We Asked 5 Canadian Women About What It’s Like to Date With Autism

The bottom line? What works is different for everyone

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With binge-watch weather comes new binge-watch content, so thank GOD it’s finally fall. We’ve been awaiting the return of many series with baited breath, but we’re especially intrigued by two new shows hitting the air today: Young SheldonBig Bang Theory spin-off about the curious childhood of Sheldon Lee Cooper, and The Good Doctor, which chronicles the life of a teenaged surgeon with autism

While it hasn’t been confirmed by the show’s creators, many Big Bang Theory fans have theorized that Sheldon is autistic due to his acute attention to detail, his need for repetitive actions and his general lack of social skills. Whether or not Sheldon has been diagnosed, two shows—both of which have male protagonists that display autistic tendencies—are premiering on the same night, and it raises an important question: where the ladies at?

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) includes a wide spectrum of symptoms, skills and levels of disability. One of the most common symptoms of those on the spectrum is difficulty communicating and interacting with others, which is basically the crux of building any relationship—romantic or otherwise.

Generally speaking, dating is hard as f-ck. You have to think about what you’ll wear and if the person across from you is actually interested in your personality and if you have food in your teeth and where to put your hands when you’re not eating and should you be making this much eye contact??? Now try to imagine the process as someone who has ASD.

Don’t get it twisted: it’s great that television studios are working to foster awareness about ASD, but why are the characters almost always dudes? In an effort to push back against the male-centric convo, FLARE talked to five Canadian women across the country who have been diagnosed with ASD about their experience of dating with autism, positive and negative.

“If you are uncomfortable with dating, don’t force yourself into it”

Natascha Wood selfie

(Photo: Courtesy of Natascha Wood)

Natascha Wood, 22, lives in Ottawa, ON. Wood worked in retail prior to her diagnosis at the age of 21, but she is currently unemployed due to frequent panic attacks in the workplace. 

Do you find it difficult to meet new people? 

Absolutely. I have co-morbid anxiety disorder, which makes meeting people a stressful idea to say the least. Because of that, if I’m on a date or meeting someone, I sweat, pick at my skin and count the minutes until I’m alone again. Sensory problems prevent me from going to places where other people congregate. Generally speaking, I can’t go to places where other people my age “have fun,” because their fun is my personal hell.

What is your preferred method for meeting new people?

Online, because it doesn’t require eye contact.

What do you find hardest about dating?

To be honest, there isn’t a ‘best part’ or an ‘easiest part’ about going on a date for me. I’ve only ever gone on dates because the other person wanted to. For me, dates are taxing and comfortable at the best of times. They are an exercise in endurance—I get stress cramps in my stomach, I panic about not making enough eye contact and I just can’t stop thinking about not being there.

“You must be completely comfortable and able to interact without a mask”

Anne Lessnerkraus selfie

((Photo: courtesy of anne lessnerkraus)

Anne Lessnerkraus, 47, is an educational assistant in a classroom for children with autism. The London, ON native was diagnosed with autism at age 43. 

Do you find it difficult to meet new people? 

Meeting anyone is difficult. I feel like I can’t be my true self unless I have already gotten to know the person online. I always present as more interesting when I have time to think—I need to process the question, and then answer. My autism can cause me to come across as introverted and very anxious, so it’s difficult to show people my witty side. When I try to compensate for those shortcomings, I say too much and forget to filter.

Have you ever dated someone who was not understanding of what it means to be on the spectrum? 

Because I’ve been married to my husband for more than 20 years, I haven’t had to deal with this, but I believe this is part of the reason why I’ve had such a long and successful relationship—I grew into my autism as an adult and that was when I found my genuine self. I wouldn’t be able to be in a relationship that wasn’t completely understanding.

What is one piece of advice about dating you have for other individuals on the spectrum?

Don’t give up on your search until you find someone you are able to be genuine with. Take your time and enjoy the process—whichever one that works best for you.

