I’ve heard a variety of opinions on autistic dating, specifically on the subject of whether autistic people should date neurotypicals, or vice versa. I’ve heard some advocate that the only way that a relationship can work for an autistic person is if they date other autistic people. Others say that two autistic people in a relationship is asking for trouble, because they’re like two positively charged magnets who will repel each other on contact. Interesting simile, but I don’t think either of these is particularly helpful as a universal truth. There are those who will be comfortable dating either, those who will date exclusively neurotypical, those who exclusively date non-neurotypical, and then those who will date exclusively autistic. I fall into the first category, but I have thus far dated exclusively non-neurotypical and I am now in a committed relationship with an autistic which will likely result in marriage soon.
Let me make it clear, I never set out to date an autistic person when I fell in love with my partner. She was living undiagnosed when she and I first met, and it was only after getting to know her really well that I noticed she fit the criteria for an autism diagnosis, and encouraged her to seek out a doctor to see whether they agreed with my hunch. I fell in love with her not really giving much thought to her neurotype. But when people hear that my partner is autistic, they assume that I picked her because she was autistic, and that I don’t date outside of my neurotype. They’re wrong, but there is, admittedly, a nugget of truth to the idea that I don’t date neurotypicals.
But I don’t do it on purpose.
Admittedly, my dating experience is somewhat limited, owing both to my youth and my dislike of “dating”, but the times that I have had relationships or sexual partnerships, it was always with a non-neurotypical. Not necessarily an autistic, but my first relationship involved someone with ADHD, and various other relationships have involved people with bipolar disorder and other cognitive disabilities. I didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “Now then, I’m only going to date non-neurotypicals. Who wants to date people like that anyways?” It just sort of happened.
There was something subtle about my partners which attracted me, which I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. I think it’s that shared peripheral view. Non-neurotypicals tend to look at the goings-on of others as though we were gazing at it out a window; during my teen years I felt a kinship with the character of The Lady of Shalott, from a poem by Lord Tennyson, who is compelled by a spell to look upon the world through a mirror. It’s not a less worthy outlook, just a different one.
If I were to date a neurotypical, I would make sure to disclose everything that may be misinterpreted or not understood at first at the beginning. I don’t like surprises in my relationship, and I imagine neither do neurotypicals. I am perfectly happy with my relationship right now, but that is the advice I would give an autistic person who is dating a neurotypical. For a neurotypical dating an autistic person, my best advice is to develop patience. Sometimes the behaviour of an autistic partner or spouse can seem baffling, but I assure you that it’s perfectly logical to us. So logical in fact that we sometimes forget to explain the step-by-steps behind it, and proceed rapidly through it without warning. Don’t worry too much about it though, if you ask, we’ll explain.
In a non-neurotypical/non neurotypical relationship, when we both disclose our neurotypes and feel comfortable in our identities with our disabilities as part of it, the relationship is enriched. Although I did not know of my significant other’s exact neurotype, I now greatly appreciate how close our shared neurotypes make us, we understand each other more deeply, there is no need for questions in certain areas, and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and play off of them. This is not a condemnation of neurotypical-autistic dating. It’s just an insight into how our love works.
And whatever works for you should be what you strive for. I won’t deny the part neurotype plays in selecting a romantic partner, but it doesn’t have to be an obstacle.