Dating isn’t easy on girls with Asperger’s. Flirting and romance are all about subtlety and nuance. Some people with this condition, or autism, might miss your little hints completely when you’re hitting on them. With me, it’s more like I overthink things into oblivion. I’ve completely missed when cute guys were interested, but I’ve also been overwhelmed with the number of possible ways to interpret gestures, facial expressions, and conversation cues that most people readily identify as flirting. I can identify a song by the first three notes from two blocks away even against traffic noise. But I can’t tell if you like me or not until you grab my ass and say, “Let’s fuck.”
For example, two or three times at different parties guys would ask, “So do you have a boyfriend?”
I would say, “Not right now, but I’m looking. Maybe that guy over there. He’s glancing at me like he might be interested. What do you think?”
Friends often pulled me aside at these parties and said things like, “What are you doing? That hot guy is really into you, and you’re blowing it big time.”
Then I’d say, “Ohhhhh.” And if I hadn’t ruined things too much, I would try to act more like girls I’d seen on TV.
Twice my freshmen year, guys directly asked me out, and I laughed at them. I thought they were joking because they were smiling and acting sort of silly. I honestly thought smiling and laughing when you asked someone out meant you were telling a joke. Granted, those kinds of jokes never made much sense to me. But few jokes did. So I just assumed I was missing something. Awkward. Maybe one day I’ll call up some of those guys and ask them what they really thought about me back then.
Nonetheless, I slowly learned to engage in the art of flirting. My fake party persona became quite refined over the years. The problem with that? Party girl doesn’t make for the best girlfriend. So my relationships all ended after a couple of months (or weeks) until my early 20s.
One of my brief boyfriends once sat me down at a cafe after a couple of weeks. He said, “Jessica, you’re really great on paper. But I’m just…I don’t know what you want out of us.”
I put my hands in my lap and furrowed my brows for a while. Then I looked up and said, “Someone to make out with, mainly. And we go out to eat together. I like that you pay sometimes. You tell interesting stories. What else…is there?”
He dumped me.
Fortunately, I had a couple of good friends who started telling me exactly how to act on dates. Sometimes, they even texted me advice mid-date. Extremely helpful. For example, I learned from a friend that when a guy says he had a really good time, and that he likes you (or whatever), then that’s when you kiss. Not before. Not after. And if you don’t kiss him then, he’s going to assume you’re friend-zoning him. Sure, I’d kissed guys before then. But it was always haphazard or, on the other end, extremely intentional.
I’m on my third long term relationship. The first one lasted about two years. He dumped me multiple times, and cheated on me, but kept coming back. I tolerated him for two reasons: Even to this day, he’s the most attractive guy I’ve ever shared oxygen with. Second, he was also smart. My recent self-discovery explains a lot. One reason he kept leaving and cheating: As he said, he didn’t know if I was happy. Sometimes, he even started arguments because he thought I was angry or passive aggressive about something. In truth, I’m just frosty by nature. Cold and emotionless is my default setting. When I was most relaxed around him, when I stopped pretending and just gave him my version of normal, that’s when he felt the most winter from me. That’s when he felt distanced and unloved.
It seems that for people with Asperger’s, we can’t really be ourselves without making loved ones insecure.
Maybe that’s why my next long term relationship was also long distance. I saw him on weekends. I endured all kinds of family gatherings and outings with friends to get him alone for a little while. A week or two not seeing him? Perfect. I needed that time to focus on graduate school and recharge.
Most of the time, I have to feign a certain persona. Over the years, this persona has become more like the real me. I like to think of her as the way Jessica would act if she had real feelings. But after a long dinner with friends or colleagues, I don’t feel the same lingering sense of fulfillment. I feel a sense of relief. Whew. Got through this night okay. Then I begin to pick apart the conversations and second guess things I said. Did I do a good enough job? Did I talk too much? Did I say the right thing when Professor So-and-So talked about his cousins? Living like this is exhausting. After a 2-hour dinner, I desperately need most of the next day to myself.
I’m very happy with long term boyfriend number three. I’d probably take a bayonet for him. On the other hand, my brain wasn’t built for cohabitation. Sometimes I want to snap my fingers and make him disappear. Like the other day, he sat on the couch and ate an entire bowl of cereal. Every time his metal spoon scraped the dish, I winced. I almost threw him out of the apartment. But I didn’t! That’s progress.
Other times, he’ll walk by my desk at home, when I’m working, and try to share something funny on his phone. My first impulse is to facepalm and order him away. He has interrupted three times on a given afternoon with memes or YouTube videos. But because I love him, I squelch my Asperger’s inclination and just smile and nod. This skill will come in handy when I have a kid.
Sometimes, he thinks I’m being unreasonable when I don’t want to go see a movie or play with him. I have to stop and explain all the sacrifices I’ve made during a given week:
- I had dinner with one of your most irritating friends, on a fucking Monday.
- On Tuesday, I talked with your dad on Skype for an entire 25 minutes, without insulting his intelligence once.
- We’ve worked out together twice this week. I listened to your day instead of my iPod. Without interrupting you, I might add.
- I let you have friends over yesterday. I even watched half of Sharknado with them. So, all that’s why I need Saturday off. Seriously, go see your movie. Come home and we’ll fuck. Otherwise, mama needs to go for a long run by herself and then drink in front of Netflix by herself for a few hours.
Compromise is probably the hardest part of relationships for people like me. Just acting like a normal person around someone, for extended periods of time, requires sacrifices and compromises that normal people don’t even think about. Usually, I’m the one who comes off looking like a huge bitch. I even understand why. Most people don’t need this much time to themselves. They don’t ask their boyfriends to stop breathing so loudly. They can go visit family and take trips with ease. This year alone, I’ve traveled out of town five times for different conferences. Each trip has gotten harder because it always involves disruptions to a routine I’ve worked hard to establish, and which I work even harder to maintain when I’m out of town. Sure, people complain about holiday travel. They seem to care about their families though. Me? Nothing sounds better than spending the entire month of December alone. Fuck Christmas. The best present you could give me is a day of solitude. But I can’t do that anymore. I have a serious boyfriend, and his siblings, and his extended family. I have what’s left of my family. If I want them for when I want them, I also have to spend time with them that I’d rather have to myself. I also have friends to work in. All of these social expectations make me want to drink some bourbon right now. If there’s one thing I’m grateful for this holiday season, it’s alcohol and gym time. I’m gonna need both.