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.

This is Autism

Everyone has definitions of autism. Professionals define it, advocacy organizations define it (too often in a way that excludes self-advocates), schools and government define it. And these definitions always miss some really, really important elements – they miss the sensory distinctions. They miss how we process emotions and empathy (or they say we don’t have emotions or empathy). And they miss our culture.

Yes, our culture. And our “alive.”

You want to know what autism is?

It is when I visited another autistic and we both sat on the floor across from each other, typing, flapping, gesturing, and pointing. It was when this other autistic brought some stim toys and blankets, threw the blankets over me and gestured at the toys, knowing after a long trip I probably needed some rest. That’s something most neurotypicals can’t pick up on, but another autistic knew immediately.

It was on another trip, with a different autistic, when I was also on the floor, not communicating with words at all, but still seeing, still listening – and having food just appear in front of me, people knowing that’s what I needed right then.

It’s finding others that think like you do. Not just intellectually, but on that more human, basic level. People who carry no expectation (unless they’ve been taught!) that I need to “look them in the eye.” People who understand why I’m stressed out in a certain environment, why I’m calm under my blankets, why I might not be taking care of my own needs (like eating). Mind you, these other people are other autistics, often who have their own difficulties with similar things – but somehow, when able, they are more then willing to help.

Now this is one type of autism – there are many others. Oh, no, not like you might think of high and low functioning or other bogusness. No, there are autistics I can’t relate to, but for different reasons. You see, one thing people would learn from us is that there are different kinds of autistic people, but not different in the sense of IQ, communication, or any of the things that non-autistic people seem to often notice. No, differences at a much more basic level – maybe that autistic IT professional and the non-speaking autistic with full-time support are closer to each other than two autistic IT professionals are!

I’ve seen autistics open their homes, their wallets, their kitchens, and their hearts for me. These are not the actions of people without empathy or human connection. I’ve traveled the world – literally – and met autistics in other countries. We desire a connection.

This isn’t to say life isn’t challenging for anyone. But, it’s life. Life can be beautiful one day and hell the next. For anyone. Anyone can lose a loved one. Anyone can be hurt or abused. Anyone can fail to achieve a goal. But autism isn’t just failure and pain, anymore than humanity is failure and pain. There’s also the joys, including the joy of connection.

The most significant day in my life was the day I married my – autistic – wife. Two autistics in one house. Sometimes I help her, sometimes she helps me. Sometimes we both somehow get through the day having difficulty together, but at least with someone to share it with. She knows me in ways that only someone who has lived as I have, and thinks as I do, could know. It’s beautiful and wonderful and love. I’ll say this: I’m living. Not just existing. But living. Autism is alive. Autism is love. This is autism.

Autistics Speaking Day

I want to say something. So here goes: FUCK.A bunch of text, including *(#! #W:# and similar text, to stylistically represent internet cuss word obfuscation

Seriously.

No, I’m not trying to make the blog unsafe for kids (that said, I’d love to meet the kid who hasn’t heard the word “fuck”).  But this is a huge part of what I want to say: we will say things people like.  And things they don’t.

We’ll cuss. We’ll insult people. We’ll talk dirty. We’ll lie. We’ll do all the things that the sanitized, nice, touchy-feely movies about escaping from autism or about how there are geniuses in the autistic population won’t say.

We say – if we’re allowed – these things even if we use speech devices. Too often, we’re silenced by being given devices that don’t speak these words. (hint to parents: if your child uses a speech device that uses a language system – not just spelling, but a word-based language system – and it doesn’t include some words you don’t ever want to hear said, the vocabulary is too small for your kid) Seriously, kids cuss. So should autistic kids. Just like neurotypical kids, we need to learn what is and isn’t appropriate in what context. Whether you like it or not, it is appropriate for two fifth graders to share lists of cuss words with each other. It’s not appropriate to do so in the hearing of an adult. That’s a pretty important social lesson to learn – that your communication needs to change based on audience. How do you learn that if you’re only options in language are always appropriate for the adults?

We say we’re horny. That we’re aroused. That we want to have sex. Maybe even that we want to fuck. Just like a neurotypical does. Sure, there are all types of sexualities among autistic people, including asexuality, but most of us aren’t asexual. So we want these things. And need to talk about it. Yes, there are more and less appropriate places. And, yes, we may or may not have our parents’ moral values. But we need the same rights that any other adult has – the ability to express our sexuality, including expressing it in ways that while legal may not be what our parents would like.

