What It’s Like to Date When You’re on the Autism Spectrum
VICE: How old were you when you started dating? How consistently have you been in a relationship over the years?
Claire: I’m not sure how to answer. I had my first date at 19, but it was an isolated event. I started “looking” at 21, and found a partner at 22 that I’ve been with ever since, in addition to many other partners over the years as I am polyamorous. I’m 27 now.
It’s really interesting that you practice polyamory. What drew you to that particular lifestyle?
I’ve always had the inclination to be poly. I kind of buried it though, thinking of it as the fantasy of an adolescent. One thing about polyamory that really appeals to me as an Aspie is that people on the spectrum tend to like very clear rules and boundaries, and in polyamorous relationships, those things have to be talked out to make it work. Other than that I’ve found poly to be much harder. ASD affects communication and poly is all communication. I get less alone time to recover because I have to make sure all of my partners get the time that they need, and since I don’t drive, that makes arranging dates with each partner more difficult. Since I rely on disability for money, trying to figure out a living setup that works for all has been—Well, we haven’t figured it out yet.
Have most of your partners been aware that you were on the spectrum? If so, when did you tell them, and what are some of the reactions you’ve gotten?
Oh, I’m very open. So much so that my ex never got explicitly told, and somehow didn’t know for five months. Whoops… As for reactions, I guess they’ve been all over the board, with the best reaction I ever got being when one partner told me, “that’s not gonna scare me off,” and the worst one—well, it didn’t happen when he found out that I was on the spectrum, but when one of my exes found out what my limitations were, he was pretty mean about it.
What’s the hardest thing about dating?
Trusting someone not to hurt me. Risking getting mocked every time a new partner finds out how little adult independence I have. I’ve had some bad experiences. One of my exes basically accused me of being a sheltered wuss once he found out all the things I can’t do, or do safely. He also gave me the classic, “but I knew someone with Asperger’s and they could…” Another partner forgets that I need more time to process when I’m upset. I often get talked over during arguments.
How have you handled sex and intimacy in your relationships?
With communication and compromise. I don’t want to get into too many private details, but the main thing is that I thoroughly discuss things with my partners. It’s sad how few couples discuss likes and dislikes and how each can please the other better. There are some acts that I don’t do or that I have to modify. I’ve had to try workarounds for my sensory issues so that I can still please my partners. I warn my partners that I can go non-verbal and we discuss ways to work around that safely. I have selective mutism that acts up during sex due to all the sensory input and emotion. It used to happen a lot when I was younger, but I’ve adapted to try avoid the overload and anxiety that triggers it. These days it usually only happens during sex or when I’m very anxious and physically ill at the same time.
If you could tell your current or next partner anything about your diagnosis what would it be?
That I hate the negatives as much as you, but I’m doing the best I can.
*Names have been changed.