Barriers to Relationships, Part 3

Previously in this series, I talked about how abuse and finances affect our ability to form romantic relationships, completely unrelated to any social differences caused by our autism.  There are two other areas I want to discuss – transportation and daily living assistance in today’s post, and, in the last post, the idea that we aren’t romantic or sexual beings – and that may be the cause of a lot of these issues.

Our living environments and daily living supports – the very things that are supposed to allow us to take part in the community (assuming we’re outside of a locked institution, which is another significant issue when we’re not) are barriers to our participation in the community.

The first problem with services was alluded to in part 2 of this series, when I talked about living accommodations not always allowing a boyfriend or girlfriend from “benefiting” from someone else’s subsidized living situation.  With housing, even getting married in some cases will not allow the spouses to legally live with each other in a house that one spouse owns (at least owns in the same sense as most other American’s “own” their home: with their mortgage).  But it extends beyond housing.

For instance, if someone needs a personal attendant to cook and shop, what happens when they want that personal attendant to cook and shop for them and their girlfriend, for a special meal?  I suspect many personal attendants would so so without concern, but I also suspect most people’s funding sources for their attendants don’t recognize “feed the girlfriend during a special meal” as something intended to be funded.  Yet why shouldn’t a disabled man be able to have a special home-cooked meal with his girlfriend at home?  Isn’t this part of being in the community (in this case, a small, intimate community)?

Transportation is equally an issue.  “Visiting the girlfriend for an evening” is not a task that is typically funded.  Sure, going to work, school, therapy, or medical appointments is acceptable – that’s what is funded.  For many disabled people in the US, some form of public transit is their primary transit.  Assuming that their house is well served by local bus service (transit agencies don’t need to offer accessible transit if someone doesn’t live near a bus stop), their significant other better also live near a bus stop!  And, not only that, it better be served by local buses during the hours that the disabled rider would like to visit (transit agencies also don’t need to provide accessible transit outside of the hours they serve the local bus stops).  Of course the local transit agency typically plans stops and schedules for ridership numbers – that means commuters are well served, but someone visiting from one suburb to another late on a Saturday night is not a significant concern for the transit agency to plan routes to accommodate these needs.

Sure, there’s taxis.  But going back to someone on SSI making slightly more than $8,000 a year, a $40 taxi ride is asking a lot (in fact, 20 of those rides and the person has used 10% of their entire yearly income).

A lot of the problems above come down to funding and our society’s desire to prevent “freeloading” even when such measures keep people from living their lives fully.  That also speaks to the value of disabled people’s’ lives in the eyes of society.  It’s more important to ensure nobody claims disability benefits who isn’t disabled than it is to ensure that a disabled person can have a life!

Yet if I’m disabled and have staff to help me with daily living, it should be for my full daily living.  I’m not asking for special rights or any of that nonsense – I’m asking for us to have the right to take our S.O. home for a nice meal and movie.  I’m asking for the right to visit our S.O. in her home, even if it takes place after the commuters have already returned home.

Sadly, I see a lot of the battle for funding based only on what is necessary for education, work, health care, and therapy.  Nobody seems to actually care about personal relationships – despite the fact that most people would rate their personal relationships as the most important things in their lives.  Our relationships just aren’t worth as much I suppose.

Barriers to Relationships, Part 2

There are many reasons autistic people have difficulty having a romantic relationship.  Some are due, in part, to being autistic.  But others are not – they are barriers placed in front of people by influence outside of them.  In the first part of this series of posts, I talked about how sexual abuse has hindered many of us from seeking relationships.  In future posts, I’ll be talking about independent living services, transportation, and society’s ideas (and the “ick” factor in most people’s eyes) about disabled people in sexual relationships.

In some relationship, the government doesn’t just not place barriers in front of the relationship, they actually give incentives for the relationship.  The US government (and likely others) is in the business of promoting relationship.  Well, rather, the business of promoting some relationships – those considered good for society.

For instance, heterosexual married couples can get a substantial tax break by being married (assuming the two spouses have significantly different incomes – the government rewards relationships with a stay-at-home spouse but penalizes relationships with two equal wage earners), can inherit property from their spouse without tax penalty, get to make health care decisions for incapacitated spouses (barring other legal directives), are automatically presumed to be legitimate parents of any offspring, have unique immigration law benefits, often have legal protections that allow them to not testify against a spouse, and typically get a large share of inheritance in the absence of a will.  Most of these can’t be written into contracts or achieved through non-marital means (contrary to some of the statements made by people against gay marriage – a US citizen can’t, by contract, allow their same-sex partner to become a citizen, for instance).