Too often, we live in group homes or institutions where the staff fears the complications that a sex life would bring into their own jobs. Or have religious views about what sex is or isn’t okay. That’s fine if we willingly agree to those rules and have real options and places to live that don’t include those rules. But most of the time, we don’t get that choice when placed into group homes or institutions – we have to take what we get, or run away. A neurotypical might choose to live in a monastery. An autistic shouldn’t be forced to. Yet, studies have shown that many – quite possibly most – group homes ban homosexual relationships while allowing limited (usually way too limited) heterosexual relationships. It’s another place where our desires don’t matter.

We also need to be able to say “NO.” As in, “No, I don’t want to go to work today.” Or “No, I don’t want to eat that slop.” Neurotypicals get to do this. Sure, there are consequences (although often we get away with some of this – how many people use a sick day when they aren’t sick?). Heck, sometimes a neurotypical might wake up in the morning and decide – for better or worse – that going to work sucks, that there is more in life than their job, and that they really don’t want to go to their job. Ever again. Yep, that causes unemployment sometimes, but it’s something many neurotypicals have done sometime in their life. They were allowed to. Sure, there are consequences. But they weren’t prevented from making the choice in the first place.

So I guess that’s my theme: if people want us to speak, you need to let us speak. Even when we say shit you don’t like. We’re not pets, we’re not puppets. We’re human. And that means you won’t like every moral choice we make. Just like I won’t like every moral choice you make. That’s life.

 

Emotional Age and Maturity

This week’s horrible article by Temple Grandin’s mother contained a lot of unfounded and unsupported assumptions.  I’ve written about the assumptions around connecting late sexual experience with child porn, but there’s another damaging assumption in the article that is worth talking about on it’s own – the concept of emotional age or emotional delay.

People who haven’t studied autistic emotions (either formally or informally) often come to the conclusion, “Autistic people’s emotional development is years behind the development of peers.”  Actually, they usually phrase it as “Children with autism develop emotionally at a slower rate than their peers,” but I’m not going to get into the autistic vs person with autism debate now (others have already explained it).

Essentially, the idea is that a 20 year old autistic might have the emotional development of a 10 year old (or a different age – most advocates of this theory are quick to point out there are differences among autistics) and mature much later than their peers emotionally.

There’s a problem, though: autism is not “persistent childhood syndrome.”  Autism isn’t about developing slower.  It’s about developing differently.  Not different in speed, but at a more base level – different in order of development, different in outcome of development, and different in distribution of strengths and weaknesses.

Before we can talk about those things, we need to talk about other parts of autism.  Autism also involves how we communicate with the world.  An autistic person might, for instance, have significant trouble explaining what they are feeling or what an emotion is like.  That doesn’t mean they have underdeveloped emotions, but simply that they can’t express it.  Emotional language is difficult for a lot of autistic people (myself included), although usually not in the ways people think.  That said, differences in nature, strengths, and weaknesses of communication make people think we have emotional differences that we don’t have.  For instance, how do you show love?  There’s a ton of ways to show someone you love them – anything from saying, “I love you,” to action, whether it’s a hug or whether it’s doing something inconvenient for yourself that you know the other person will enjoy.  It’s not all the same!  But if someone tends to use a form of love expression that differs from what another person might expect, it gets interpreted as “this person doesn’t love me.”  This is true for NTs (neurotypicals) as well as autistics (a lot of relationship counseling of NTs seems to revolve around how to show love for each other), so it only makes sense that autistics might express in ways that baffle or confuse a lot of NTs.  But there’s a difference between baffling expression and lack of the emotion.

That’s not the only difference – another difference is in how we perceive the environment and our base stress levels.  Being in some environments, or being in a situation where you’re under tremendous stress, changes how you interact with people.  For instance, see this presumably non-autistic politician calmly discussing pension reform:

Now maybe the politician in the video is emotionally immature.  But maybe he’s not.  Maybe he’s just stressed and frustrated and lost control of the moment.  This happens to us all (I’m not going to comment on the maturity of the woman behind him responding by laughing – she also is presumably non-autistic) in situations where we are sufficiently provoked or stressed.   Now, imagine that you’re in a lot of pain, under a lot of stress, maybe bullied at school constantly.  Might you not lose your temper and display emotional “immaturity” more often?  Is it really emotional immaturity?  Are you handling your emotions well (considering other things you might do, maybe you are – maybe this is what gave you an outlet for your emotions other than suicide).

