Aspergers and Dating
One of the first bits of advice I got when researching dating for Aspies was, just be you. It took me aback and it took me quite a while to work out why that was. It is because we are always so used to putting faces on to the wider world that we sometimes forget who we are, underneath it all.
When I started to think about dating as an Aspie, two things immediately struck me. There are plenty of books for people already in a relationship. There are lots of programmes such as The Undateables, which show Aspies getting together. But nothing in-between.
There must be lots of Aspies of my generation who have never even approached a prospective partner, or if they had, they had either misread or completely missed out on signals and been left wandering in an uncertain emotional wilderness, unsure of who to ask for help.
So, where to start? Well, with a query to the Autism Dating Support Network on Facebook: What advice can you offer me about how to go about meeting Aspie girls in my area, on how to entice someone to go on a date with you, how to make the most of it, common pitfalls to avoid, etc.?
The answer: I would start with a local autism centre and see if they have a group with events. As for behaviour, I feel its best to just be you. I believe friends before dating often works well. If the other person is on the spectrum though, they may not get flirting cues and it sometimes helps just to be direct and ask if they would like to go out on a date. I found out a lot of things just by practice
So, how do you go about meeting people? Well, a good way of doing this is to make a note to yourself of what your main interests are. Once you’ve done that, try writing a sentence or two about each. Use lots of positive words and phrases, such as really; what I like about this; why I really like. This will show you off in a really good light. What you are looking to do here is to plant seeds of interest in your prospective partner’s mind. You’re more likely to do that successfully if you come across as open, upbeat and honest.
As I wrote that, a recent conversation I had with a colleague at work sprung to mind. I told her I was writing a dating profile. I said I’d never had much luck before and wasn’t sure why. She replied along the lines of, well, if you approach it as a friendship type of thing first of all and don’t give too much of yourself away, because that’s always a mistake. People lose interest if you tell them too much too quickly.
As an Aspie, I’ve always been very self-conscious. Always having been taken aside as a teen and a young adult and been told things like watch what you’re saying to people, think about what you’re saying to people. Well-intentioned as this might have been, its ultimate effect was to make me think I wasn’t good enough. So, my aim in constructing my new dating profile was to keep it short and keep it simple. Draw people in. Make them want to get to know you better.
Be yourself and don’t try to be the person that you think the wider world wants to see. Just a simple bit of advice, given to me off the cuff by a colleague in an everyday conversation. Keep it short and keep it simple.
Just about every TV show has in it at least one couple who are building up a relationship, who are having both fun and difficulties in doing so. In general, they are surrounded by friends and family who are always on hand to offer them help, advice and emotional support, just when they happen to need it the most. Our issue is that, as Aspies, quite often we have no one to turn to. We may not have a close friend (or even a close group of friends) with whom we can share questions and experiences, or ask for advice. And we may well feel awkward about asking our parents or siblings for help here.
We’ve got to work on this, we’ve got to work on that and we are always being told that we have to work on the other. That’s all good advice but it’s all wrong. The people who give us this advice tend to only see us making mistakes and, therefore, want to help us avoid all these pitfalls. They’ll want to open us up a bit more but may not have the knowledge or the patience to help us to do so.
As Aspies, we see each other’s colleagues and friends around us all day, flirting with each other, enjoying each other’s company, having a laugh, creating chemistry between each other. They do that by reading signals and trading sparks off each other, sharing interests, sharing looks and comments and stories and, eventually, life experiences. This is a skill we have to learn by rote, whilst others pick it up naturally. Like a muscle, the more we flex it, the stronger it will become.
We live in an age now when more and more people are being diagnosed later in life. This brings with it individual needs. So, the best advice I can give you here is to just be yourself. And to do that, it’s worth spending a bit of time actually working out what you want from a partner.
Think then about how much you enjoy talking about your interests and then (this bit is really important) think about when to cut off the talking and ask your potential other half or date some questions about themselves, just purely to show you are interested. Would you not enjoy having someone else to share these interests with? That’s good because it is a starting point. There’s this thing I’m reading about just now, The Freeze Loop (https://www.aspergerexperts.com/go/freezeloop-guide/?utm_campaign=OntraPort-Indoc-Seq&utm_medium=email&utm_source=email-automated&utm_content=7-Indoc-Seq&utm_term=essentials-video), which basically says that Aspies exist in circles. The interest and the attraction. You notice someone and there’s something about him or her that makes you want to know more.
Aspies tend to get stuck. They tend to get lost in a fog of ideas, hopes, fears, inexperience and generally not knowing where to go next. So, where do you go to meet someone? There are a great many dating websites for Aspies. This is a very good starting point.
