10 Things I Learned From Dating A Guy With Autism

For a few months, I was fortunate to be able to date a guy who has autism. While it didn’t turn into love, we had a lot of fun and I learned a lot.

  1. Clear communication is key. One of the main challenges I faced was with communication. In relationships, I tend to rely on partners picking up my feelings through osmosis. Or, if I’m feeling combative, I will be very sarcastic. This is not how to communicate with someone effectively, and especially not with someone who’s autistic. It left my guy very confused and unsure about how to make me happy or what I was really thinking.
  2. Saying what’s actually on your mind is OK. Despite my communication issues, he was great. He would always ask me for clarification or let me know when I just wasn’t making sense. I had to take a leaf out of his book and just say what I was thinking, whether it was good or bad. I hated being so direct at first because I often felt like I was being overly harsh, but it removed a lot of confusion and allowed us to get on with getting to know each other. There were fewer misunderstandings and we weren’t constantly deciphering codes.
  3. A different perspective really does change things. People who have autism experience the world differently to those of us who don’t. They can feel as though the world is overwhelming with all of its sounds, sights, and smells, but they can also really get into the detail of the world that others might overlook. I found the constant need for routine frustrating, but I also gained a new appreciation for the world around me. Walking in the countryside and noticing flowers and birds that otherwise I wouldn’t have looked twice at reminded me that there is so much of the world that our brains just filter out. Taking the time sometimes to notice those things can be really wonderful.
  4. Its OK to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we all feel as though the world is too much. For me, it happens most in supermarkets—there are so many people and so many choices and I hate it. I also feel overwhelmed in large crowds, when it’s too hot, and when my to-do list at work gets too long. That’s OK. Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. It’s also OK to say that you’re not coping, you don’t want to be somewhere or do something, or to just let your friends or partner know that a situation is difficult for you.
  5. Silence is good. Sometimes when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you just need silence. Autistic people are the same. Being with someone in silence was really awkward at first; I have a need to fill silences and tend to just talk and talk. However, I began to appreciate the silence and realized that being with someone in complete quite takes a level of comfort that takes time and patience to develop.
  6. People show they care in different ways. When dating a lot, it is easy to fall into expecting the same old romantic tropes: flowers, chocolate, hilarious selfies. You can begin to expect them as a sign the relationship is going well or that the other person is thinking of you—I know I did. I was a bit annoyed when I wasn’t getting those things until I realized that he was showing I was on his mind in unexpected ways. Instead of flowers, which I’m not really a fan of, he would suggest we go to the botanical gardens so I could see flowers and trees in the natural world. Instead of buying me a box of chocolates randomly, for my birthday he got me a bag that I’d only said I liked in passing. He was great at noticing (and remembering) the small details. Ultimately, gifts aren’t really proof that someone cares about you. The little things can be even more of a sign that someone cares.
  7. Everyone is at least a little bit weird. I always thought I was pretty “normal,” whatever that means. I felt that way until I started explaining that the sound of chewing really freaks me out, or that I find wet food (like curry) touching dry food (like naan bread) very disgusting. I have a friend who always avoids the cracks when walking along the pavement (to the point where she’ll push strangers out of the way so as not to step on one). I used to feel self-conscious about my quirks, strange dislikes, and unusual habits, but these are all things that I do to make the world feel more comfortable for me. We all have something a little bit “off” about us, and that’s what makes us who we are.
  8. Don’t get hung up on compliments—they’re subjective. I got the strangest compliment I’ve ever received from this guy. “You have an interesting shaped head.” (He said this while also moving his hands to show the shape of my head.) It’s true, my head is a unique shape, but he didn’t say that. He said interesting, which is a positive word. To be honest, at the time I was a bit stunned. I managed to thank him but wasn’t entirely sure it was a compliment. He assured me it was.
  9. People are a challenge across the board. Dating is hard. You constantly worry about how the other person sees you, whether they understand you, whether you have anything in common… Dating a guy with autism was just as hard; I worried that I was giving him the wrong impression about my mood or that he was annoyed at me when we were just sitting in silence. I had to try out entirely different ways of communicating, but all dating is like that. To have a successful relationship with anyone, compromises and adjustments need to be made.
  10. Being open to different types of people is great. For me, the joy of dating is meeting and getting to know other people. Stepping outside of my comfort zone just a little bit, I got to experience things I might not have otherwise and gained a different perspective on dating and the challenges that my dates might have to face when dating me. Just because someone is a bit different from you doesn’t mean you can’t have fun together.