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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.

Please, don’t be that guy!

Some of this blog deals with advocacy.  Other parts, like this one, are my observations of the autistic community.  We’re certainly not immune when it comes to human evil.

I’m writing to some autistic guys here.  “Desperate Aspie Males” or DAMs to be exact.  I don’t know why it always seems to be guys, and I haven’t noticed any DAWs, but I haven’t.  I’m sure they exist, but compared to DAMs, the DAWs are an endangered species, or at least can hide from sight easier.

What do I mean by a DAM?  The DAM is the creepy guy that goes to the autism support group, sees a woman, and immediately sees her as a sex object.  Her might be one specific woman, or it might be every woman there.  Not only does he see her as a sex object, but he makes it clear to everyone within a 2 mile radius that he sees her as a sex object.

If I was looking for a man, this way of getting a woman would definitely turn me off.  It’s not sexy, it’s not attractive, and it certainly isn’t going to end in someone having sex (unless there is a rape involved).  It’s also why so many autistic women avoid support groups and similar – it’s almost a given they’ll encounter a DAM.

Here’s some signs for guys that you might be a DAM (note I’m assuming that you, the reader, are heterosexual. If you’re gay, then substitute “man” for “woman”, as DAMs know all orientations):

  • If a girl hints that she’s not looking for a relationship, if you don’t immediately give up any deep hopes that she really is looking for a relationship with you, you might be a DAM.  Hint: she’s giving you one.  Save your dignity and quit pursuing her, even if you would have liked to have a relationship!
  • Do you tell women about how you’ve never had relationships, hoping to inspire pity and get attention from her?  You might be a DAM.  Hint: objects of pity are not seen by 99.9999% of womankind as desirable mates.  Not even autistic women.  Your mother doesn’t want to have sex with you (hopefully) – and neither will women you try to make feel like your mother!
  • Why are you talking to the woman?  Is it because you’re thinking about how you need a girlfriend or want to have sex, or is it because you genuinely enjoy spending time with her?  If you wouldn’t be happy without adding anything physical or romantic to the mix at this point, you might be a DAM.  Hint: even autistic women can pick up on whether a guy really is interested in her as a person or just her as a sex object.  So it’s really not worth the effort to lie.
  • Would you be better served by a prostitute (or your own hand), but are seeking a non-prostitute?  You might be a DAM.  Hint: most women don’t want to be your prostitute.  Having a relationship with you is not a basic exchange of “You give me X, I give you Y.”  It’s instead about truly wanting to give to the other partner.  I’m not suggesting prostitution, but I’ve seen guys that would be better off seeking that option rather than treating every new woman who shows up at a support group as a prostitute (maybe not for money, but a prostitute nonetheless).
  • Do you have expectations for a partner that differ from expectations you expect them to have for you?  For instance, do you expect the woman to be stereo-typically beautiful, while you yourself are a 300 lb man with a poorly kept beard and a very asymmetric face?  If so, you might be a DAM.  Hint: sure, beauty comes in all body shapes and types, and true beauty is on the soul.  And plenty of relationships have one partner that society judges to be more attractive than the other, sometimes a lot so.  But most of these relationships didn’t start by the less stereo-typically attractive person excluding everyone like themselves, but somehow expecting the stereo-typically beautiful women to find them attractive!  You need to be willing to be judged by the standards you are judging them.  So be careful expecting stereotypical beauty – in my experience most men who do this really should look in the mirror first and ask if they want women to do the same to them.
  • Do you initiate a bunch of unanswered communication with her?  If so, you might be a DAM.  Hint: if the woman is interested in you, she’ll let you know and she’ll remember you exist.  You don’t need to keep reminding her.  If she doesn’t…well, be patient and see who else might be in your life down the road.
  • Do you think any woman should be thrilled to have you as a mate?  If so, you might be a DAM.  You’re even more likely to be one if you’re angry about this.  Hint: no man is attractive to all – or even most – women as a serious partner (or even one-night-stand, if she’s really interested in that thing – see below).
  • Do you think most women in society want one-night-stands?  If so, you may be a DAM.  Hint: Most women don’t want one-night-stands. They want a relationship!  Really.  And they want a guy that wants a relationship.  Sure, they might want sex too!  But most women don’t want sex without being pretty sure that the man actually wants other parts of them too, and not just casually or for one night.
  • Do you tell a DAM who you see pestering women to knock it off?  If not, you’re encouraging the behavior and just as bad as the DAM.  Show you have some moral strength.

