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Asperger Syndrome and Romance: Your Advice Requested

By February 16, 2010

If romance were easy, we'd never need Match.com...  never see another romantic comedy...  and end the soap opera forever.  In fact, very few people in the world find it easy to find, attract and keep a romantic partner.

The movie "Adam" seems to suggest that a man with Asperger syndrome can attract a gorgeous neighbor simply by being kind and guileless...  (and of course it doesn't hurt to be handsome as well).  But even in the movies the relationship ends -- in large part because the partner with an autism spectrum disorder has a tough time distinguishing a romantic partner from a coach.

Today, I received this email from an adult with Aspergers who wonders whether romance is out of the question for him.  Here's his question:

I am a 22 y/o male living w/ AS and I honestly don't know if it is a legitimate thing for me to blame it on my utter failures w/ women. Any time I've been attracted to a girl, I've either never had the courage to approach them w/ my feelings, or have been shut down or discarded. Through many years, I fear that I have built up a bitterness toward women in general, and find most of them to be unapproachable, undependable and ultimately not worth the suffering. Is this just a defensive mechanism that will someday pass, or have I scarred myself indefinitely? What are your thoughts?

So... what are your thoughts?  If you were this person, how would you begin to rebuild your confidence - and, more importantly, what are your suggestions relative to starting, building and nurturing a real romantic relationship?

February 17, 2010 at 7:33 am
(1) Martijn van der Kooij says:

Don’t search for romance. It will find you.
Just become friends with other people. The hard part for you is probably the uncertainty. No one can tell how long things are going to take. Maybe you have to approach this differently:
- first get to know people, what do they like or not like (food, music hobbies etc)
- know yourself, strong vs weak point, what do you like etc
- until you find someone with a lot of these things in common don’t think about romance

Hope it helps.

February 17, 2010 at 12:58 pm
(2) Bill says:

Absolutely blame it on the Asperger’s. THEN, study Asperger’s, read all the anecdotes, recognize yourself in your study, and then resolve to change, to really change.
Once you know the Aspie stereotypes, do/be the opposite!
Ask about her interests, not yours. Listen. Listen. Listen.
After I learned I had Asperger’s I set out to change my behavior, and I believe I had positive results.

I will admit I got lucky 30 years ago when I found a mate; I chanced to encounter a jilted, pregnant girl for whom a solid, non-judgmental employed engineer was a path out of her accident of neurotypical emotions. (Of course, 30 years ago I had never even heard of Asperger’s)

In observing my siblings, cousins and children with Asperger’s, I am convinced that how successful you will be, in love and employment, is entirely dependent on whether you can shut down your intrinsically selfish and inflated ego, and realize you are not the center of the universe. I am endowed with Asperger’s, but now I know that if I am missing mirror neurons, then I must 24/7 persevere to use logic , anecdotes, the study of psychology and concentration on what others say to create an empathy system to replace the one neurotypicals are born with.

Only you can make this successful. You have to want to do it and work at it. My oldest son who obviously has Asperger’s still never considers how his actions affects others. You can lead a horse to water…

February 18, 2010 at 1:55 pm
(3) Serena says:

I am seeing a man with AS and there are women, though maybe not a lot, who are actually attracted to the qualities that they can find only in Aspie men.

In fact, not only am I seeing him but I am giving up everything, including my car, house, dog… to move to Australia for the next year to be with him even though he is not well off at all, due to his socialization issues causing him employment problems despite a Physics degree and extensive computer knowledge. It is true that I have worked some as his ‘coach’ as well but he was and is willing to risk admitting his feelings for me. That is important.

So, hopefully that would give a man with AS some hope. Furthermore, the movie Adam isn’t necessarily wrong about the attractive part. I used to model and have been told I could have anyone my entire life. I choose him. So, it may not be easy and the AS man may have to be more patient that an NT, but shouldn’t give up hope.

We all, AS and NT alike, get rejected, but one can’t let that fear stop them. The only way to find someone is to keep trying.

February 19, 2010 at 1:39 pm
(4) Mary says:

As a parent, I would probably recommend just getting out and doing whatever group activities that you can enjoy (or at least tolerate the most easily) first without having the purpose of specifically meeting a romantic partner. Perhaps put some conscious effort into mustering up the courage to approach other people generally and then add on the task of specifically mustering up the courage to approach women.