But, if an autistic has a meltdown, or can’t handle the current situation, rarely is the focus on her situation.  No, she needs to “learn how to handle her emotions.”  She needs to mature.  Never mind that she might be in pain because of the light and sound around her, that she can’t explain something that’s bothering her due to communication differences, and that others are treating her poorly.  No, she’s at fault to many people.  She’s supposedly immature.

So, now that we know some things that don’t point to lack of emotional maturity, what do we know about autistic emotions?

First, we know that autistic people have trouble expressing emotions – as hinted to above – in ways that NTs find acceptable.  Certainly many people, NT and autistic, can improve how they express emotions.  But it’s not typically seen as lack of emotional development (except by armchair psychologists) in NTs when an NT has trouble with this.  It’s seen as someone who has trouble controlling their emotions, not as someone who is a decade younger inside.  There are studies on this (too often, when talking about something like this, you’ll hear “we need to study autistic people’s emotions.”  I hate to tell this to some people, but we do!).

One of our most common reactions to intense emotion is to basically “hold it in” or suppress our emotions to deal with stress, fear, or uncertainty.  I know people who have seen autistics seemingly “fly off the handle” with no real provocation (that they recognized – in other words, that they had empathy for) will disagree with me, but research says otherwise.  It says that we actually do this a lot, more than neurotypicals.  And that we use less of the neurotypical reappraisal, which can be seen as reanalyzing a situation – did the person try to hurt us, or is there another explanation?  Obviously both strategies have their place (and autistics do both), but autistic people tend to do the suppression more than neurotypicals do.  This isn’t something that leads people towards child porn or causes them to be like children when they are adults (these are both aspects of the horrible Daily Beast article).  Instead, this deals with how we respond to emotions, not what emotions and desires we have.

That gets to the second point – we have the same emotions, but may feel them more intensely.  That makes sense, since it’s well known that we feel other things (like sound or light, for instance) often in more intense ways.  This research has shown that autistic people do have empathy.  Not only do we have it, but we feel it deeper and stronger than neurotypicals in many cases.  Maybe that’s why so many autistic adults are involved in social causes that are largely ignored by the general population (I can name 10 autistic adults I know that are involved in immigration social causes, but I can’t even name one non-autistic adult I know that is – and I know more non-autistic adults than autistic adults).

High empathy doesn’t lead someone towards sex crimes or child porn, nor is high empathy associated with stunted or delayed development.  In fact, high empathy would give someone even more reason – assuming that they didn’t have enough in them already – to avoid child porn and other sex crime.  Couple that with the staggering statistics on sexual abuse of autistic children (in my experience, most of us have been abused as children, and research seems to back me up), and it’s easy to see that, combined with empathy, the vast majority of us would not be drawn to child porn.  We know what it’s like to be the abused child (I’ll also add, to bolster things I’ve already said, that we’ve already learned about children and sex through our abuse, and have no need to learn about sex that way as adults – we were the victims of that already – even if Temple’s mom disagrees).

We also have the other emotions and attractions.  Including sexual attraction.  One thing that is more common among autistic people is homosexuality and other non-heterosexual sexualities.  Research supports this.  However, what research doesn’t support is a link to child pornography.  There are anecdotes and some academic writings similar to the Daily Beast article, but they are generally case studies and hypothesis, and thus not able to be used to draw broad conclusions.  Nobody debates the existence of sexual predators and child porn viewers among autistic people – the question is whether or not there is a link to autism (just because an autistic person does something doesn’t mean autism was a contributing factor).  In the accounts I’ve read of autistic child porn viewers, all of them had one other element: either the person was in an adult relationship (in many cases, married) where presumably adult, age-appropriate sexual activity occurred, or the person had otherwise expressed a sexual interest in adults.  In addition, in most, the person also assaulted or harassed adults.  I say this to confront Temple’s mom’s unsupported hypothesis that autistics, being emotionally undeveloped and thus like children emotionally, seek out images of children.  Clearly even in the academic case studies of autistic adults who view child porn, there’s not a lack of interest in adults – those emotions and attractions are definitely there.  We’re not talking emotional development delay – we’re talking someone who places their self-gratification and unusual desires above society’s rules and other people’s welfare.  That’s not “being childlike.”  It’s being criminal, something autistics and non-autistics both manage to do (ironically we don’t blame a desire to be part of a group facilitating some criminal activity, like some gang activity, on the neurology of the person doing it unless they are non-neurotypical – even though the desire to fit in is important and common for people who have neurotypicality).

