(Content note: Discussion of autistic burnout, mention of sex)
Valentine’s Day is going to be a hard day for many of those with little to no relationship experience. Whether this is because they are aromantic or simply have never dated despite being interested there will be the social pressures of other people being in a relationship (or at least having some level of experience) out in full force. There are popular misconception about autisms and they include that autistic people have no interest in relationships or romance. The reality is the opposite. If anything, the feelings inside may actually be too much/overwhelming for certain autistic people. This post I will talk a bit more about my relationship experience (or lack of) in the hope that somebody can learn from it.
To be honest, relationships were something I used to often think about. Like, I wouldn’t call it one of my passions but at the same time it is something that I have talked about to people often enough over the years that they now find it boring. At the time of writing, my experience with relationships is next to non-existent. I haven’t even told somebody that I liked them without them losing interest beforehand yet alone go on a date, kiss, hold hands or go further.
I wasn’t interested in relationships till I was nearly 15. I hadn’t been interested before then. I had a crush on a girl at that age that didn’t end well at first. To summarise it, I learnt the concepts behind personal space and boundaries which is an important lesson everyone needs to learn. We’d later go on to be really good friends so in that respects I was really lucky as she understood me and I had ultimately respected her boundaries when she told me to give her space.
The only other significant person I liked was in sixth form. I really liked her, but I found her very demanding on my executive functioning. I couldn’t flirt with her like she was wanting me to. I wanted to flirt with her but I couldn’t handle it. I had to back away from her as I entered a long period of autistic burnout and couldn’t look at her yet alone speak to her due to exhaustion, fatigue and anxiety. Unsurprisingly, it killed my chances of dating her. It took me years to fully understand what happened and to find lessons to learn so I can apply it in the future. The main lessons were:
- Don’t try to mask my neurodiversity
- Ask for help and advice from others as I cannot handle this on my own.
- Be friends with said partner first as you cannot court a stranger.
Even though I am also good friends with this person, I still think back to when she first tried to flirt with me and I try (and fail) to work out what I would say differently. I can’t think of anything aside from outright trying to discourage her from flirting and just skip to the point where we get to know each other better through asking questions. However apparently an NT would misinterpret that as friendzoning. I don’t care how witty their punchlines are, they aren’t important in the grand scheme of things. I’d tell them “Tell me what you like, what you dislike, what you stand for, your pet peeves, tell me about you. I want to understand you deeply as that is what I find attractive.” Be direct, in other words.
I don’t understand why NTs flirt anyway to initiate romantic relationships. What exactly are they trying to achieve? I rarely find flirting fun but I always find it too demanding for me. I think in a long-term relationship when I have got to know the person deeply and I feel I can 100% trust them, I could handle the pressures of flirting and romance but not before. I couldn’t read her body language and overthinking made the burnout worse.
I’m not the only person who struggles with relationships. A lot of autistic people struggle with finding love and many don’t find it at all (even those that desire it) contrary to common positivity messages like “there’s somebody out there for everyone.” The stereotypes that autistic people are aromantic/asexual or quirky misogynistic straight white guys hurts our chances too.
As I’ve gotten older I haven’t had any other noteworthy crushes. I also realised I wasn’t ready to enter a relationship till recently so I wouldn’t have lasted in a relationship with either of them anyway. I also realised I am bi/ace and both of those also lower my chances due to discrimination and increased likelihood of sexual incompatibility. I’m at peace with the possibility of never finding someone to spend my life with romantically and that is okay. Don’t get me wrong, I do want to find somebody but I’d rather be friends first and let it happen naturally and therefore this is not a priority anymore. To be honest, that might be the only way a relationship with me would work.
If the stress from past crushes has taught me anything else important is that putting myself under all this stress for somebody that may not be in my life a few months later is not worth it. This is especially when it starts affecting other areas of my life which past crushes have done. That is one of the consequences of autistic burnout. The right person for me, if they exist, will understand this. They will understand my preferences and needs and will try and work with me. Likewise, I will try and work with them to meet their needs. It’s all about compromise. People that don’t understand/accept this are not the right people to keep in my life, yet alone date. After all, self-confidence about myself and who I am can be seen as very attractive to somebody else whom is interested in me.
To anyone else whom is also is in a similar position – it’s perfectly okay to have little to no relationship experience. You know yourself best and society shouldn’t shame those that don’t understand. If you are a late bloomer (or never bloom) in the dating sphere, that is okay. If you are aromantic or never want to date for other reasons that is okay too. You do you and ignore anyone else who tells you otherwise.