Today’s article comes from a guest writer, an autistic woman who wishes to remain anonymous. We’ll call her ‘Ellie’. Ellie’s got some very interesting things to say about autism and romantic relationships, and how, after years of struggling, she found a relationship that works for her.
Her article opens with the firm statement ‘I will only date guys with autism/Asperger’s now.’ My first thought was ‘wow, that’s really going to narrow your dating pool’. However, it’s clear that Ellie has very good reasons for this, and that it’s right for her. Personally, I’ve never dated another aspie myself. It’s not that I don’t want to. I’ve got lots of friends on the autism spectrum, and it would be a relief to date someone who I didn’t have to explain issues like sensory overload and literal thinking to. I simply haven’t met a woman on the autism spectrum who is a similar age to me, single, and interested in women. (If you want the maths, one percent of the population has autism, 1 in 10 of that number is female and roughly 50% of those females define themselves as heterosexual). To my knowledge, all my girlfriends have been neurotypical.
But as Ellie is about to point out, dating a neurotypical, or anyone who’s brain happens to function in a different way to your own, can be difficult. It requires both parties to make huge compromises and imagine the world from a different perspective. I’m not saying it’s impossible. Relationships of any kind do require compromise… and I have had wonderful, meaningful romantic relationships with women who were very different from me. But it was never easy. I often felt that I had to change myself to fit the mould of an ideal girlfriend, and this put a huge strain on my mental health.
Now, here are Ellie’s thoughts on the baffling world of dating, and why Aspie’s dating Aspie’s might be the best option (at least for her):
I will only date guys with autism/Asperger’s now. I spent many years in frustrating and miserable relationships with neurotypical men and although we did everything to make it work (including therapy, trial separations, 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, just going along with things. I would go to therapists or take anti-depressants to try and ‘fix’ myself and make it work between us. I felt something was wrong all the time and assumed it was all 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 Asperger’s/autism.
Near the end of my last relationship I became really depressed and ultimately suicidal from trying to force things to work all the time and knowing that 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 families, 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 Asperger’s Syndrome. It felt like I’d been living on another planet the whole time and finally found someone of the same species. We started dating a few months later and it was so much easier than my previous relationships. Two of his cousins also have Asperger’s 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 this time. We are so much closer, because we think in 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 I had known how easy it is to date someone on the spectrum when I was younger. My ex has also found a non-autistic girlfriend and is much happier now, so it’s 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 Asperger’s 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, their 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. 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. I feel a lot more optimistic about the rest of my life.
What an interesting story! Ellie, I’m so glad you found a partner who’s right for you, and I wish you all the best. If you’re on the spectrum and looking to find a likeminded partner, there are several dating websites you can use. Try www.spectrumsingles.com , www.aspergers.disabledmate.com or www.aspieaffection.com Asperger’s Syndrome and Anxiety by Nick Dubin is well worth a read for anyone on the autism spectrum wishing to pursue a romantic relationship. His chapter “Anxiety and Relationships” suggests many useful strategies for maintaining self-esteem and not allowing rejection to deter you from dating. Dubin also highlights the positive qualities that many people on the autism spectrum possess, and that most people look for in their partners ‘loyalty and devotion… honesty… a none conformist and original personality’ (Dubin, Asperger’s Syndrome and Anxiety, p.116).
From Ellie’s story, it’s obvious there are benefits to aspies dating aspies. However, that’s not the only option, and it might not be the best option for you. (As I mentioned earlier, there are fewer women than men diagnosed with high functioning autism, so unless you’re a heterosexual female or a gay male, seeking out a partner with autism will narrow your dating pool considerably). Dating can be incredibly difficult for someone on the autism spectrum. It’s a complex process, requiring the ability to interpret body language and a detailed knowledge of social rules. If you’re on the spectrum, looking for love and as confused by the whole process as I am, please know this: You are beautiful in your own way. You have lots of qualities that people admire. You deserve respect and happiness. Although at times it seems like you can never compete with all the neurotypical men/women out there, you are someone’s idea of a perfect partner. And you’ll make them very happy one day.