On Formulas…and Dating

Predictably, when the topic of dating comes up, people who don’t have the type of relationship they want ask, “How can I get it?”

Sadly, the simple truth of the matter is: There is no formula.

That’s probably good.  I’m different than you are.  And my ideal girl is different than your ideal partner (and, besides, my ideal girl is now married to me, so she’s taken!).  In fact, if we were in each others’ shoes, with the others’ ideal partner, we’d probably both be absolutely miserable.  And that’s okay.

You can’t make someone love you.  Oh, I know there are people who can claim to manipulate other people’s emotions, and maybe they really can do that.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about someone who loves you because of who you are, not some secret manipulative power you have.

Sure, there are things you can do to help yourself out:

  • Be patient – desperation doesn’t help.  Being satisfied in life does.
  • Be happy – finding ways to enjoy the world is a huge plus to finding someone.  Work to take care of depression and bitterness, as bitter people aren’t a lot of fun to hang around with.
  • Be comfortable single.
  • Get a goal in life other than finding a relationship.  This is counter-intuitive, but it really will help.
  • Be interesting.  Hobbies can help here, as can activism, education, or any number of other things.  The key is to have some stuff to talk about and enjoy with someone else.
  • Be confident, but not egotistical.
  • Don’t be a creep

But this is hardly a formula.  There’s a lot of other things that can make your life easier or more difficult.  For instance, how picky are you being about characteristics that have nothing to do with how well you will be able to share life together (guys: I’m talking about expecting her [or him] to look like a model; girls: I’m sure you too can be too picky).  Now, I’m not talking about things like avoiding anyone who is abusive or controlling, or who’s general way of being is simply incompatible with your way of being – that’s understandable and even a good thing.  But eliminating choices – particularly for characteristics that have nothing to do with whether or not you can happily live together – obviously is going to make finding someone more difficult.

I’ve seen some straight guys (some NTs do this too, it’s not at all just an autistic thing) see a “good-looking” woman, and, knowing nothing about her beyond that she is “good-looking”, proceed to fall for her.  A slight variance is seeing her public persona as well, and thinking, “Oh, we’d be a good match.”  I had a non-autistic friend who was convinced he was a superstar female singer’s perfect mate – after all, he knew her music, so he knew her (according to him).  Well, he didn’t.  And the singer has since come out as lesbian, making him a very unlikely perfect partner for her!

Friendship is good.  Sure, it’s frustrating to have tons of women friends and not be able to find a date, if you are a straight guy (substitute the right genders if you aren’t).  But at the same time, the most common way to find a long-term relationship is through a friend.  So it’s not necessarily a bad thing, particularly if you don’t send off “creep” vibes (by trying to make a friendship into something not desired by the other person, for instance), to have some friends of the appropriate gender.  And every single autistic I know who is in a long term relationship first became friends with the other person well before there was any romance (that said, they probably weren’t ‘just friends’ for long before the relationship became romantic – if it’s been many months or years that you are ‘just friends’, the chemistry likely isn’t there).

So, here’s what I know from my own and other autistic people’s relationships from my circle of friends:

  • Individually, we haven’t done “one-night-stands”
  • The women asked the guy out more often than not, but only after there was a friendship
  • There was no typical “pickup line” used
  • None of us met the other person at a bar or club
  • There was something, outside of attraction, that both partners had in common and felt very strongly about
  • All of us had fewer dating experiences than others at our age, sometimes a lot so (first date at 35 or so is not unusual in my group of friends)
  • We seem to have less break-ups than NT-NT dating relationships
  • Age differences are relatively common, but I don’t know anyone with a significant age difference who has a relationship with someone in their early 20s or younger – it seems both partners need to reach a certain maturity in age
  • The most common place where autistic people I know have met is at church followed by autism groups (please don’t go to either with the express desire of hitting on every single person of the appropriate gender)
  • Most are with another autistic person
  • Both partners are aware of the others’ autistic traites and have to grant room for those traits

Of course none of this is scientific, and I personally know exceptions to most of the above.     In addition, I have a very limited sample size so I’m not sure how much this applies to autistics as a whole.  But I do think autistic relationships often do look different than stereotypical NT relationships.  That’s one of the reasons formulas don’t work – I think we are different than most formulas assume.  Don’t turn the above observations into a formula, either – it won’t work.

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