You can get hints and tips. You can hear stories of both success and failure from which you can draw something and learn. Get out there, find out who else is interested in the kind of things you are interested in. And always keep an eye out for one that is different. Someone who is not exactly the same as you. This will give you something to test your mettle against. You know, in your heart of hearts, you want someone slightly different as a true partner in life will help you move on.
Finding a partner will take time and patience. You will feel nervous. You will make mistakes along the way and you will do a lot better than if you had merely stood or sat there, just waiting for things to happen. Go out there and keep trying and learn from the mistakes you make as you are making them. That happens whether you are on the autistic spectrum or not. Best to acknowledge that and get it out of the way.
I think one of the mistakes people have made in the past, when trying to help out my generation of Aspies, is to mistake naivety for emotional immaturity. What has ultimately undone them, in their quest to help us mature and move on is the fact that, underneath it all, they have felt that we, as the Aspie, are not yet ready. The intentions may be good but I still argue here and now that it is a mistake nonetheless.
What I want you to do now is to imagine yourselves in a social setting. It could be your desk at work. It could be you are out with a group of friends, maybe in a café or a pub. Where are you? Who are you with? Why are you there? How o you feel? How do you want to feel?
I see families, couples and other singletons around me, all enjoying each other’s company. How do I know this? I am observing them and that is what you need to start doing with the people around about you. The people around about me are looking into the eyes of each other. They are listening to what each other are saying.
They are bouncing off what each other are saying. They are mirroring each other’s body language. That’s what relationship building is all about. Building up a connection with each other. They’ve all got here through being relaxed in each others’ company. Its taken time and its taken effort. That’s what we all have to keep on doing. One of our mistakes as Aspies, is that we don’t have (at least at the start) an off switch while we are talking to people. We are so nervous and so concentrated upon ourselves and getting the right impression across that we forget to breathe. Just take a step back, take a breath and remember, it’s not all about you. So, take a step back from yourself and let them think, let them absorb, let them take in as well.
You’ll find things flow so much easier from there. They will have nerves. They will have hopes. They will have wishes. Most importantly of all, they will have feelings of their own. Other people have feelings and these feelings need to be taken into consideration, if you want to have a successful date. It will all go a long way towards getting there.
Before we finish this bit on feelings, close your eyes and imagine something for me. You feel nervous. You feel excited. You look around and everyone else seems to be doing so much better than you. They seem to be connecting with each other. But – here’s the thing! – many of them are not!
Many of them are pretending and are, in fact, every bit as nervous as you. The thing is, they’re better at pretending. We Aspies are great people watchers and quite often, we get so sucked into doing this that we miss the actual point of why we are there in the first place.
Anyway, imagine that you are in that social space. Have a walk around it. Try and look for either someone who isn’t talking to anyone. Again, keep your breathing and body relaxed. This will all take time. Smile, say hello and ask how they’re doing, how’s it going, something like that. Finding out what works for you. The conversation may stutter at first, but persevere and you’ll get there in the end. Mix open questions with closed. Try and bounce off what each other are saying.
At the very start of this journey, I was scared of being laughed at. I was scared to admit to myself that I thought I’d failed. I’d have to try again and move on. What I didn’t realise was that this was something I could build upon. That is as important as working out what is right for you. Mistakes are important. They are the bricks in life from which we can build ourselves up. We know what not to do the next time.
Interacting more with girls socially and at work really helps, getting more relaxed in social situations in general. Learning where all the social boundaries lay. This is difficult and will take time. Don’t fall back into the comfortable trap of routine and rigmarole, no matter however tempting it may seem.
I would say don’t worry but if you are anything like me then you will take things like mistakes to heart and think about them over and over, so it would be hypocritical of me, here and now, to say that. What I am going to say, instead, again, is that you learn from them, spend a bit of time analysing them, working out where they happened, why they happened and what you can do to stop them happening again.
Maybe here and now is a good place to stop and consider what some of the common mistakes that an Aspie can make on a date are. Number one has to be coming cross the wrong way. It’s a term I hear a lot about social interaction. To me, it means, first of all, the way you appear. We Aspies have had to learn body language by rote, whereas those who are not on the spectrum have picked it up naturally, so it flows more. Therefore, we can come across as clumsy and robotic.
You can build on your weaker areas by watching how other people do them. If you can, without making it too obvious, try mirroring other people slightly, seeing how other people relate to them, what works (and – more importantly – does not work) for them.
We tend not to fluctuate our voices, to speak in the same monotone all the time. While this is comforting for us, it is very difficult for other people to listen to and will prove a major turn-off for anyone speaking to us. Instead, the main clues lie in observing other people. Hear how their voices go up in response at the end of hearing someone speak, almost as if they are asking a question in sound only? That’s a great tip to pick up on, as it indicates to the other person first of all that you are listening to what they have said and also that you are interested and want to hear more from them. That’s a really good way of building up a rapport.
