Humans crave love and affection. It's how we're built. We all want to settle and form a stable romantic relationship at one point in our lives and maybe even start a family. Unfortunately, for people with autism, things stand a bit different. The sad reality is that only 5% of autistic individuals get married. Half of the people with autism live with their families as adults because they don't know how to meet people or understand long-term relationships.
That doesn't mean autistic people don't want to form an intimate relationship. It's a common misconception that they don't want to connect. While some are not interested in romance, others actively pursue relationships. The desire to go on a date with someone is genuine, but many people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle to have a successful date. Many things might go wrong, so you'll have to prepare beforehand for the big night.
Here are some tips to help you get started. They are general tips that should be adjusted to your specific needs and preferences.
Most neurotypical people think that meeting people is the hardest part of dating. The bar is the most popular spot for "hooking up," but for an autistic person, it can be hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Luckily, there are many other ways you can meet new people. However, this means you need to get out of your comfort zone. If you are not ready for this step or don't have the necessary social skills, take it slow.
Ask a friend you like on a date, a friend you're comfortable with. Usually, everything goes well, but if this organic approach doesn't work, here are other options:
- Try an autism dating app. In our modern days, there is an app for everything. In 2019, a group of developers created a new application where people with autism spectrum disorders can connect. It is called Hiki. Online dating websites can also help you plan for what to do and talk with a person. Be careful of people who engage in fraudulent activity and whom you meet. Some are not interested in a committed relationship.
- Go speed dating. Many communities hold events like this. A group of people looking for love gathers in a place. You go on mini-dates for a couple of minutes with several people, and if you like someone, you can extend the time.
- Find people with shared interests. Adults with ASD have narrow and focused passions. Do you love dinosaurs? Then there are plenty of clubs you can join with the same interests. Groups will put you in a less stressful situation because you don’t need to perform small talk but focus on the object of interest.
Be careful of workplace romance. It’s often discouraged or forbidden, one of the reasons being it will create an awkward atmosphere if the relationship doesn’t work out. Visit your favorite places and take the time to notice the people around you. Don’t be disappointed if you won’t find the right person right away.
Asking Someone on a Date
Before you ask someone on a date, it's good to figure out if they are interested in you. However, it can be difficult for an autistic person to read verbal or non-verbal communication. It's also hard to detect disinterest and a sarcastic tone of voice. Yet body language is critical for judging interest (eye contact, a touch on the shoulder, etc.).
You also need to know how to show interest in someone. Understand what's appropriate or not, such as the difference between a harmless, flirtatious joke or an offensive remark. Show interest by asking questions about the things your potential dates like or use the same cues for showing interest. Learn about romance and develop social skills by watching as many movies and TV shows as you can. They are great educational tools. However, you need to understand that what is depicted is not entirely accurate or describing dating in the real world. Watch movies with a friend or a family member so you can discuss what's happening and you can correctly interpret the cues.
Asking out a person on a date is not easy, whether autistic or not. Keep calm, take a deep breath, and relax. It's essential to be confident and remember that everyone has unique qualities that people will find attractive. Role-play asking out with a friend or, again, watch romantic movies or shows. If you don't want to ask them out in person, you can always email them or text them.
Rejection can hurt. It can be embarrassing and surprising, but everyone has a right to turn someone down. Rejection can happen even if someone has shown interest in you. Of course, you can turn down someone if that person makes you uncomfortable. People's feelings change, and we don't always get clear reasons for it. You have to accept their decision and move on; sometimes, we can't all be on the same page. If you're asking someone out face-to-face, think of how to respond in case of a rejection. Don't take it personally because there are plenty of fish in the sea!
Dating Tips for People with Autism
You've managed to snag a date (Yes!), and it's time for your first date. It's perfectly normal to be nervous, but don't be too focused on this, or it will ruin a lovely time.
Here are some valuable tips to keep in mind:
Practice, practice, practice!
