Now you might assume that given that I’m married that dating obviously wasn’t a problem for me.
You would be wrong.
Autistics have three trajectories for relationships:
- Perpetual singledom – that would be like my (great-) Auntie Margaret and my (great-) Uncle Jim. Brother and sister who never married and lived all their lives in their mother’s (my great-grandmother’s) house.
- Marry a fellow autist. These folks are the happiest and almost no one talks about them. I have no experience of dating a fellow autie so I have nothing to add.
- Marry a non-autist. This is where those websites (which I won’t link to) that tell you how awful aspies are and how you must “run away” because they’re so evil come from. Some neurotypical woman accidentally married an autistic man and she’s very upset that he doesn’t understand her passive-aggressive tactics.
Of course, autistic women exist too and some of us marry non-autist husbands (like I did).
Anecdotally such women do not marry “normal” neurotypicals. Oh no, we end up with “extreme neurotypicals” with an extra dose of empathy and patience. And being in an age-gap relationship is definitely a thing. Basically, neurotypical men our own age can tell that something is “off” and don’t want to get involved.
So we find ourselves an ultra-patient empath who is significantly older than us and we’re good to go, right?
You see as an autistic female there are two rules to dating: “wait for your spouse to ask you out” and “say yes.”
“Wait for your spouse to ask you out”
Leaving aside the thorny issue of whether you even want to get married, because being aromantic and/or asexual is an actual thing and really common in the autistic community, how do you work out who to date?
Most autistics are so used to struggling in interpersonal relationships (even the platonic kind), that we usually have extremely low self-esteem. Where a neurotypical woman has a laundry list of must haves: height, biceps, great teeth, full head of hair, impressive job, first class degree from a fancy alma mater, skiing ability, wealthy family, etc., etc. your autistic woman hopes for “will tolerate me” and anything else is a bonus.
Autistic women are in abusive relationships far more commonly than neurotypical women and we have staggeringly high rates of rape and sexual violence committed against us, because when you set the bar low enough that even a rapist couldn’t trip over it, well the odds aren’t in your favour.
Luckily I’ve so far avoided being raped. But I have an impressive list of dodgy nasty-pieces-of-work in my romantic history. And you can count all the men I ever dated who I didn’t marry on one hand – yes just the 5 of them.
There was the young man who bragged about committing acts of criminal damage and vandalism and carried around other people’s stolen property as trophies. There was the young man I dated for several weeks until I discovered that he already had a girlfriend he had forgotten to mention. There was the guy who repeatedly stood me up. And then there was the otherwise-nice boyfriend who dumped me because he “couldn’t cope” with my (mild) depression any more (ironically he is now a non-executive director for a well-known mental health charity). None of this boosts your self-esteem or convinces you that people will bother to be there for you when your life is anything other than perfect.
If you thought the first rule was hard enough, wait until you’ve heard about the second.
When I first started dating my husband I was a little wary. What if he had a wife and three children stashed away that he’d forgotten about? What if he was a catfish and was going to steal my life savings? What if he was actually a criminal? What if he dumped me because I had my monthly period and it made me moody? You know, all the usual concerns…
But it turned out my sneaky suspicion that he was actually a thoroughly decent bloke turned out to be true. It was such a relief. He showed up when he said he would. Didn’t snarl his lip up at me for being autistic and doing something wrong. Didn’t ridicule me in front of his friends. It must be what neurotypical women experience when they date normal, not abusive, men.
We were in his car going out somewhere for a day out, on an actual date, and I said, “You know I really like dating you, I wish you’d asked me out months ago.”
And he turned and looked at me (he was driving so it wasn’t for long) and he said, “But Kate I did ask you out. I asked you out twice and you turned me down.”
You see, my husband was my best friend and we hung out all the time at work. So when my husband asked me if I wanted to go London for the day to see an exhibition, I said no, because London stinks and it’s too busy and too noisy and it usually triggers migraines and panic attacks and meltdowns and it’s just not worth it. I hate London. Do I ever want to go London? No. Ask an autistic person a question, expect a literal answer. Besides, I didn’t think he was interested in me that way. Why would he be? It never occurred to me that the implicit, unexpressed question was “Would you like to go on a date with me?” and if yes the correct answer was actually “London sucks, but I really like Hay-on-Wye – why don’t we go there for the day instead?”
Anyway luckily he persisted. Because I just don’t “get” non-literal conversations like the sort people have to express interest in each other.
By the way, you can’t do this anymore – keep asking out a colleague and HR will be wanting to have words with you about sexual harassment – so please don’t try this at home and think, “well it was OK for Kate.” Kate is autistic and thereby a bit “dense” when it comes to love-life stuff, statistically if you’re reading this and you are autistic, that person you’ve set your focus on at work/club/your street/etc. is not autistic and therefore not “dense” and will get upset if you start stalking them and you won’t leave them alone after they’ve politely rejected you.