For many adults, dating and finding a romantic partner are important goals, and this is true for those with Asperger’s and autism as well as those without. But often, those on the autism spectrum may have gotten off to a slower start on dating. The high school social scene, when many neurotypical teens first start dating, can be horribly complex and not open to anyone who doesn’t fit into the popular crowd’s most narrow definition of acceptable behavior. High schoolers on the autism spectrum may be quirky, or dealing with bullies, or just not ready to enter into an activity that is so socially complex. Then, after high school, it can be even more difficult because it seems like the rest of the world is so much more experienced with dating. The older you get without dating, the tougher it may seem to get started. But, the good news is, if you’re wanting to start dating, it’s never too late to begin. Below are some tips for how to start dating, even if you’re no longer anywhere close to high school age.
Of course, the first step in starting to date is to find a date. This is actually probably easier than you might imagine. Remember, you’re looking for a date, not a spouse. So you can settle for a person you enjoy talking to or spending time with, this doesn’t have to be that perfect ‘one’ person. Consider expanding your ideal criteria. Maybe you envision yourself only involved with an extremely attractive, or brilliant, or successful individual. But, if you’re only setting up a date here, you can relax your standards. Many people whom you’d never consider marrying can be lot of fun to talk to on a date. Who knows, you may even change your standards.
Meeting people gets easier all the time. If you struggle in more unstructured settings, like bookstores and coffee shops, it’s fine to go to practical meeting places, things like speed dating or the internet. There, you can be assured that the people you’re meeting are looking to meet others. If you’re inexperienced with dating, it’s probably best to avoid asking out coworkers, neighbors or people you’ll continue to see a lot of after the date. Misread social cues can mean a long term awkwardness with people you have to interact with well after the date.
Of course, safety is key. It you’re an individual who struggles with reading social signals, assume that you might have difficulty in determining if situations are safe. Have your date in a public, well lit place, make sure you bring a phone and a friend knows where you are. Don’t give out your address or too many personal details. Plan in advance about how long the date will be, and then stick to that plan. You don’t want to get carried away with a charming stranger. Finally, and most important, trust your instincts. If something feels off, listen to yourself.
Your first dating experiences are bound to be somewhat awkward. Relax, this doesn’t have to be a lifelong romance. See if you can just think of this date as a way to get more experience with dating. You don’t have to share your lack of dating experience with the person you’re chatting with, just keep it light. Talk about things you have in common, and try to learn general things about your date, things like where they’re from, what they like about the place they’re currently living, interesting hobbies. Also, plan on keeping it short. An afternoon coffee date is a lot less pressure than a full night of dinner and a movie. If it’s easier, consider setting your first date up as an activity, like touring a museum, taking a hike, visiting the beach. These activities can also take a lot of pressure off carrying on a lengthy conversation.
Finally, try to have fun! Dating can be the way to meet a spouse, or find the love of your life. But it can also be a pleasant way to interact with another person, and enjoy a Saturday afternoon.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.