Now of course there are autistic characteristics that would make someone come off like a DAM.  We often miss social cues, for instance.  But there’s a difference between a missed social cue and using our autism as cover when questioned to give ourselves latitude that other men wouldn’t get.  If you’re chasing after a woman (metaphorically) and you find out she’s been giving you cues that she’s not interested in you, and you just say, “I’m autistic” rather than “I’m so sorry” and then cease to chase her, you’re using your autism as a cover.  That’s BS.  Don’t make the rest of us autistic guys look like a creep – knock it off.

I’ve seen autistics also try to cover their sexist attitudes with bogosity about autism – such as claiming “autism is ultramasuclinity”.  Others talk about how women and feminists have ruined their chances in life but then expect these same women to sleep with them while telling the women that they are essentially horrible for wanting things like a chance to earn a living (uh, “Women, you caused me all this suffering and ruined my life.  Want to sleep with me?”).  No, feminism didn’t ruin your life.  Neither did women.  And if you’re thinking men’s rights (essentially anti-feminism) are an important cause, expect to be lonely.  For a long time.  Women – imagine this – like to be treated like full human beings, even if they do hold to the theory that there are men’s and women’s roles in society (and don’t expect most to hold to that).

I’ve seen other autistics that try to leverage their autism into pity.  Some even seemingly regress into infanthood in a misguided attempt to bring out motherly instincts in their (they hope) sex partners.  But as I mentioned above, mom doesn’t want to have a romantic relationship with her kid, and this is just plain creepy behavior.  Others are trying for some sort of “pity sex.”  There’s not much pity sex out there, DAMs!  Sure, pity might get attention, but – and this is important DAMs – attention is not attraction.  Just because a woman is paying attention to you doesn’t mean she’s interested in you romantically.

Sure, there are always exceptions.  There are women who willingly submit to sexist pigs in relationships.  Some women probably do want casual, one-night-stands and would detest a deep relationship.  The nice guy sometimes is single.  No doubt some women would love a 30 year old baby.  But these are exceptions, and if you choose to play the exceptions, please do it in a way that doesn’t pester, annoy, and harras women that aren’t one of these exceptions.  And don’t expect to find a lot of interest if you try going after the exceptions.

Do you want a relationship?  I’ll suggest a few things that do work:

  • Stop looking for a relationship.  Seriously, stop looking.  When you stop looking at women as sex objects or relationship targets, you’ll find more women around you are interested in you.
  • Become interesting.  Find a hobby, ideally something you can share with others. It can be a solo hobby, but it helps if it’s a hobby that you can do with someone as well.
  • Enjoy life.  Misery doesn’t love company, at least not romantically!  If you can’t be happy without a partner, how does a partner know you can be happy with them?  Happiness can be shared – someone who loves you will get happiness from seeing you happy.  If you’re looking for love, some enjoyment in life will help people who have an attraction get something from you that makes them feel good too.  People like to feel good!
  • Take care of your own needs.  Don’t make a potential partner take care of you.  Sure, part of a relationship is helping each other – and that flows very naturally.  But when someone is just getting to know you, they probably don’t want to be your caregiver, shrink, transportation, etc.  This isn’t about being non-disabled or having needs, even needs that can be met by a partner!
  • Leave some mystery.  It’s actually attractive to get to know someone, but not as attractive to have these details dumped in your lap!  Share a bit, but then wait for her to share a bit before you share tons more.  Email her, but wait for her to email back once in a while before sending another email!  If she’s taking a day or two to email back, you probably should generally too.  You don’t have to rush things.
  • Be patient.  It might take you years, even decades to find a partner.  If you find someone you can have a relationship with, it’s worth the wait.  My wife and I waited quite a bit longer than most people wait – it was worth the wait and I’d do it again knowing what I know now.  But see above – it’s easier to be patient if you enjoy life.

There’s no formula to finding a partner.  The people I know who have found someone all found them at a time they weren’t looking, and even a bit by surprise.   Most of us didn’t find someone in our early 20s or late teens – autistic people take longer on this, often.  That’s how it works.  Frustrating, true.  But I don’t know any guy who found it being a DAM.