Another factor involved with autistic emotion is the social acceptability of expressing our emotions.  Here, I’ll stray a little from research recognizing that personal experience is not something we can draw firm conclusions from (so if you want to criticize something here, THIS is the personal experience part!).  One of the tactics of bullies in my childhood was to provoke me to “tattle” or have an “outburst.”  The bullies were skillful – they knew how to manipulate the situation so that the teacher or authority would see Joel seemingly overreacting, without seeing all the background for why Joel reacted the way he did.  So, for instance, they might tease me all day when the teacher isn’t looking or watching, but when I’ve finally had enough and blow up, the teacher just sees me yelling and screaming at the bullies.  When asked, “Why?” I likely can’t respond coherently or calmly, or I say, “He’s teasing me” to which the teacher thinks, “That reaction is WAY beyond how he should have reacted to being called a name once” (and it would be, if it was once).  So, now, I’m emotionally immature (ironically, the bullies who exploit this are not).

We do experience emotions differently and deeply.  Adults aren’t children, even if the adults have emotional differences.  It might sound good to think of an adult as a child as why the person would be sexually attracted to kids, but that’s not supported by studies of pedophiles (a group that has been extensively studied).  Yes, there are autistic criminals, pedophiles, and child porn viewers.  We’re not all saints, and there are some pretty horrible people among us – just as there is with the rest of the population.  We’re not unique and free from the sins of humanity.  But we’re also not more likely to sin, nor more likely to “act like children emotionally.”  We will act differently than neurotypical adults, that’s for sure.  And there’s a wide variety of difference, but none of that is like a neurotypical child.

Part of fixing the problem of poor sexual education among autistic people involves us treating people as they are, not as we think they are or want to see them.  That’s where this scares me the most – if you think a 20 year old is emotionally a 10 year old, what did you think of them as at 10 years old?  Certainly not a 10 year old.  So, if they were like a 5 year old then, you probably don’t need to think of them as soon-to-begin puberty.  So you get to put off that sex talk that you might give a neurotypical (although, unlike what Temple’s mom says, most people put off that talk for neurotypicals too – they just don’t have the justification; dads are not generally teaching kids about sex, nor are moms – so don’t blame the absent dad for this, as the present dad and the present mom don’t do it either).  But the reason for this talk isn’t to keep your child from becoming a predator as much as to keep him from becoming a victim and to help him as he grows develop the type of relationships that are positive and affirming of everyone involved.  That’s something everyone needs.

The Irresistible Autistic Draw to Child Porn and Numbers Games

Apparently, autistic men are drawn to child porn due to our emotional ages being the same as those of a child.

Uh, no.

First of all, the minute you start talking “emotional age” (or variants of mental age, intellectual age, etc), you’re going down the wrong path.  Someone who has trouble with emotions but has lived with that trouble for two decades is not like a 10 year old.  Period.  The same goes for intellect.  I’m not going to go into that argument now – other than to say these emotional age theories are bogus.  I do have reasons for saying it.

Second, the assumption is that people become pedophiles because people with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are emotionally immature:

Though now equipped with a full-grown body and full-grown sexual drive, many ASD males are stuck emotionally at a prepubescent age. They look like grown men, but inside they’re only 10 years old. They don’t want adults to show them how sex is done; they want 10-year-olds to show them.

I can assure you, as an autistic adult man, that I didn’t find 10 year olds sexually interesting.  Not at age 10 and certainly not as an adult.  I don’t think I’m in the minority, either.  Developing in a different way, such as learning about sexuality at a later age, does not imply that one is “inside” like one that learned earlier.  And, if I remember my grade school days, the boys wanted to see adult woman boobs just as much as 10 year old boobs, if not more.

In addition, if this theory is true – there is a connection between delayed sexual development and child pornography, we should see that in the demographics when people who view child porn are analyzed.  After all, autistic people aren’t the only ones who might develop differently.  One site on child pornography says this about who child porn users are:

[Child porn users] may come from all walks of life and show few warning signs. In fact, users of child pornography on the Internet are more than likely to be in a relationship, to be employed, to have an above average IQ, to be college educated, and to not have a criminal record.[25]Those arrested for online child pornography crimes have included judges, dentists, teachers, academics, rock stars, soldiers, and police officers.[26] Among the few distinguishing features of offenders are that they are likely to be white, male, and between the ages of 26 and 40, and may be heavy Internet users to the extent that it interferes with other aspects of their lives.[27]

While some of these traits are shared by some autistic men, none are exclusive to autistic men – and some are most definitely not associated with autistic men who are still trying to figure out “how sex is done.”  Note that “lack of sexual experience” isn’t listed.  In fact, presumably, most child pornography viewers aren’t trying to learn about sex since they are already in relationships.