“The whole dating thing is so far beyond my navigation”

INLINE_Sarah

(Photo: courtesy of Sarah Kurchak)

Sarah Kurchak, 35, is a married freelance writer living in Toronto. She was diagnosed with autism when she was 27. 

Before you got married, did you date? 

I went on one accidental date because I didn’t read the signals until I was in the movie with my distant cousin and some friend of his. He said, “bring a friend along!” and I didn’t know that meant a double date, so it was just me and these two guys and I’d shown up in a ponytail—it was a nightmare and that boy never talked to me again. When I was 19, I started dating my now-husband and never left. This isn’t to sell myself short or to say that people with autism can’t date, but had I not found my husband, I’d be pretty lost right now.

What do you find hardest about dating?

I’ve always been terrible at body language. I didn’t know I was autistic until eight years into my marriage, so as a teenager, I just thought I was weird and unlikable. It seemed like everyone else had some script or secret rulebook that no one had passed onto me. I didn’t know how to jump into conversation.

What is one piece of advice about dating you have for other individuals on the spectrum?

Don’t compromise. Don’t pursue people who don’t like you for you. Don’t feel like you have to put on a face. Disclose that you’re autistic and be upfront about what you want, too. Better to risk the rejection upfront than trying to navigate that later. I think [autistic people] spend so much time trying to present as a neurotypical. I would say you’re probably better off ignoring that and being as much as yourself as you know you can be in a situation.

“Making new friends, let alone finding potential partners, is very hard”

Jaylene S. selfie

(photo: courtesy of jaylene s.)

Jaylene S., 25, lives in Edmonton, AB and works in administration. Jaylene was diagnosed at age 21, shortly after graduating from university. 

Do you find it difficult to meet new people? 

Yes! I’m very much an introvert, so unless I have friends dragging me to a social event, I typically won’t go. My city has a small lesbian population, and my ASD makes communicating more difficult. As a result, I can never tell if somebody is interested in me or just being nice, so I tend to err on the side of caution.

Have you ever dated someone who was not understanding of what it means to be on the spectrum? 

I have not, but I think it depends on the preconceptions they have going into the relationship and how willing they are to learn. If someone did not believe anything actively toxic [about autism] and was willing to broaden their understanding, I would try it out, but I couldn’t see myself dating someone who wasn’t willing to meet halfway.

What is one piece of advice about dating you have for other individuals on the spectrum?

Love and trust yourself, above all else. You can’t be an equal partner until you do. You may have extra challenges, but they do not determine your value and nobody worth loving would ever see them as a burden or use them against you.

“Do not fear you will never find someone right and don’t settle for a crap relationship”

Kelly Bron Johnson headshot

(photo: courtesy of kelly bron johnson)

Kelly Bron Johnson, 36, works full-time as a marketing coordinator in Montreal, QC. She was placed on the spectrum at the age of 32 after noticing similarities with her son, who also has autism. 

You’re single; do you disclose your ASD to the people you date?

When I received my diagnosis, I told the people I was involved with. If I were to meet someone new today, I would tell them. It’s part of me and influences my identity, personality and way of seeing the world, so I see it as the same as telling someone I’m into a certain kind of music or that I like certain foods more than others—no biggie.

What do you find hardest about dating?

I’m not always sure when someone is being sarcastic, so I can come across as naive or unintelligent when I’m not—I just take things literally. I am also bad at gauging intentions, so I have hard time being sure if someone is really into me or not. Unless they are very explicit, it can come as a surprise that they are actually interested in me.

What is one piece of advice about dating you have for other individuals on the spectrum?

Be patient and be clear about what you are looking for. If you can be upfront, it helps to set the tone for how to expect to be communicated with. If you want friendship and not sex, say so; if you want just sex, say so; if you’re not sure what you want yet, say so! Feel free to create relationship styles that work for you, even if they aren’t common in society. As long as everyone involved is happy, it doesn’t matter what other people think.

Related:
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Real Women on How to Talk Money Without Ruining Your Relationship

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