We also have a tendency to be too blunt for most people’s tastes. What we need to do is to get into the back and forth rhythms of conversation, to take a moment and to listen to what the other person is actually saying. A good habit here, is to repeat, just casually, the last two or three words that the other person in the conversation has said to us. That, again, is a good way of telling them that you are both interested in what they re saying to you and, more importantly, that you have been listening to them. Pick out a few key words or phrases. Have they asked you a question somewhere in there? Have they mentioned something about their past? Have they mentioned something upcoming that they are going to do or are looking forward to? Take that and use it.
Sometimes you will end up saying the wrong thing because you have misunderstood them, but don’t worry! As well as being embarrassing, mistakes can be fun and you can learn from them too. Trust me, as painful as dating will be at times, there will be some funny experiences. Imagine you are in that room with your date. There are lots of people around about you but they are all tied up with each other. You’ve got to look each other in the eye.
You will be nervous. They will be nervous. Think for a minute. What do you know about each other? What do you think about the place you are in? Start off by asking a question. Maybe something like so, how was your journey here? Maybe a comment about the weather. Something light. Make sure and listen to what your date is saying to you. What questions have they just asked? If they have Asperger’s, have you given them a direct enough answer? Have you made sure to ask them a question back?
It will be a little bit awkward at first. Just try and have some fun with it. If you look like you’re having fun, relaxing and enjoying yourself then this will come across to your date and should, hopefully, rub off on them. And don’t be disappointed with yourself or with your partner if things don’t turn out quite the way you have expected on your first date.
Remember this – it is just that – a first date. It is the first step on a very long road. It will be funny. It will be a bit embarrassing. It will be a bit painful. It will be a bit sore. One of the things you will slowly learn from this is how much you can trust others and who your true friends are, both inside the family and out. You need someone to confide in. Someone to ask questions of. Someone to tell you when you’re being daft.
So, how can parents and siblings and friends help here? Well, the first things I, by taking us seriously. You may not think that the Aspie is ready to start dating as yet but, in all honesty, who ever is?
One of the answers I got from my mother when I asked about dating and girls when I was a teenager was you need to grow up and learn a bit more about yourself before you can really start things like dating and chatting up girls. That may have been well-intentioned but, I think, also, viewed from almost twenty years on, it strikes me as being fobbed off, as she was not sure herself how to deal with these questions and issues I was having.
The other mistake is to make too big a joke of it, because you don’t feel the Aspie is up to the task of dating. This may also be because you need to let off steam and frustration yourself. Comments have been made to me like well, the thing is, sweetheart, you’ll need to grow up yourself a wee bit; Oh God! Can you imagine him on a date? It’d be so embarrassing!; Come on now, sweetheart, I’m just having a wee joke with you!
What you need, as an Aspie Support Person, is to offer both advice and balance. As I have said before within this website, it is far too easy, when giving advice to an Aspie, to fall into the trap of making it all a list of Don’ts. Imagine you are given the following advice:
Don’t just talk about yourself all the time
Don’t eat your food noisily
Don’t just ask question after question
Don’t just talk about all the things that you like
None of that gives you anywhere to go. Instead, sit down and talk things through with them. Listen to what they want. Question them/us about why we want this. Come up with some experiences of your own that you think might help. If you’re not in the mood to talk about it, be directly honest with us – and tell us why!!!
That will help us be honest with ourselves and with our partners in turn. Help us by maybe doing role plays, getting us to spot signs of interest and disinterest and what to do about them. Help us build up a wee loose repertoire of things to say and do and of when to say and do them.
Make the signs absolutely obvious at the start and then more subtle as you go along. That will help both you and us to grow as well. It will be, if you persevere, fun and it will really help your relationship grow. Far more than being taken aside for “a wee word” and being told again all the things we’ve done wrong and why we shouldn’t have done them.
Dating is a part of life in which, like all others, we will stand or fall, succeed or fail by just keeping on trying. We need to do it if we want to do it and not be old we cannot because we are Aspies and will find it too difficult or too painful.
ROBERT LAING BIOGRAPHY
Robert discovered he had Asperger’s at the age of 20, quite by chance. His mother had been given Tony Attwood’s first book and recognized within it characteristics and situations similar to these encountered by both Robert and herself as a parent.
Robert has felt moved to write about Asperger’s – both his own experience with it and also the help that is available out there to others – now, because there are more people both being born with it and also being diagnosed with it retrospectively, in later life. He wishes to offer help and advice to others, just as others have done for him.
Aside from Asperger’s Syndrome, Robert also writes for a variety of website and print publications on subjects such as music, books and the local area in which he lives.
Robert has done a considerable amount of research into the average Aspie diet. He is sure that both parent and Aspie alike will find something to relate to in both this and future articles and welcomes feedback from both. He can be contacted for this and other writing matters at [email protected].