What? Oh you had to know that I was going to get to this subject eventually! It’s a very fun subject. There’s a lot that you can find about the link between romance and people on the autism spectrum when you look it up, but a lot of these articles are written by people who are not on the spectrum and can only speak from their own research or personal experience with other autistic people. Why is this?
This is because romance is perceived as something that many autistic people simply don’t understand. Some may want it, but it’s intimidating to them. For anyone, being in a relationship means being self-sacrificial and having to put the other person’s interests above your own, which is something that autistic people are normally not fully willing to do at first. Because of heavy concentration on their own interests, it takes concentrated effort to be interested in what the other person enjoys or is engaged in.
It’s also hard for autistic people to read facial expressions correctly and discern the feelings of another person. One of the obstacles of an autistic person is that they normally can’t tell exactly what the other person is thinking or how he’s feeling, which can lead to anxiety if misinterpreted. Also, if an autistic person doesn’t understand how the other person is feeling, this tends to come off as rude to the other person.
I’ve only ever been in one relationship in my life which lasted for six months before she broke it off, but it was long enough for me to be able to speak from personal experience as a high-functioning autistic dating someone who was not on the spectrum. I was constantly concerned that my girlfriend was just going through the motions rather than having genuine feelings for me, and it didn’t usually matter what she said or did that could counteract how I felt, I always felt unsure. In the end it turned out that at least some of that was because she was drifting away until she finally broke it off altogether, but I can’t blame her entirely. It wasn’t until a couple months later afterwards that I was diagnosed and a month or two after that when I got the results in, so I know there was some miscommunication. The best I was able to tell her during the relationship was that I had a form of ADD, which honestly isn’t very informative and it didn’t explain some of my issues that came off as more autistic.
Now, I want to make sure to mention that the concept of two autistic people in a relationship together is out there. While it has been perceived as a very difficult thing to do, it’s not impossible. While one of the largest struggles two autistic people in a relationship can have is possessing some of the same social or relational problems, working on strategies together that can make it work helps the relationship flourish and personally I think it’s a beautiful thing when two autistic people make a marital relationship work. Whether the next person I date is autistic or not, my plan is to do some things differently, and I think these tips below can help people who are on the spectrum and would like to be in a relationship one day.
Map out a schedule – As weird as that may sound, getting a schedule made detailing the times you and your partner get to go out or simply even talk on the phone every week is an excellent strategy for granting the relationship stability for the autistic partner involved or for both partners should both be autistic. One of the most common traits in people on the spectrum is that they’re obsessed with having a schedule and making sure everything is done at a very particular time, otherwise they can become confused or anxious. I myself am not as obsessed with time in that way as others on the spectrum are, but I do believe that balance in time is required in order to make relationships work. If you have a schedule written out for every time you meet each week, it not only puts the autistic person at ease, it gives both partners the space and time needed away from each other so that the relationship can continue to feel fresh and not overbearing or exhausting.
Learn from each other where you draw the line – Being that I identify myself as a disciple of Christ, I believe that sex is saved for marriage, so I’m not even going to go there in this article, but what about other forms of physical touch or even the affectionate things we can say to each other? Autistic people are a mixed bag when it comes to physical affection. Some are absolutely not okay with it at all and it takes a lot of time and patience to get them to relax and others are actually a little too physically affectionate. I personally don’t mind physical touch even if I may act a little rigid once in a while when I’m hugged by some, but in fact it’s one of the things that makes me feel loved. It’s one of my ‘love languages’ if you will. However, I was very mindful about whether or not it was okay with my partner in my first relationship and I always made sure to ask before I went ahead and held her hand or something. I also tended to hold back a lot from saying affectionate or loving things to her because I was afraid of what the reaction might be. This is something that should be discussed among the two partners and decided what they’re comfortable with and what they’re not comfortable with so that they feel respected and honored. I know for a fact that this especially meaningful to the person on the spectrum because it makes the person feel more comfortable hanging around his partner.
Relationships for anyone regardless of how they’re wired is definitely a tightrope, but if done right, it’s a tightrope worth walking and romantic relationships are possible for people on the autism spectrum, with enough patience and planning to get them through.