Let’s face it, dating, especially when you’re neurodiverse, is hard. Dating requires social skills that many individuals with autism struggle with. This often causes them to feel very overwhelmed and anxious about the whole process. Today, I want to share why I recommend my clients with autism work on themselves before focusing their attention on finding a partner and being in a relationship.
The desire to conform leads many individuals with autism to feel like they have to date, even if it’s not what’s best for them.
Many individuals with high-functioning autism feel immense pressure to conform to social norms. This includes dating. They want to date and want to have love in their lives, but they struggle with the social skills and emotional skills needed to attract potential partners and maintain a healthy relationship. Or perhaps, they don’t want to date but feel they have to in order to mask their autism.
Many neurodiverse teens and adults compare themselves with their neurotypical peers. This involves all areas of their lives, especially dating. During adolescence, they begin to notice their neurotypical peers showing interest in finding a romantic partner. In order to fit in, they may try and mask their autism and possible lack of interest in dating by doing the same. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always go well.
Many autistic individuals share that this is the time when they begin to feel truly different from their classmates. And, they often experience the trauma of being bullied. This leads to almost constant self-doubt and social anxiety which make it very hard to date successfully. Sometimes, the pressure is so overwhelming it leads to autistic burnout and severe mental health concerns. Like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and occasionally substance abuse.
Here’s the catch, dating just to date, or being in a toxic relationship just because you want love in your life is not healthy. Sometimes, the most valuable thing you can do is work on yourself first and honor where you’re at in your life.
The pressure to date causes many individuals with autism to move too fast in relationships.
Sometimes, the pressure to date causes neurodiverse individuals to enter into relationships too quickly and not fully vet the partner they are dating. This can lead them to date someone who isn’t a good match for them which leads to a breakup and experiencing the pain of that loss.
Furthermore, individuals with autism often move too quickly in a relationship and overshare. For example, I have had many clients with autism share that they just put it all out there and lay all their cards on the table on the first date. They tell their date everything and disclose too much too quickly.
This can alarm a potential partner, especially if they are neurotypical because that’s not what they would consider being normal dating behavior. Neurotypical individuals typically reveal themselves little by little to avoid getting hurt. Unfortunately, this can cause many neurotypicals to pull away which may lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Teens and adults with autism tend to take it very personally when people don’t like them due to the tremendous pressure they feel to “act normal.” So, hearing that their date doesn’t want to see them again or isn’t interested really hurts and causes them to go down a shame spiral.
Before we continue with the blog, I want to offer you an important reminder, your worth is not defined by your relationship success. And, you do not have to have a partner to be happy. It is absolutely acceptable to be single as long as that’s what makes you happy.
What You Can Do to Improve the Likelihood of Relationship Success If You’re Ready to Date
1. Figure out what you need and want from a relationship/partner
First, I want you to think about taking some time to think about your needs. I realize this task may be daunting, especially if you’re rarely asked about what you need. But, it’s important. Being able to articulate your needs to your partner in a confident way will prevent future misunderstandings and hurt feelings. It will also encourage your partner to be vulnerable and open in return.
A critical part of figuring out what you need, versus what society says you need, is clearing your mind of all the neurotypical expectations others try to get you to conform to. Then, start by thinking about the basics.
- How much alone time do I need?
- How often do I want to interact with others socially?
- What do I want in a potential partner?
- How much am I masking my autism and when do I do that?
- How comfortable are I with intimacy and physical touch?
- What do I need to recharge my social battery after a long day at school or work?
I encourage you to consider journaling or tapping into your creative side to record your answers. Reflect on them and revise them as often as necessary to ensure you’re meeting your needs.
2. Ensure your actions reflect your needs, not what you think society expects from you.
Next, I want you to think about what you’re doing versus what you actually need? If you find that you’re pushing yourself so hard that you’re actions don’t align with your answers above, then it’s likely time to reevaluate your choices. If your needs are in opposition to your actions, the more suffering you’re likely to experience.
3. Remind yourself that you don’t have to share the same needs as your partner
It is important to remember that two people can have different needs and still have a successful relationship. The key is that both partners respect and understand the other’s needs and perspectives. For example, you can need alone time, and your partner can be very social, as long as they respect your needs and you in return respect theirs.
3. Surround yourself with a support system that understands autism
Lastly, I want you to think about how cognitively exhausting, overwhelming, and anxiety-producing it is to mask your autism. It doesn’t go well even when they try hard. So it’s really important that you have people in your life who accept, appreciate, and acknowledge your autism so you can be yourself around them. This will help you become more comfortable being vulnerable and living as your authentic self. Which over time, helps you get rid of the neurotypical mask you’ve been wearing for so long. Practice being authentic with them until you feel comfortable being authentic with potential romantic partners as well.
If you’re struggling to find your tribe and support system, I encourage you to join a neurodiverse or autism support group. Meeting other people who share your struggles and understand what you’re going through is a profound experience.
At my autism therapy practice, we’re offering the following online social skills groups to California Residents:
- Neurodiverse Working Professionals Group
- Autistic Women Group
- Neurodiverse College Group
- College Transition Summer Group (offered summer 2020)
- Neurodivergent Young Adults Group (Post-College)
- Autism Parent Support Group (for parents of a young adult or teen with autism) – Click here to learn more
Begin Autism Therapy in California
If you’re ready to begin autism therapy services and live in the state of California, we would love to speak with you and talk to you about the ways we can help. We offer a variety of autism therapy services for autism parents, autism families, teens with autism, and adults with autism in California. To begin online autism therapy, follow these steps:
- Contact us for a free phone consultation using this link. You will meet with one of our therapists.
- Like us on Facebook. On our page, we post useful information about our practice
- Sign up to receive our newsletter.
Autism Therapy Services offered at Open Doors Therapy:
Our autism therapy clinic located in the South Bay Area serves teens and adults on the autism spectrum. We help high functioning individuals who identify as having Aspergers, high functioning autism, undiagnosed ASD traits, and their families.
Right now, we are providing all our autism counseling services online. Our autism therapists offer a variety of counseling services including individual counseling for autistic teens and adults, parent counseling, and group therapy. Also, we run several different social skills groups for neurodiverse working professionals, college students with autistic traits, gifted youth & caregivers, neurodiverse adults, women who identify as neurodiverse, a summer social skills college transition training program for youth transitioning to college, teens & caregivers, and a mothers group. Contact our autism therapy office for more information on our services or to schedule a consultation.
About the Author
Dr. Tasha Oswald is a trained developmental and clinical psychologist. She is also is the founder and director of Open Doors Therapy, a private practice specializing in autism therapy services in the South Bay Area, near San Francisco, CA. Dr. Oswald specializes in helping neurodiverse teens and adults and facilitating social skills groups.