“Dating is different when you get older. You’re not as trusting, or as eager to get back out there and expose yourself to someone.” Toni Braxton
It’s true. With age and experience, it’s sometimes harder to “get back out there” and try the dating scene again. For many adults with Asperger’s even dating for the first time seems like an insurmountable obstacle.
Generally, this is because interacting socially is the most difficult part of having Asperger’s. When it comes to dating, not only is it hard to meet someone you might want to date but when you do it’s even harder to know what it takes to make that date successful.
Here are some words of advice for adults with Asperger’s who hope to find that special person with whom life becomes the wonderful, exciting thing it is.
Think About What You are Looking For
Men and women with Asperger’s tend to differ about what they want from dating. Asperger’s men often seek partners who compensate for their shortcomings, such as their social awkwardness, their focus on routines, and their trouble expressing emotions. Asperger’s women, on the other hand, tend to look for romantic partners who are similar, who share the same characteristics and goals in life, and who have comparable views of how relationships should work.
Finding a life partner is not always about finding the person you think is best for you but rather someone who compliments you, adds to what you lack, who is not perfect but who appreciates you for who you are and who is willing to put in the work that an intimate, lasting relationship requires. Focus less about what you want and more about what you need.
Study Your Conversational Style
Typically, people with Asperger’s find it hard to converse in an unstructured setting with no goal, no deadline and no tasks to accomplish. If you’re considering dating, think ahead of time about the best way to carry on a conversation with someone you’re meeting for the first time. Look for things you both have in common. Avoid speaking too long about a topic that may not interest your date. If, for example, you bring up the intricacies of politics during the French Revolution and your date doesn’t appear interested, change the subject. Ask what he or she is interested in. Remember that most people like to talk about themselves. You are not likely to go wrong if you ask about your date and focus on listening to what he or she has to say.
If making conversation is hard for you, suggest an activity for the two of you to do that takes the pressure off of talking. A movie, walk, visit to a museum, bowling—activities like these take the stress off of talking and provide a ready-made focus for more relaxed, less personal conversations.
Sometimes adults with Asperger’s get overly excited and go overboard when meeting someone they are excited about. There is nothing wrong with being interested in developing a relationship. After all, that’s why you want to date. But keep it reasonable. Don’t text every few minutes. Don’t track your date’s every movements on social media and respond to every one of his or her posts. Don’t expect to spend all your time together.
Most people prefer taking things slow, not rushing into anything and not overdoing getting to know someone. It takes time to develop a lasting relationship, and you are wise to put your efforts into the slow, steady process of getting to know someone and building the intimacy that creates a successful relationship. Overwhelming someone with too much communication and rushing towards a commitment is not a recipe for success.
Disclosing Your Diagnosis
Almost everyone with Asperger’s wonders about disclosing his or her diagnosis when dating someone. My opinion is that it’s best to let the person know sooner rather than later that you have Asperger’s. It doesn’t have to be on the first date, even the second. But certainly in the initial stages of dating is it responsible and fair to let your date know that you have Asperger’s. For one thing, it allows that person to know what to expect, and it helps prevent any surprises or hurt feelings that come up as a result of not knowing this important part of you.
Disclosing your diagnosis also gives you an idea of how open and accepting the other person is. If he or she is not accepting or understanding, that’s probably a sign that this person is not right for you.
The whole purpose of dating is to enjoy getting to know someone and having him or her enjoy getting to know you. Dating should be a positive experience. Focus on having fun and being positive, at least as much as you can control. If it doesn’t work out with the person you meet, at least you will have done your best to enjoy the experience, for yourself and your date.
Remember, nothing breeds success like success. If you make dating a positive experience, chances are the next time around it will be positive again, whether it’s with the person you are dating now or someone else in the future.
Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Asperger’s psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. To ask a question or schedule an appointment, please call 415-922-1122.