you’ll be ok once you get into a routine’. And once I’d found the right routine, I was ok. If you are dating someone with autism, try to establish a regular date night, where you see them at the same time each week and do something fun together. This will increase their sense of stability and help them to relax more around you. There will be times when circumstances beyond your control force you to change the date routine. It would be unrealistic to expect this to cause no anxiety to someone on the autism spectrum. Just remember it’s nobody’s fault.

8) We’re often hopeless at flirting, but excellent at being loyal and affectionate.

I hate to make generalisations, but autistic people are often hopeless at flirting. This is because flirting is a complex aspect of socialising that relies on the ability to successfully interpret body language, facial expression and other none verbal communication. Autism is a social awareness and communications disability, so were bound to find this difficult. Sustained eye contact also seems to be an important part of flirting, and is something else autistic people can struggle with. Although we may suck at flirting, that doesn’t mean we won’t be loyal, affectionate, caring partners. If you’re curious about whether an autistic person fancies you, don’t rely upon a confused interpretation of their body language. Just ask them.

9) We can’t always read romantic signals.

This is probably the main reason dating can be so difficult for those of us on the autism spectrum. I’ve ignored a couple of sexual propositions from women I was VERY attracted to, simply because I did not realise what they were asking for at the time. Apparently if you meet someone in a club, make out with them and they invite you home for a ‘cup of tea’, it’s really a proposition for sex. This is probably obvious to some people, but not to me. At the time I said no, because I don’t drink tea. All I can do is urge people to be more direct about these kind of propositions. Not everybody has the social skills you take for granted.

10) We can’t always guess how you’re feeling.

This can be a real problem with both friendships and romantic relationships. I vividly remember one occasion when I had said something to upset a friend, and he didn’t tell me. For several months he just carried on as normal, expecting me to realise I had upset him through subtle indications in his body language and vocal tone. Of course, I had no idea what was going on. Autistic people just don’t have the skills necessary to interpret how you’re feeling. To us, none verbal communication is like a foreign language of which we only know a few words. At times, you will have to be very explicit when explaining how you’re feeling to an autistic person. That doesn’t mean we don’t care. We’re just bad at interpreting none verbal communication.

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39 thoughts

  1. “An aversion to touch doesn’t mean an aversion to sex.”

    I think this would be better stated as , “An aversion to touch doesn’t always mean an aversion to sex”. I am hypersensitive to skin to skin contact, and it definitely rolls over into my sex life.

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  2. Thank you! this has been really helpful. I am committed to someone on the spectrum and it can be challenging. I really appreciate your candidness and clear bullet points. I think understanding is the first step towards love. 🙂

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  3. I didn’t remain loyal to my ex-boyfriend but that was because he was extremely possessive and if I told him I was stressed he wasn’t sympathetic and he never did as I told him which just caused trouble. It got so bad my own body began to starve itself and my immune system was severely weakened because of the stress, so I began cheating on him to hurt him as much as possible.

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  4. Thank you for your candor…I am in a relationship with a beautiful being that is autistic, and for once in my life, there are no guide-lines. I think about the missed signals, like the grabbing food out of my hands..DUh! He was tired. hungry, and needed peace and quiet in a safe place. I think of nights i cried myself to sleep, thinking..o, all kinds of silly things. more-over, FORGETTING about the touch issue when it surfaced. Thank you for being a point of reference, as well as a reminder and reaffirmation that he truly is UNLIKE anyone I have known. I am so enjoying the uniqueness of this beautiful man, and the wonder of having him in my life. i have bookmarked this page, and subscribed as well. THANK YOU, again

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  5. I’m writing this, as I wish I had read this post myself 15 years ago!

    I will only date guys with autistism/aspergers now. I spent many years in frustrating and miserable relationships with NT men and although we did everything to make it work (including therapy, trial seperations, etc) there was always some sort of barrier between us. They were lovely people and neither of us did anything wrong. We just didn’t think the same way and always had to explain everything to the other person or keep quiet, which became very irritating after a few years. I don’t like to admit defeat and I tried so hard to ignore the issues and keep my mouth shut and just go along with things. I would go to therapists or take anti depressants to try and ‘fix’ myself and make it work between us as I felt something was wrong all the time and assumed it was my fault. I felt constantly guilty that I couldn’t do things ‘right’ and I know my exes felt just as bad. I never really thought about dating another aspie. I’m not sure why. I suppose I assumed it wouldn’t be all that different and therefore it wasn’t worth giving up a home and potentially ‘ok’ relationship. I also come from a small town and didn’t know anyone else with aspergers/autism.

    Near the end of my last relationship I became really depressed and ultimately suicidal trying to force things to work all the time and knowing something was missing. My ex felt the same way. I’m sure his ego took a huge battering trying to share a home with me, as we just couldn’t properly connect and had different needs. On the outside it was really good. We had a nice home, got on well with our familes, didn’t have big arguments, no one was cheating or doing anything nasty. We stuck it out for ten years and I think ultimately we were too nice to want to accept failure, so we both internalised most things and thought we were terrible people instead of just amicably calling it a day.