In addition, as Serena pointed out, there are women out there who are attracted to certain qualities that are predominantly found in people with an ASD. I have observed that part of the issue with my own son seems to be that he isn’t most attracted to women that seem to be most attracted to him, but is more inclined to be attracted to the sort of woman who is specifically not attracted to him. So, in a way, he sets himself up for repeated rejected by continually going after these women and ignoring the signals (at least the one’s I see) of the women who are attracted to him. My recommendation to my son has been that he perhaps do some research on what sorts of women ARE attracted to men like him and perhaps work on convincing himself to become more attracted to that sort of woman instead.

However, he hasn’t been convinced enough to try it yet so I can’t really say whether it might be something that would work for this young man or not. It is something that worked for me (although I don’t have AS). After a few bad relationships I deliberately convinced myself to change the sort of man I was looking for. It wasn’t long after that that I met and fell in love with my husband of more than 20 years and he is almost a complete opposite to the men I had dated prior to that time.

Another thing that should be considered is the reality that being alone does not necessarily equal being unhappy. If a person is not unhappy being alone but is only trying force themselves into a relationship because they perceive that to be the “norm,” I would say forget it, don’t stress over it, and go on and be happy and live life to the fullest. If you are truly unhappy being alone, then don’t give up hope and keep looking; but don’t let all the other good things about life pass you by as you continue looking. Keep in mind that many people find their soulmates later on in life. It wasn’t so long ago (1800s) that a man was expected to establish himself financially before he began to seek a wife and this meant that many, many of them were 40 before they got married.

February 21, 2010 at 5:29 pm
(5) Sad in Alaska says:

I’ve been married to an Aspie for 30 years. It has ruined my life and my children’s lives. My husband is self focus, self absorbed, quiet, unassuming, and has deeply hidden compulsions that I’m just finding he’s kept secret from everyone for years. My husband is a ‘mirage’ of a human being. If you get involved with one, you’re in for a lonely ride; if you have children with them, you’re creating for yourself, your children and society a huge disaster. Don’t think you can save them, or ‘fix’ their shyness. If you want a life alone together go for it; if not run, don’t walk – away from the relaitonship.

February 23, 2010 at 3:08 pm
(6) Kaley says:

There is hope for this 22 year old man who emailed with questions and concerns about finding and keeping a partner. It will be a challenge but it is possible if he makes a concerted effort to continue going out every day or every second day and setting small goals for himself such as to smile as he walks down the street, directing the smile towards single females he may be interested in. Then, from the smile, he could progress to saying “Hi” to them. When you are friendly others want to get to know you better, and may even ask “What is your secret?” This makes room for conversation. Conversation opens the possibility of exchanging phone numbers and forming a friendship, and even possibly a relationship. I would recommend to take it slow, enjoy the moment, and don’t get too caught up in how this will happen. Know that it will happen for you and you will be more likely to attract it into your life. That is the power of “The Secret”, a book which I highly recommend if you want to build yourself up to this positive state and learn how to tune into a frequency that will set you up for success. Hang in there, and never give up!

February 23, 2010 at 10:49 pm
(7) Dia says:

I have a daughter who has autism, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum and unfortunately will probably not ever have a mate. Nonetheless, I believe this man needs to concentrate first on having some female friends to be able to share some fun times with so he can learn to not think of women as unapproachable and undependable. After some successful friendly female pals, then work on trying to date.

April 20, 2010 at 11:43 pm
(8) Mike says:

I’m an aspi man in my 50′s & you have my sympathy!

When I was your age Aspergers & Autism were not known & I spent a decade or 2 not understanding why my relationships were failing.

Add to this some depression from unknown causes (but dating to before my 20′s) & sometimes things looked quite bleak.

However…these days I try real hard NOT to look for love, as others have mentioned above. I still can’t “read the signals” (although I’m better at it!) so I adopt a very conservative approach to romance.

I like to know the woman I am approaching fairly well before I even think of making any kind of move, so they are often from a wider social group I spend generic time with.

If I do gather up my courage (yep – still have to do that!!) then it’s baby steps – start with a lunch/coffee dates, a movie or dinner or 2 or 3, walks along the beach, just chatting.

Does this sometimes put them off as I’m “too slow”?

Apparently yes – but I prefer that to being too fast! And I never notice except for literally 1 or 2 occasions where I’ve been told as much to my face.

that’s one of the advantages of our situation – you do’t notice half the bad stuff either! :)

Good luck out there.

