Finding Love and Intimacy on the Spectrum

I did some housekeeping recently, tossing out old posts that I did in the days when I put up stuff on a daily basis. This was initially for the purposes of having daily content ready, making a reliable schedule.

This was a mistake. I can certainly produce one solid article per week, but in aggregate I ended up having to toss out much of these because they hid articles that I wanted people to read. One series of articles that got deleted dealt with my experience in dating.

Much has changed, so much so that simply adding a new article isn’t going to help. My attitude on the entire subject has shifted, though not as completely as one may think. And of course, now that Rebby and I have been together happily for six months I can say that this phase of my life is over.

In my life, I have held serious doubts about my ability to perform in certain aspects of life, things like finishing school, holding down a job, or falling in love with a romantic partner. Neurotypical friends, well meaning as they were, didn’t understand my anxieties.

Some of these things were easier to accept than others. I regained my confidence with my triumphant return and successful completion of my degree at CCBC. I found out I could do journalism really well and kickstarted a freelance writing career. But dating and relationships? That was another story.

Never The Same Way Twice

There are a lot of wrinkles when it comes to dating on the spectrum, and given my pathway to the point where I’m at it’s best to spell them out.

In some ways, now is one of the best times to date. There are more opportunities to find people than ever before. Your potential match could be only a swipe away.

But this access to a glut of people encourages a mindset where any perceived mismatch is easily dropped. Not that people don’t give off red flags, but it often felt like walking a tightrope. All it took was one mistake and everything was sabotaged.

One of the things that NTs don’t often think about is how wildly people differ in terms of their approach to dating. I’ve seen people who take a long time to vet partners and others who will jump in and sort things out as they come up. This isn’t a judgment, dating is just like that.

But for me, it wasn’t easy to decode certain things. It was also difficult to even ask for clarification, as merely asking about things can plant ideas in someone’s head. I made mistakes, but I was also not given much room for error. I always try to learn from my mistakes, and I won’t pretend I’m perfect, but I would be dropped as quickly as I was picked up.

I think NT/ASD relationships are possible, but often my NT partners didn’t really care to accommodate. Because I pass for NT, my mistakes were handled with NT expectations. Even when I disclosed my diagnosis, that didn’t really factor in how I was treated. At least not positively, it’s difficult to parse whether or not there was ableist thinking behind it and I feel like trying to speculate is pointless.

Disclosing of my diagnosis was fraught with dilemmas. If I revealed my diagnosis right off the bat, that was going to be how I would be judged. Wait too late, and I would feel like I was lying to my partner. So, I’d usually disclose within the first three dates.

As my therapist pointed out, it wasn’t being on the spectrum that was the most troubling, it was my depression. I had placed some distance between when I started dating and when my recovery began, working on things like going back to school and making sure I was going somewhere in life.

I routinely asked myself if I was ready, if I could even emotionally invest in a relationship because I was dealing with depression. But I kept replying with, “I don’t know.” Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I’d never know. There wasn’t going to be a time when I would say “Yeah, I think I’m 100% ready now.”

Obviously, there were times when I was absolutely sure that I wasn’t ready. On days when I was stuck in limbo, unable to really function much at all, I certainly wasn’t thinking about dating. But as other avenues of my life opened up such as how I met my friend circle and got back to school, the idea of dating became more appealing.

When You Can’t See It

My friends didn’t understand why such an idea was a topic of focus. They didn’t quite understand the broader context, that conceptualizing what a relationship on the spectrum even looks like was completely alien to me. What did it look like?

I heard vague stories, I got assured that “someone” was out there for me. I entertained dark thoughts, maybe for some people it wasn’t possible. I felt it was closed-minded to dismiss that outright, perhaps some people were legitimately undateable, and I was one of them.

I wish I could adequately communicate to people that because it was so difficult to even conceptualize what a relationship on the spectrum even looked like on such a basic level, that it limited my ability to even believe such a thing could exist. Very few success stories are easily accessible, and when looking at autism spectrum communities, they were all in the same boat as me.

It was initially helpful to know that there were others who were dealing with the same things that I was. But over time, my view began to shift. Instead of it being a source of solidarity, I began to fear that I was going be stuck in this place, that there was no success story.

I believed that if I were to manage a relationship, it would never be as deep or as loving as an NT one. I felt like I would have to massively settle with an NT partner, as it was difficult to find a woman on the spectrum.

Then Rebby came into my life, and we’ve been happy ever since.

The End of a Long Road

I suppose there are a handful of things that I learned from this part of my life and a few lessons that I would wish to impart to others. One of these is the necessity of seeing a success story, people need to see others like them who have succeeded. I have the fortune of being able to tell that story.

I think a lot of our culture paints the image of finding a partner as an easy process. A lot of people grow up with expectations that they’ll meet their true love the first time around. I think that people go in ill-equipped to deal with that reality.

Of course, although at times I’d declare to myself that I was done with dating, that never actually lasted. But I’m glad I stayed in the game for as long as I did, because I’m happy where I am right now.

Love is possible, it’s out there, and you have to work for it. But it’s amazing how much my life has changed.

I couldn’t be happier.