    When we finally broke up I met someone at work who had aspergers and it just felt like I’d been living on another planet the whole time and finally met someone of the same species! We started dating a few months later and it was soooooooooo much easier! Two of his cousins also have aspergers and we get on amazingly well. They are so much easier to interact with. I’m sure if we stay together then at some point there will be some disagreements as with any normal relationship, but I don’t feel as though I’m treading on egg shells all the time and we are much closer as we think the same way. I don’t feel exhausted or flat all the time. I don’t feel like I’m broken or wrong any more, as he shares all of my ‘oddities’! It just feels right. I wish wish wish I had known this years ago as I wouldn’t have wasted so many unhappy years. My ex has also found a non-autistic girlfriend and is much happier now, so it has worked out well for us both.

    I don’t want to suggest autistic-neurotypical relationships can’t work at all. I’m sure there are some success stories. But in my experience, dating someone without aspergers was much harder and lacked the same level of connection and understanding. I realise that even more now that I have something to compare it to. When you first meet someone, those differences can seem endearing and funny and you are willing to overlook certain issues and keep quiet. Especially if previous relationships haven’t worked out (which was the case with me). You try even harder to keep the next relationship going. But over time that gets draining for both people and once the ‘honeymoon period’ is over you need to have a solid shared connection to make it last or one or both of you end up feeling isolated and empty. I’m so much calmer and happier now that I can be myself and have people around that totally understand me and I’m a lot more optimistic about the rest of my life now that I know this!

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  6. I am Stephen Hinkle from San Diego, CA. I am a disability rights advocate and an international speaker on disability. My goal someday is a romantic partner and I am facing the same difficulties with the subtle cues and clues and how to pick up people, and others. I think you hit the nail on the head with this blog entry. I would be interested in communicating with you more about this. I am currently making a powerpoint to train educators on how to address this deficit. I wish I could do an e-mail or a skype interview with you on some more details.

    my e-mail is stephen@stephen-hinkle.com and my skype name is stephen.hinkle1. I am in San Diego, CA USA and my website is http://www.stephen-hinkle.com and I am an international speaker on disability and autism and have autism myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m autistic and I don’t really like contact sometimes. I don’t mind minor things that I am use to and expect like cuddles, snuggles, hugs, ect. I just find kissing to feel weird as I never kissed anyone in my life until last year, which was with my boyfriend I had been with for about four or five years now, (we met online and always talk through Facebook). I told him to take baby steps as moving too fast can cause a LOT of anxiety. I am use to friendships, but not actually being in a relationship. So it’s all new to me, and may take a very long time for me to get use to it.

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  8. I have failed marriage and two subsequent long term ones with children. My middle son is Autistic with ADHD. Talking with my ex-husband now about our marriage (10 years on) I am able to ask him. Do you think I may be Autistic? He relied that ‘that may be a good question’. All my relationships (in terms of partners to men) have ended due to the men not feeling loved. I personally cannot understand this as I know I loved all of them, and have been hurt by them ending. I don’t know why? How can I show love more I ask myself? I cook, clean, care for the children, work full time, care for step children am kind and a decent person. But the men in my life undoubtedly feel I am aloof and that I am uninterested. My ex-husband says I could reflect on how I made him feel at times due to the lack of physical affection. But it is very hard to reflect when one doesn’t obviously understand what it is I should be doing more of. I am now 42 and not diagnosed, although am certain am Autistic. I am afraid that I will never have a serious relationship because of this, despite me telling my ex-husband that I did love him, he said I knew that, but somehow it just isn’t enough to know I guess through someone’s loyalty and hard work. I am clearly not hiting the correct buttons for some reason. Does anyone else relate to this?

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    1. Hi Charlotte

      I’m sorry to hear that you’ve struggled to maintain relationships. It can be difficult knowing that you are ‘not hitting the correct buttons’ when it’s so hard to understand what the ‘correct buttons’ are in the first place, and everyone will expect something slightly different from their partner. From your comment you seem like a very hard working, loving person, so I wouldn’t be too hard on yourself. Some people do come across as more aloof than others, and that’s okay. It may not have worked out with your previous husbands, but there’s still time for you to find a like minded individual who operates in the same way you do. Have you spoken to your doctor about this feeling that you might be autistic? A proper diagnosis could give you a useful framework for understanding your issues and would also make it easier to explain the way you operate to any potential partners. I try to be upfront about my diagnosis while dating, and although it’s still not easy, people can be a lot more understanding when they are given all the information they need.

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  9. Interesting. Especially no.8: flirting.
    I’ve seen my friends did it very well. They begin their relationship first by flirting. I once ever tried once, but fail. I recorded my friend when flirting a girl. I memorized what he said to her and how his gesture was. Then I tried my luck. I was attracted to a girl, and copy my friend technique. But unfortunatelly, she just looked at me and went away, I don’t know what’s wrong. I did exactly as he did.
    I’m 27 and still single. I never have a date with a girl in my life time.
    Now, again, I’m attracted to other girl in my job circle. I don’t know how to move beyond work borders and go to a deeper relationship. Again, my friend came first, he flirted at her and she liked him, his warm, humorous, and cool personality and I’m being a loser. But now I don’t give a shit anymore. I’m back to my default state: being alone and enjoy it.
    I accept my weakness and I’m tired to pretend being like normal people.

