Who the Hell Would Date an Autistic Person?
I’ve thought a lot about this, especially when I was single, because I was curious about whether or not I would die alone.
I’ve paid attention to the Aspies I know, and their relationships, and the coupled Aspies I’ve read about, both in magazine articles and on message boards, and I’ve noticed some interesting patterns.
It seems that the vast majority of Aspies in healthy relationships find themselves dating one of three kinds of people. In order of prevalence:
- Someone who is emotionally intelligent and non-disabled.
By far the most common thing that’ll happen is that an Aspie will date a non-disabled person who is warm and nurturing, who has higher than average emotional intelligence. That’s so common that Simon Baron-Cohen, a doctor who knows stuff, has actually researched the tendency that Aspies have, to end up with people who have nurturing personalities. There’s a reason for this and, depending on your point on view, it’s very creepy or very sweet.
So let’s say someone with Asperger’s gets married to a very nice person, very warm, very empathetic, and they have two kids.
And- because Asperger’s is genetic- one of those kids has Asperger’s, and one of them doesn’t.
So this Aspie kid grows up with an Aspie parent who sort of shows them the ropes, and a non-disabled parent, who is very emotionally available. And their non-autistic sibling is encouraged to support and nurture them as well, developing the sibling’s emotional intelligence to be higher than average.
This Aspie kid grows up, and goes out into the world, and who are they going to look for in a partner? Maybe someone who reminds them, on some level, of their empathetic, emotionally intelligent parent or sibling.
And they find that person, and get married, and have kids, and the cycle repeats.
The reason why this relationship model works is that a person with high emotional intelligence is more likely to be open-minded and empathetic. They’ll make an honest effort to understand why someone with Asperger’s is behaving, or thinking, or feeling a certain way. They’ll be attracted to someone with Asperger’s because, for starters, they enjoy taking care of people, and additionally, because our world view must be terribly persuasive for someone who’s accustomed to feeling things intensely. We believe in logic and reason, and that things either are or aren’t. Whether or not our emotionally intelligent companion agrees with us- and they won’t always- I’d imagine this cut-through-the-crap perspective must seem refreshing to them.
Not that I’d know from experience. For some reason, I’ve never dated an emotionally intelligent non-disabled person. This makes me something of an anomaly.
- Someone with a related disability.
In terms of “related disability”, I mean ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s, depression, or an anxiety disorder. These disabilities all have neurological connections with Asperger’s, and there’s a really high rate of co-morbidity. They’re like our extended family.
The reason why this relationship model works is that, well, as I said, they’re our extended family. They get us. They have common struggles. They get what it’s like to not be understood, or be rejected for weird behaviour. And because their experiences don’t completely overlap with an Aspie’s, it’s quite likely that there will be a balancing out of strengths and weaknesses.
I’ve been attracted to quite a few people from this group. To be fair, it was mostly me having this thing about being the rescuer, so I’d end up drawn to people who were nuts. And that obviously didn’t work. But I was attracted to a few healthy people, too; a few ADHD cases. That didn’t work because they were too unpredictable for my liking.
But that’s just a matter of our strengths and weaknesses not balancing out; a basic issue with compatibility. The Aspies I know who are in this sort of relationship are all very happy.
- Another Aspie.
This relationship model works because, well, who knows us better than we do? In some ways, no-one can take care of an Aspie better than another Aspie. We’re often able to intuitively respond to each other’s needs.
I’ve read a few magazine articles about this sort of relationship and, man, let me tell you. When two Aspies start a family together, shit gets whacked. We’re talking a full-on, one-way, permanent vacation to the tropical land of Aspergia.
There was one family I heard about where not only the parents but both of the children had Asperger’s. And do you know what the family hobby was?
Creating a goddamn country together.
They each had a particular special interest- I remember that one person’s was geography, and another person’s was politics- and they pooled their interests together to create an entire fictional country, details of which expanded and changed over the course of many years.
When I dated an Aspie, things didn’t work out quite so well. It was a fire in a dynamite factory. We lasted five weeks and then never spoke to each other again. But I was always open to the possibility of dating another Aspie.
Now, in terms of unsuccessful relationships, the one model I’ve seen play out repeatedly is when someone with Asperger’s dates a non-disabled person with lower-than-average emotional intelligence. These people don’t have lived experience with disability, and they lack the empathy to try and understand what it’s like.
I’ve had experience with this type of relationship, and I can attest very much to it not being a good scene.
Obviously there are exceptions to all this. Weirdly, in spite of the amount of time I’ve spent philosophizing about this subject and making observations and drawing conclusions, I’ve found myself as an outlier. Hannah is highly emotionally intelligent, and has a disability which is completely unrelated to autism. We are the only example I’ve seen of this particular dynamic taking place. And it’s worked out very well.
So not every relationship can be predicted or boiled down into a formula. Unfortunately, love isn’t math, but it does have its own benefits.