June 13, 2010 at 7:02 pm
(9) lks says:

I’m a female just diagnosed with aspergers. I’m in my 30′s. just starting a new job. One of my co-workers thought I was flirting with him and I wasn’t. I’m always smiling and being overly nice to everyone (that’s just my personality and how I am. I comment about everyone and am always very perky and outgoing. Is there any good articles about females with aspergers (on the spectrum) about this. When I was called into a meeting about how I was being flirty when I wasn’t. I almost died I was extremely embarrassed because I wasn’t flirting at all. that’s just how I am. I think it would help if I took in some articles to my work but don’t know which website would address this. Thanks for any suggestions.

September 30, 2010 at 6:44 am
(10) Rich says:

I’m a self diagnosed 26 year old, i’ve spent most my life coming again and again to the realization that i was different or weird/ etc, and trying to learn how to be normal. I didn’t even know how to make a friend or keep a friend when i was in elementary or middle school, I had to teach myself how to be social, and listen and talk and be friendly. I’ve had many romances, but never a long term relationship, often the girl lost interest but more often it was me who (upon reflection) withdraw from the situation quietly. The woman who said that romance with an “aspie” is a a disaster, well, reading what she said broke my heart and made me feel a moment of hopelessness, but I know what it is to care, and I believe I can learn how to love, I hope she’s wrong because I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone that is in a relationship with me for 30 years, especially not my children.

November 7, 2010 at 8:15 am
(11) Natalie says:

Like Rich, I am self diagnosed female with aspergers. I’m nearly 30. I can’t read the signals at all, or I think I’ve read them right and it’s all wrong. Sad in Alaska up there just made me even more depressed because I wonder if I will ever be up to the task. I can’t lie about who I am, because then you have to try and remember what you lied about and if they discover it, then what have you really gained?

There’s SO MUCH out there about MALE aspergers.. what about us females? I’D love to know what to do. Its expected we’re somehow able to cope better. Not so. All I have for an example are my parents and they aren’t so good an example either.

Anyway, never trust movies, life’s not a movie. Love in movies isn’t what its like in real life. To the original post, I say approach them anyway or start looking for a different sort of females. Males seem to be attracted only to ‘teeenybopper’ kinds, maybe avoid them. You’re still young yet, so things could still happen. Good luck.

February 9, 2011 at 8:09 am
(12) Matt says:

I too am a self diagnosed aspi. Im 30 and I like Natalie I also am seen as a huge flirt and possibly gay. I seem to be constantly giving both women and men the wrong impression. Its just the way I am. I like to smile, joke, and have fun with anyone about anything. I used to get embaressed by it but now I expect it. Throughout my entire life i’ve been told im wierd by strangers and friends alike but I never understood why. (I just learned of asperger syndrome a few months ago.) Most of my friends actually assumed I was dumb or slow but because I happen to be quite good looking I became almost like an accessory. I got to tag along with some very socially briliant people. After a few years of being quietly included with a group of very successfull men I started to pick up on enough of what they were doing to get my sex life rolling slightly. I remember one day a friend told me there was a rummor in our group that I had been faking my ignorance in order to sleep with all their girlfrieds. I wasn’t. I was just learning to keep quiet and only do what I saw work.
It turned out to be a blessing and a curse at the same time. A blessing because threw these relationships I lernt alot about the real world of dating, sex, drugs, and hummor. A curse because as soon as I felt cumfortable enough to open up and be myself people seemed to quickly and coldly disapear from my life. A blessing because I have been in love with 2 amazing women and dated a few more. A curse because eventually im found out. But I belive there is hope for anyone willing to put in the work, to be open with people up front, to know themselves and their condition intimatly enough to keep everyone on the same page. I agree with Rich about how I would never want to make someone feel like the SAD IN ALASKA women so if it means practicing empathy and social critical thinking for the rest of our lives then thats the price.

March 25, 2011 at 11:06 am
(13) Austin says:

I am in my mid-twenties dating a man who I’m crazy in love with. I have heard the rumor that he has Aspergers, but never knew much about it. After reading this and many other articles it couldn’t be more clear that this is where the problems in our relationship lie. The words “intrinsic ego” could not be more true. There is no doubt that kid loves himself. He gets so focused on his goals and his aspirations that I often get left behind. I am one of those women attracted to some of his symptoms, like how driven he his; I know he will reach whatever goals he sets for himself. It just gets sad that while HE may know how he feels about me, I don’t always get the message. I think if you are willing to work at it a relationship can work. Disorder or not he is an amazing person whom I can’t imagine my life without.

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