Now I realize this doesn’t prove that child pornography viewing isn’t more common among autistic men.  But I would suggest that the editor and source for the article in Daily Beast should probably confirm their theory rather than wildly speculating on it – particularly since a surface level examination of child pornography shows that it is not a problem linked directly to underdeveloped sexuality.

There are tons of other problems in the article too, such as a badly explained theory on lack of generalization in autistic people causing relationship issues.

That brings us to the second problematic article of the week – Dating on the Autistic Spectrum, on The Atlantic’s website.  This article talks about the difficulties autistic people have dating – but it perpetuates some dating myths in the process.  For instance, the article talks about flirting with random strangers as a part of the dating process.  For some people, it may be – and certainly it may be what someone interested in a partner for a night might do, but it is not what people interested in long-term relationships generally did to meet their spouse.

Most people don’t meet their spouse at bars or other casual encounters with random strangers.  The meet through friends, work, school, or church primarily (not internet sites, either, although that’s probably more effective than bars).  They see and get to know someone in an environment where dating isn’t the primary (or at least only) goal.  Autistic people are no different – it’s not about knowing how to flirt.  It’s about meeting people and finding out that there is a mutual attraction.

Yes, autistic people have trouble with this.  Most of the autistic people I know who are in relationships certainly started dating much later than non-autistic people generally do.  And I find we don’t generally do well with quick flings – most of us want a deeper relationship.  You don’t find that trying to pick up random women you know nothing about!

Part of the problem I’ve seen with autistic dating advice in general is that it’s focused on how to make the other person be attracted to you.  While initial attraction may have a role to play, successful relationships move past that stage pretty quickly.  There has to be something deeper than just “she’s pretty” to base a relationship on.  But rather than talk about this element of relationships, what gets talked about is “How can I show I’m confident to get this pretty girl?”

Certainly, I do think in both sexuality and dating, autistic people get very little useful education.  Sexual education is poor for just about everyone, but for autistic people it’s even worse – too many educators and parents don’t see us as sexual beings (or, if we are, it’s only an urge that needs to be controlled, not something beautiful and wonderful that connects us with others).  And we do need to know not only the mechanics (something that I think would help many men – they generally don’t know what makes a woman enjoy sex), as well as things like contraception, boundaries, and consequences.  Oh, it probably shouldn’t be heterosexual-only focused.

We also need to know about relationships.  But it needs to start with the premise that we’re not all that different from neurotypicals.  If neurotypicals don’t meet each other at bars, why should we?  Where there is differences (we may have fewer relationships, for instance), it’s important to maximize the good things that come along with these differences – a deeper, close relationship is a good thing compared to tons of shallow relationships (note that I’m not saying neurotypicals have shallow relationships and lack deep ones).

I think, too, a huge part of being an attractive person to someone else is to have a full life without the other person – too much relationship education is focused on the goal of partnering.  It needs to be focused on the broader goal of a full life, with romance possibly being one part of it.  While someone is waiting for the right person, they can be enjoying and exploring life – but too often the focus becomes only the relationship, and thus the person is trying to find something to complete them, rather than finding someone to share what they (and the other person) have in life.

We should be teaching people that just having a relationship won’t complete you, won’t make you feel better, and won’t improve your life.  You need to find these things yourself – sure, a partner may provide insight and light and growth in these areas, but ultimately it’s not their job to fill a gap to make you whole.  We need to be teaching what kinds of relationships are beneficial and satisfying, and what ones are not.  We need to focus on things other than “numbers games” to get a partner.  Of course people are probably going to respond to this and say, “Joel, that’s easy for you to say.  You’re married.”  I recognize that, and I recognize the pain of loneliness (which is not only due to lack of a partner).  All I can say is that it is possible to enjoy life – I enjoyed my life before I met my wife.  I know that other people may have different desires (and, again, it needs to be okay for people with no desire to be accepted fully too).  I hope people find ways to be happy and enjoy life.  But I’d start with a focus not on how to seduce women (it’s typically men that are taught seduction), but rather on what constitutes successful relationships.