I’m not sure why a majority of my blog posts contain disclaimers at the top, but they do. It’s probably to keep my Asperger’s butt out of hot water from other people, but either way, this is my disclaimer when it comes to Aspie dating.
Dating between two NT’s (neurotypical’s or non-autistics) is tough and can be downright insane at times. Now imagine if one of you is on the Spectrum and it can be a circus. That’s because our brains are wired differently. One set of wiring isn’t better than the other, they’re just two different ways of thinking, reacting and navigating our way through life.
Dating is a two-way street. There has to be both give and take or it’s not a real relationship. What I say in this piece, even though at times it may sound like a slam on Lilly, the woman I dated that I use as an example, it’s not. The same, or similar. could be said about me. As in any relationship, each person contributes to both the good and the bad. That being said, here we go…
In early August I moved to the Ozarks from Southern California to enjoy a lower cost of living, nature and a more peaceful life. As you can well imagine, So. Cal. is nothing but sensory overload and that’s not good for us Aspies (those with Asperger’s). Here I’m among trees, lakes and occasionally have deer in my front yard. Plus, I live in a log cabin, which is pretty cool.
In October I started dating Lilly (not her real name). I had just gotten my autism service dog, Tye, and this was my first time dating with a black lab as a chaperone. I was very upfront about my condition and the fact that not only would Tye be on the date, but if we continued to date, it would always be a threesome of sorts.
Get your mind out of the gutter because that is NOT what I meant!
Lilly was fine with it, which quite frankly, surprised the hell out of me. I expected that women would see a guy who owned up to being autistic and had to have a service dog to help him stay calm and relaxed and take off running for the hills, pun completely intended. Even if you didn’t get the pun (Ozarks…hills) it was funny to me and that’s what really matters.
I get down on myself quite easily, which is why I figured that a nice, attractive woman would want no part of a guy who had to rely on a canine to make his life better, but I was wrong. The first date was great, as was the second, third, fourth and probably even the fifth. Things were humming along nicely until shortly before Thanksgiving when Lilly invited me to go with her to her hometown to enjoy the holiday with her family.
Ask any Aspie what it’s like to be in a closed setting with a lot of people you don’t know and they will tell you that it’s terrifying. I knew from past family holiday gatherings that it would be a very difficult experience for me and that’s why I told Lilly several times, even as recent as the night before Thanksgiving, that I was considering staying home with Tye and just cooking a chicken.
I knew she wanted me to go and meet her family and I know that she told me she had prepared her family for the fact that the guy she was dating was autistic and had a service dog. The mere thought of meeting all these people and having to talk to some of them freaked me out like you can’t believe. To say she wasn’t happy that I was considering staying home is a huge understatement and so I did what any good boyfriend would do. I sucked it up, brought extra anxiety pills and went with her. Big mistake!
It was everything I expected and more. We came in the back door and I planted myself in a chair and didn’t get up out of that chair until it was time to eat. She asked me several times to come mingle and every time I said no, I could see her frustration growing.
Sorry, but there was no way I was going into the kitchen and the main part of the house because that’s where most people were and so at mealtime Lilly fixed me a plate and brought it to the table I moved to, about eight feet from where I had been sitting the past few hours, mostly alone, while she hung with her family.
After dinner, the room I was in started filling up and so did my body with panic I took Tye out for a short walk and when I came back inside, there were even more people in the room and the panic attack went from Code Orange to a full-on Code Blue. I told Lilly I was going out to the car and she could come out whenever she wanted to.
Whenever she wanted to, turned into more than an hour of me sitting in a freezing car and partially fuming because the woman I was dating didn’t care that I was having a panic attack and was in total discomfort. After a half dozen texts from her, almost demanding that I come in and me responding that I was staying put, she finally took the clue that I wasn’t coming back in and stopped texting, though she stayed inside with her family.
When she finally arrived at my car, she told me that her family wasn’t happy that I didn’t come in to say goodbye. She also informed me that she told her family I had stomach issues and that’s why I was in the car. I was upset that she hadn’t been honest and told them I was having a panic attack. In my mind, she was embarrassed about me and that’s what started the off again portion of the on again/off again relationship.
Again, I’m not saying this to make her feel bad, but it hurt that the woman I was dating seemed to be ashamed of who I really was and couldn’t share that with her family. Also, I was hurt that she was really upset at me for having the huge panic attack I had warned her about for weeks and which could have been avoided if only I stayed home.
That three-hour drive back was extremely awkward. I was fuming and she couldn’t get why. After a couple weeks, we talked (though she still couldn’t figure out why it was wrong to not tell her family the truth) and we tried again. This time I think it probably lasted all of a weekend.
It didn’t matter how many times we talked about communication, there never seemed to be much of it that went right. I could go on and on for hours, but the bottom line is that it would all turn into a disaster sometime between her arrival on Friday night and Saturday night/Sunday morning.
I liken a relationship to driving down the same road every day. One that the city needs to fix in a big way. That road is full of potholes and you can either hit them and throw your car, and your back, out of alignment, or you can learn where they are and navigate your way around them so you have a smooth commute.
We tried to navigate the potholes a few times, but nothing ever seemed to work for more than a week at a time. Communication between us was horrible and once the communication broke down, so did everything else. Lilly lives about forty-five minutes away with roommates and I live alone with Tye, so most weekends she would come down here. There were times that by Saturday night I was ready to have her pack up and head home. but I rarely said anything because of the extra drama I knew that would ensue. Does that make me a wimp? Probably, and I own that, though not proudly.
Not every Aspie on NT relationship is bad. There are several people I know who have very successful relationships. One person I know, Darrin, has been married to an NT for twenty-five years and a high school friend, Sally, is in an amazing marriage with a guy on the spectrum that she met online.
As I mentioned before, communication is key. The couple almost has to develop their own language to communicate properly and they can’t be afraid to ask for clarification if something isn’t clear or if they think the other person is talking down to them. If they’re truly in love, or at least in deep like, chances are that it’s a misunderstanding and not the other person talking smack to their partner.
I could go on and on for many chapters and possibly even a book on this subject, but the last big tip to leave you with today is to develop a respect for each other and the differences between the two of you. The reality is that the Aspie has certain limitations, many of which are social, and the NT partner needs to be ready, willing and able to pick up the slack and lift the other up.
Just as autistic kids have meltdowns, so do adults. If we allow ourselves to get overstimulated, more often than not the proverbial you know what will hit the fan. I know my limitations as far as stimulation and sensory overload go, and my partner, if indeed I ever decide to date again (and right now that’s a HUGE if), needs to know as well and needs to be able to see the warning signs. If our partners know our triggers and can help us manage them, that is more of a blessing than an NT could ever imagine,
There will be many more blog posts on dating over the weeks, months and years to come and now that I’m writing this, I realize how much there is to talk about, so maybe an e-book is in order. We’ll see.
Now that you’ve heard my story, I want to hear yours and so do the rest of the readers. Give them to us, both good and bad. What worked for you and what didn’t? Unless we come together as a community and share, nothing will ever get better. See the comment box below? Use it. Please!
Before I go, I belong to a closed Facebook group, Aspergers Life Support, run by some terrific people. There’s a link on the right or you can click on the words in red. If you have Aspergers or are a loving NT of an Aspie, I definitely suggest asking to join the group. They’re great people and have helped me on many occasions.