Let’s look at dating as a pastime for teens, young adults, and adults. Webster says a pastime is “something that amuses and serves to pass time agreeably.” That is dating at its best. Most of us know that it also produces times of high anxiety, anger, sadness, and confusion. Dating, after all, is one kind of relationship, and all relationships vary from satisfying and agreeable to dreadful and confusing. In dating, there is often the added factor of sexual attraction that enlivens but also complicates the mix.
The first paragraph relates to all of us. We are either interested in this pastime, not interested yet, not interested at all, or already participating in this pastime. That is of course true, as well, for persons with Asperger Disorder. What are the special assets of the AS dating partner, and what are liabilities: I am in the group often called, neurotypicals, so I am sticking my neck out to give my views on some of the particular strengths and weaknesses brought to the dating scene by persons with AS. However, I do know and work with many people with AS so this comes out of my experience and may ring true to you.
The first most important aspect of choosing someone to date is looking for someone who can become a friend. The qualities of being loyal to that person, being willing to listen to their concerns and interests, enjoying some of the same activities and ideas, and finding their company interesting and fun are all a par of friendship. Friendship is a solid foundation for dating. This means that casual internet chat friends may or may not turn out to be good dates. It is certainly safer for you to date someone that you have shared activities with than one who has emailed you that he also likes the Civil War, for example.
In fact, my first rule for dating is that you and the date share some common interests. An activity-based friendship has the best chance of developing into a dating relationship that can be agreeable to you both. Stephen Shore, a friend of mine with AS, said in his new book, Beyond the Wall, “any activity where socialization is the primary goal has always been a complete bust for me. For those who are socially cue-challenged and have difficulty communicating in social situations, group activity where the activity is the goal may work.” (pg. 81) I think dating works best when people with AS try out a variety of activities that are things they enjoy, meeting people who also enjoy those things.
Persons with AS often have heightened sensations in visual auditory, and kinesthetic modalities which make the sexual feelings that often accompany attraction to another person difficult to manage. If two people date more than one time and become a “couple,” they will have to figure out what feels good to each of them and what does not. Remember that for many persons with AS who have sensory sensitivities, deep pressure (like back rubs) is calming and organizing, while light pressure (running fingers through hair) is often irritating. Personal space, i.e. one’s physical proximity to another person is a factor in dating. A person will not want his or her date too far away, but will not want to feel physically crowded by him either. Persons with AS will need to use all the skills they have learned about reading facial expressions to communicate with a date. They may also need to take cues from the person who can read situational nuances if they often misinterpret in this area. They may fail to consider the context, and so need the other person to cue them as to when loving words and actions are appropriate in social situations and when they are not.
Another hazard in dating is that the person one is attracted to may not be honest; he or she may try to deceive their date. It is hard for some persons with AS to recognize when they are being tricked. Another way to put that is that it is sometimes difficult to comprehend the intentions and motivations of others. It may help to ask a friend to say what they think about the relationship. If one of the people wonders about being tricked the best policy is to tell the other person about that fear without accusing him or her and to talk it over. This may be hard for the person who has difficulty taking the perspective of the other person (seeing things from their point of view), but it is possible as long as the person can keep from getting too worked up or anxious in the process. It may be difficult for some people with AS to determine who is responsible for a given action that can cause a fight over whose fault something is or who gets the credit.
Participating in an activity (e.g. biking, swimming, hiking, computer programming) together takes the focus off the social interaction. One person may be a real expert at fixing a bike, but not be so good at just holding a conversation. That same person may be able to do both together—fix the bike and hold some conversation—better. This may help to focus attention on another person for a longer time, which is important in dating.
What I have outlined is useful for anyone who is dating. If social interactions are difficult for you, and you have had to learn them step-by-step, you will need to learn the rules of dating step-by-step the same way. Remember that no one is a perfect date to begin with; everyone has to learn how to do it. Expressions of affection including sexual expressions are natural, but need to be appropriate to the level of friendship you and your partner have developed over time.
Social interaction may be very hard for you, but you can’t be a good date without some of it. Shared activities are a good foundation on which to attach some social interaction. There is no shortcut to dating that does not include friendship. If you are not interested in dating at this time, then this article is interesting information, but not something you want to try out. That’s fine. If you are interested in dating then hopefully this article will give you some tips to think over as you choose activities that you enjoy that can lead to meeting someone to date.