Asking the Wrong Question: How do I flirt?

Okay, I’m giving everyone another installment today of Joel’s Dating Advice. I’m autistic, and I’ve seriously dated exactly one woman, so take my advice with a grain of salt. That said, I have a great relationship and have observed a lot of failure, both in my own and other people’s lives.

I hear this all the time: autistic people need to learn to flirt so they can find someone. I saw a fellow autistic person post something about this today, probably because he’s heard it elsewhere.

Uh, no, you don’t need to learn to flirt.

Seriously, you don’t have to learn to be someone you aren’t, and which you can only be long enough to attract someone romantically.

And even if you do attract someone this way, it’s not romance. That’s doing a massive disservice to the concept of romance.

Now, some autistics just want to have sex, just like some neurotypicals or others might. I’m assuming that the reader of this isn’t trying for one-night stands (I’ll give a hint to straight autistic guys: most women aren’t looking for one-night stands, so you’ll probably fail – a lot – if you are seeking one-night stands).

This is the whole problem with flirting (and the related “pick up artist” hogwash): it has the premise of “If I give the system input X, then I get result Y.” People don’t work that way. They aren’t a computer system that you can give a certain line of code to and get a certain result, nor is failure in dating the same as a failure of syntax or logic in a computer program.

It’s not “If I do X, then the woman will do Y.” (I’m assuming that you are a man wanting a woman, but obviously substitute whatever the appropriate gender identifiers are) No, it is more like, “If you are X, then this particular woman may find you romantically interesting and attractive.” (And, yes, it works the opposite way – if a woman wants to be romantically interesting to a guy, it’s not enough to give the guy certain inputs)

There’s a distinction here – it’s about being someone that is interesting, not doing certain things.

So, for instance, flirting (or any other “how to pick up girls” advice) will tell you things like, “Act interested, but a bit distant, so she has to work to get your attention.” Hogwash. Maybe for a half-drunk neurotypical, this makes sense (I doubt it), but it certainly doesn’t make sense for someone that is acting in this way. You’re not going to be able to keep up the act, even if it is (unlikely) interesting to the woman.

You want to be romantically interesting to people?  Here’s my advice:

  • If you’re desperate for a date, you’re almost certainly not going to get one. I’m serious. No, it’s not because of some horrible injustice in the world – I’ll get to why in a second – but rather because of the vibes you’re giving off (even to autistic people – even autistic people can detect this).
  • So, you need to become fulfilled and not desperate for a date. Seriously, this is the problem you need to work on – that you have this drive that requires a relationship to fulfill your life or make your life meaningful. It is a problem, and it does need some attention. You need to find other ways to become fulfilled. Ironically, this will help you get that date.
  • I said I would return to why being desperate doesn’t help – most people don’t want someone who takes from them, but rather wants someone who gives. I’m not talking money. I’m talking emotionally. People want someone who makes them happy, who makes their life enjoyable. If you’re miserable (because, for instance, you’re desperate for a date, and it’s making you miserable), you don’t have a lot of positive emotional energy to give. If you’re fulfilled in life, and have what you need to be fulfilled, now you have energy and ability to help someone else become fulfilled and happy. Again, this works best when both people feel this way and both can give fulfillment to the other already-fulfilled person! At that point, it is a beautiful and joyous feeling, receiving fulfillment in ways you didn’t even realize were possible – but not out of need.
  • It’s not about your looks or income. And it shouldn’t be about hers if you don’t want it to be about yours. The standard you judge her with will likely be the standard she judges you. That’s why that supermodel is probably not going to date you – you are using this impossible standard of beauty and celebrity, while you likely don’t meet the same standard. But even when you don’t judge this way, she might not be interested for any number of reasons – income and looks probably aren’t the top reasons, unless she’s particularly shallow.
  • Are you a decent person? This isn’t about being neurotypical, but rather about being honest, trustworthy, and kind. Yes, kind. That means you find kind ways to be honest, not mean ways to be honest. And, yes, autistic people can do this. Further, are you being honest about your intentions? If she made it clear she wants a friend, but you want sex, so you act as a friend while trying to manipulate the relationship into something different, you’re not being honest.
  • You might be a fulfilled, nice, decent guy. And she might not be interested. That happens. Most of the time for most people. She’s not evil, she’s just not interested, and she’s being honest by not faking interest. Respect that and move on.
  • You might be fulfilled, nice, and decent, and it still will likely take some time. Part of the reason is that you aren’t in a hurry and other people like you (the fulfilled, nice, decent potential partners) will also not be in a particular hurry. You won’t meet most of these people at a bar or Craigslist or even on a dating site. Sure, people meet all these different ways and sometimes the relationship works. But it’s not likely how it’s going to happen for most of us. Keep being fulfilled, nice, and decent, and deal with the bitterness if it comes up (the bitterness isn’t going to help!). If you’re fulfilled, you’ll be willing to wait. And, like most people – even most autistics who don’t have a lot of social contact – you may be surprised when you find someone.
  • Finally, autistics aren’t the only people that have trouble finding someone. Don’t subject yourself to this strange standard that you shouldn’t be a virgin at age whatever, that you shouldn’t be single at age whatever, etc. Find fulfillment. Seriously.

You see, none of this is the standard, “how to flirt” advice. It’s not about pickup lines.

And, speaking as someone who is married, the first lines you spoke are every bit as important as how you respect your mate years later. You can’t put on an act that long. It’s not worth trying. It is worth becoming fulfilled and becoming a decent human being, however, for not just your future mate’s sake, but for you in the here-and-now. Despite what the pickup artists say about how assholes can pick up women, these aren’t typically mutually fulfilling relationships that will bring the asshole (or his partner) happiness.

So, in summary: get fulfilled so you have something to give (not money, but emotion), become a decent human being if you aren’t already, and don’t insist on judging yourself by whether or not you have or have had a relationship. And if you have trouble with one of those steps, you won’t solve that problem by getting a relationship. Sure, you might transform the problem from the old one into a new one, but it’s not going to make you happy. So, it’s worth the investment to find ways to figure out, “Why can’t I be fulfilled without a woman?” (again, substitute appropriate gender). Then spend some time saying, “How can I become a better human being?” Again, that doesn’t involve dating, but rather introspection, honesty, and courage.

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