A friend in need is a friend indeed. Experts recommend that you role-play with a friend who communicates clearly and gives trustworthy advice. Ask them about anything date-related: what you should expect, what you might do, what it will feel like. You can also try out different conversation topics, work through tricky moments—and be ready for anything. It will make you feel less nervous about the date.
Have Good Manners
People (and girls especially) like it when someone has manners. Make sure not to talk with your mouth full, pull the chair for them, or keep a moderate tone of voice. It might be hard for someone with autism to do this, but you can work on it. And table manners are a must! Don't be messy or eat too fast. If your date sees you act nice with other people, she'll be more forgiving if you haven't mastered other skills.
First impressions matter. It would help if you looked nice when in public to match the activity, and it's a must on a date. Wear good-looking clothes, even if you're picky about what you wear. No hats or ugly shirts. You should also have good personal and dental hygiene. Make sure to shower and wear a nice-smelling perfume, especially if you get a hug at the end. And if you end the date with a kiss, you need to brush your teeth and use mouthwash.
Pick the Right Place
You might not like a bustling bar as your date place, as you can be distracted by the loudness or flashing lights. Don't choose a place that makes you feel uncomfortable. Include distance as another factor, if it's convenient to get there, the cost of the restaurant, and choose the right amount of time for the date. Coffee is a good choice for getting to know someone and see if you're compatible. Also, keep in mind that plans can change. Be ready to go with the flow; we know it isn't easy to accept it, but unpredictability is a part of the dating world. This does not mean the person is not interested, but unexpected things can happen outside of that person's control. Try to be understanding.
Be Interested & Listen Closely
You need to show your partner you are interested in what they have to say. Ask them questions, even if it's hard to know what to ask. If you've practiced beforehand, you got this! People love to talk about themselves, so make sure you listen. Talking too much about yourself is a mistake, so make sure you give your partner a chance to respond. Assume your date cares about your interests as much as you do about theirs. If you listen, your date will trust you more. Making eye contact is a great way to show interest. Looking away might make someone feel like you're not listening.
Autism is a disorder not many know about. Your date should be aware of your diagnosis (if you're comfortable with the idea) and how you two will interact in the future. Feedback is important to you, and your date should let you know what they like or not during the date. For example, making eye contact is hard for many autistic people, so you can share that information when you're ready. They need to understand that it's nothing personal.
Also, be interesting. It helps if you have a unique talent to attract the attention of the person you like. This doesn't mean you should present yourself as something you're not. Be your best self. But be careful not to brag. Sometimes, letting other people praise you is much more attractive.
If you don't know the person you're going out with very well, then safety is essential. Meet in a public place, and let someone you trust know where you are going and when you're coming home. You should also consider:
Sensory issues: Dating involves physical contact. If hugging might be too much for you, try holding hands instead. If you're going somewhere with lots of people and visual stimulation, and suffer from sensory issues, consider taking a break while letting your date know.
Intimacy: It’s an inevitable part of dating, so be careful about physical contact. Before going intimate, make sure you are both involved in the romantic relationship and comfortable with this. Ask your dating partner directly if you want to know for sure.
Love fixations: An autistic person is inclined to develop obsessions, even for people. While being knowledgeable about a specific topic is ok, it could be misinterpreted by the focus of this fixation. Incessant texting might have the best intentions, but repeated messages seem threatening to the other person. Make sure your advances are not overwhelming and perceived as stalker behavior. Your feelings should be reciprocated before making a move.
It sounds like a cliche, but people with autism feel like they need to put on a mask to be accepted. Of course, the whole dating process is trial and error since neurotypical people might get scared of you knowing 3,000 facts about dinosaurs. For some, it can be a deal-breaker, and that's ok. Someone out there will love listening to you talk about Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Remember to have fun. You shouldn't feel pressured to overperform; you're just going out with someone you can connect with. If the person makes you feel uncomfortable, then stop and leave. Nothing is more important than yourself. In no time, you'll be able to form successful relationships that will make you feel fulfilled.