Dating an autistic person can come with some wonderful benefits, but there may be a bit of a learning curve as well.
There are many misconceptions about autism, some of the biggest being centered around autistic people and romantic relationships.
Some believe that autistic people aren’t interested in romantic relationships or aren’t capable of romantic love. However, this is far from the truth.
In fact, autistic people can make wonderful partners. You may need to be patient with your partner when explaining social cues and norms, but there are also many positives to dating an autistic person that tend not to be spoken about.
Can autistic people date?
Autistic people tend to face their own unique set of challenges when entering the dating world, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of being in healthy and satisfying relationships.
Dating experience and satisfaction
Similarly, a 2017 study concluded that the majority (74%) of autistic people are satisfied in their relationships, regardless of who they are dating. Only 9% of participants reported feeling dissatisfied in their relationship. Of the single autistic people surveyed, 29% regretted their relationship status.
Although researchers have largely debunked the myth that autistic people tend not to be interested in romantic relationships, they have found that autistic people are more likely than neurotypical people to be single.
For instance, research from 2017 found that 50% of autistic participants were in relationships compared to 70% of neurotypical participants.
A 2019 study also found that autistic people’s relationships tend to last for shorter periods. They worry more about their future relationships, including how to meet prospective romantic partners, compared with neurotypical individuals.
The potential benefits of dating an autistic person
Although neurotypical people may need to adjust when dating an autistic person, there are many positives about being in a relationship with someone belonging to the autistic community.
These benefits may include:
- Honesty. Autistic people are often known for being quite honest. Although sometimes this level of honesty can feel somewhat “brutal,” it has its benefits. You can feel more confident knowing your partner is being authentic with you and they mean what they say, especially when offering a compliment. This may be a refreshing change of pace if you are used to dating people who tend to sugarcoat their opinions or avoid conflict.
- Reliability. Autistic people tend to prefer routine and structure, so a relationship with them may feel quite safe and stable. There may be fewer surprises, and you can depend on some added consistency in your life.
- Loyalty. For those looking for a long-term relationship, you may have a lot in common with an autistic person. A 2010 study found that autistic people tend to be much more interested in long-term relationships compared with short-term flings. With the prevalence of dating apps and hookup culture, autistic people may offer a comforting change of pace for companionship.
Things to keep in mind
All relationships present their own unique set of challenges that tend to require some adapting. The same is true when dating an autistic person. Although everyone is different, some common challenges present themselves when dating an autistic person.
Reading social cues
A common characteristic of autism is difficulties with understanding social dynamics and cues, including:
- body language
- passive-aggressive comments
It tends to be best to be as straightforward as you can when dating an autistic person to avoid miscommunication. If you’re upset or offended about something your partner has said, it may be best to communicate as clearly as you can why what they did hurt you instead of assuming they can tell you are upset and why.
Additionally, in the beginning of the relationship, you may need to be a little more straightforward than you normally would be about expressing romantic interest. Some autistic people tend to have a harder time reading cues about when it’s OK to ask a person on a date or lean in for a kiss.
Following social norms
Similarly, it doesn’t always come as easily to an autistic person to know what norms and customs to follow in various social settings. You will likely need to be understanding if your partner doesn’t instinctively know how to behave on a date or when meeting your friends and family for the first time.
It doesn’t mean they cannot learn these customs. It just takes a little more direct teaching than it would for a neurotypical person. And that’s OK.
Also, some autistic folks feel like they’re expected to hide their autism — known as “masking.” While there’s nothing wrong with wanting to learn more about social cues and customs, masking may have some negative effects as well, so it’s best to avoid asking your autistic partner to behave differently (i.e., forcing them to mask). Try to be understanding and embrace them as they are.
Another common characteristic of autism is being easily overstimulated. This can mean feeling overwhelmed in larger social settings or sensitive to physical touch.
The key is to respect your partner’s boundaries when engaging in social events or physical intimacy. In fact, this is a good thing to follow regardless of who you’re dating.
Being averse to change
Lastly, autistic people tend to have a harder time adapting to change. A relationship with an autistic person may require a little more planning and a little less spontaneity than you might be used to.
Your partner may be used to eating the same meal every day, going to bed at the same time every night, putting back their stuff in the exact same place each day, etc.
If you spontaneously spring social events on your partner, they may feel a bit overwhelmed. Planning and giving plenty of notice can help your partner emotionally prepare for changes in their schedule or daily habits.
It may even help to dedicate certain nights of the week as “social nights” so that these events feel like part of your partner’s weekly routine.
Although every relationship is unique, there may be some tips that can help you navigate your relationship with an autistic person, particularly in the beginning.
Here’s what you may want to keep in mind:
- try to be as direct as you can when communicating
- give your partner space when they ask for it (especially after they have been overstimulated)
- be understanding if your partner needs to take a break from a social setting
- find out early on if there are certain ways your partner doesn’t like to be touched (and check in regularly about this)
- try not to spring too much change on your partner at once
- be mindful that some tasks may be easier for you to do than for your partner, and adjust accordingly (e.g., household chore split)
- be respectful of your partner’s potential desire for structure and routine
Research has found that autistic people are equally interested in romantic relationships as neurotypical people. They just tend to have a slightly harder time knowing how to navigate dating and interpreting social cues, particularly at the start of the relationship.
Although you may need to make some adjustments when communicating or interacting with an autistic person, the process of learning what a partner needs to feel safe and happy in a relationship is no different than dating a neurotypical person. It’s always a learning curve in the beginning.
And there are always challenges and benefits to each person you date. For instance, autistic people tend to be particularly honest, reliable, and loyal — some of the most important traits for a long-term relationship. You may just need to be more direct when communicating than you are used to and be prepared to give your partner space when they feel overstimulated.
In short, autistic people are more than capable of love and being in romantic relationships. Being in a relationship with an autistic person may just look a little different than what you’re used to.