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    1. Flirting can be very difficult to navigate. It sounds like you approached it in a very scientific manner, “researching” your friend and then attempting to copy his behaviour. This is a really interesting idea, but it’s worth remembering that what worked for one person in one situation might not work for another person in another situation. We are all different, and if romance were as easy as copying what goes on around us I’d probably be married by now instead of single and living with Dad! While it’s tempting to date people in your job circle (since these are the people we spend most of our time with) personally, I’d avoid relationships with people you work with, as if it doesn’t work out you will still have to spend time with them at work. It’s hard enough for me when I bump into my ex at the pub- I don’t know how I’d cope if I was with her 7.5 hours a day, 5 days a week. I’m glad you can find happiness and enjoyment on your own, but don’t give up! You may be different from your friend, but that does not mean you’re ‘being a loser’.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. wait, you recommended that we should avoid relationship from people in our workplace…
        but that’s the only place I ‘interact’ with people. Any advice where I can meet people?

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  10. hey 🙂 To answer some of your questions… yes, I am a girl, but I’m also a lesbian, so I can’t really tell you what’s attractive in a man! I suppose non gender specific things that I would look for in a partner would be confidence, someone I have shared interests with (and who’s passionate about those interests!) and someone who’s willing to have ‘deep’ conversations after we get to know each other. Everyone is looking for something slightly different, but if you want to do a bit more research into romance, dating and attraction there are plenty of resources online. As for meeting people… the obvious option is online dating websites, but these can be a bit daunting and have their own set of complex social rules. You could try looking into hobby/interest groups in your local area. For example, I’ve met people I have a lot in common with and feel comfortable talking to at creative writing workshops, heavy metal gigs and anime societies. Of course, where you find like minded people will vary depending on what your interests are. There is also the option of looking into autism support groups or more general disability support groups where you can meet likeminded individuals who may be experiencing the same issues you do. It’s completely up to you. However, I would suggest trying to find someone you share interests/values with and taking things slow, rather than immediately trying to flirt with a woman who you might have nothing in common with. If you are rejected (which at some point, everyone inevitably will be) just try and remember that it’s not your fault. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to date every woman in the world. You’ll have a specific type, just like the woman your pursuing will have a specific type. And if you don’t fall into that type then it’s nobody’s fault… it just didn’t work out with that girl. That doesn’t mean it won’t work out with another girl.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ahhh, thanks for the suggestion.
      Anyway it’s a bit hard to meet a girl with interest in physics and outer space 😀
      Yeah, I hope someday we’ll find someone who we’ve been searching for. Who knows. I hope that day will not be so long to come.

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  11. Hello! Great info here. I’m also a woman that is interested to date an Aspie woman. I am NT, so for me it’s hard to be as direct as you suggest, not because I’m shy, but because I don’t want to sound raunchy/crass. I want her to feel respected at all times, and I always want to have her consent for any physical touch.
    Sometimes I feel she gets taken advantage of because she tries so hard to ‘be normal’ (I despise that term but you get the idea) that she will date not-so-nice people just so she feels included. I am not like that, in fact I don’ like her in spite of her autism, but because of it, as she’s unlike anyone else. I’m honestly lost on how to proceed, because I can’t tell if she likes me ‘like that’ or if she just wants a friend. I’ve hugged her a few times, and she initiated cuddles once (she told me I was ‘physically pleasant,’ is that even a thing?) but do you have any suggestions on what I could say/do in a classy, non-threatening manner? Anything would help. Thank you so much!

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    1. Hi, it was lovely to read your message. It sounds like you really feel for this girl and have a lot off respect/understanding for her autism. People on the spectrum can be difficult to read, and I understand why you don’t want to be blunt about your feelings… but honestly, she might never realise you like her unless you tell her! Perhaps you could start just by complimenting her a bit more and seeing how she responds to it, ‘I don’t like her in spite of her autism but because of it, as she’s unlike anyone else’ is such a beautiful thing to say, and I know that if someone said it to me I would fall head over heels! Tell her that you like her, you think she’s incredible, but it’s up to her to decide whether or not she wants to pursue a relationship. You could start out just by going for coffee (somewhere familiar and quiet) and see where you go from there. From what you’ve told me you don’t come across as threatening at all. Just remember that we aspies do struggle to read social cues and body language… what might feel rauchy or crass to you could actually feel really subtle to her! Clear, direct communication is key.

      Good luck, and thanks so much for commenting. Stories like yours always remind me that we’re moving forward and there is a future out there for autistic people.

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      1. Thank you so, so much for taking the time to reply! I will gather the courage to tell her at (hopefully) the right time, your message gives me hope. Grateful hugs from me to you 🙂

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