Anna Pulley, @annapulley
RedEye's sex columnist
1:20 PM CDT, October 2, 2013
My dating life for the past few years has been hit-or-miss. Not only in trying to find that special partner, but also trying to conquer some life obstacles. A big reason is that I have Asperger's syndrome. Even though I've been more outgoing than ever in my lifetime, I'm still mentally restrained by my social behavior. There are moments where I have to rely on a friend to help me get involved in a conversation or just keep me from panicking in public. Even physical contact is hard to pull off. Just a friendly handshake could rub me the wrong way. It took me until my early 20s to get used to a hug. I have yet to get a kiss. Never been good at keeping eye contact with individuals, including friends and family. Plus, even finding potential matches online can be a struggle. I get writer's block trying to grab anyone's attention with words. I have tried dating solo and even going to a speed-dating event. Just the fact that I manage to get a date with anybody is a big victory. What is it that I mentally need to do to make that extra step in getting a potential match?--Seeking Yet Bewildered
Unfortunately, there’s no one extra step needed in order to succeed in dating, whether you have Asperger’s or not. There are about 37 steps needed at any given time. But having AS isn’t a deal-breaker in and of itself. Let’s talk about some ways to cope.
Dr. Amy Marsh, a sexologist who offers an online sociosexual course for adults with Asperger’s, had this advice: “Having a friend along is good. A lot of people bring friends with them to social settings, for moral support and companionship.” A friend might also help you overcome the writer’s block you feel trying to meet people online, which is a very common issue for folks in general. There are also sites that cater specifically to folks with AS, like aspergersdatingsite.com. And lots of helpful tips on myaspergers.net, Wrong Planet (for dating do’s and don’t’s from other people with AS), Grice's Maxims (for conversation help), and this PDF on how to meet people, which is for some reason hosted on a pony therapy website. Books by Isabelle Henault and David Finch might also be useful, as well as hiring an occupational or sex therapist.
A friend in a similar situation to yours had this advice, “I tend to date people who appreciate directness and honesty, since that is the mode of communication I find the easiest. A lot of people like it--it's apparently refreshing to find people who are clearly not playing games in a relationship. I've never been able to do the dating or club scene, but it hasn't been particularly hard to find dating partners outside of that.” I’d also like to add that, if on a date, you notice that something you say or do is perceived as strange, to casually bring up your AS and some of the difficulties you face. It doesn’t have to be a big confession or anything, but a little of that honesty and directness may go a long way to helping people understand and make connections.
Marsh also recommends that you go to meetup groups if you have any special interests (mine are “hard cheeses” and “presidential erotica”), and to create an "operating manual" about sex and relationships for your eyes only. “Writing down interests, problems, sensory issues, and other related things that are personal and that can be used to help communication with an intimate partner.”
Above all else, don’t give up. Dating is hard and exhausting, but in the words of one AS blog: “The best thing you can do is pursue your own personal growth, gain social thinking skills and friendship skills, get coaching, and keep trying.”
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