The idea that people communicate interest other than through what they actually say, or that even what someone says is fraught with layers and nuances — none of this occurs to us, since our instinct (which we assume the rest of the world shares) is to just say what we think and feel at length without any filters.If we learn it at all, it’s because we’ve had others bluntly explain to us the “rules” regarding these and other related matters.
Regardless of whether two people are meeting on a prearranged date or striking up conversation in a casual setting, each one’s emotional response is determined by the assumptions they make based on a multitude of factors, from body language, facial expression, and eye contact to manner of dress, choice of conversation topics, and tone of voice (the same principle applies to online dating, although the cues are different).
While the merely awkward are at least subconsciously aware of these variables when they’re engaged in an interaction, someone with AS is wired to assume that (a) if someone finds us attractive, they will directly and immediately state it from the get-go and (b) they would want us to do likewise.
Liskula Cohen is a Canadian-born former model who has worked in New York, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, and Sydney, among other cities.
She is a feminist and loves every second of raising her amazing daughter as a single mother.
and assumes you do too.”Of course, one of the twists of having AS is that you tend to develop an outsider’s perspective on social rules in general, and the world of dating is no exception.
I remember feeling disgust and then curiosity the first time someone explained the concept of “dating leagues” to me, or being stunned to learn that a girl who invites you to a hotel room to “just chill for a night” might actually mean the opposite of that, or that one who keeps postponing seeing you again is blowing you off. A lot of the “obvious” rules about dating are actually pretty arbitrary, so we aren’t instinctively aware of them.
Similarly, many of the practices that are generally regarded as “obvious” parts of dating feel like intimidatingly strange concepts to us, such as “flirting” and “bantering,” creating an intangible “chemistry,” or spacing out how often you call, text, e-mail, and/or suggest hanging out with a dating prospect.
For better or worse, there is a music to dating, and while people with AS can understand the verses (and often have a distinctly straightforward way of expressing ourselves that can be refreshing), we struggle with the pitch, rhythm, dynamics, timbre, and texture. It’s also difficult for us to come to grips with the emotion colloquially known as “love.”There is a great quote by Bertrand Russell that helps illustrate what I mean:“Love is something far more than desire for sexual intercourse; it is the principal means of escape from the loneliness which afflicts most men and women throughout the greater part of their lives.”Thankfully having AS certainly doesn’t inhibit one’s ability to desire or enjoy sexual intercourse, but the same cannot be said of cultivating the kinds of connections necessary to escape from the “existential loneliness” described by Russell.
While the resulting sense of loneliness is not unique to the mildly autistic, as Russell’s quote itself makes clear, having AS significantly hinders one’s ability to cure it. Mahari, people with AS may be able to “feel a tremendous amount of empathy, compassion, sadness, happiness, and so forth,” but “it is not natural for us to communicate and to express our emotions in a social/relational context the way that it is second nature to NT’s [Neurotypicals, or people without AS]. It is work and requires effort and energy.” Not only does this cause people with AS to often come off as emotionless and lacking in empathy, but it makes the process of falling in love almost alien to us — you can’t develop or identify chemistry without knowing how to give off and read cues, or feel truly connected to someone with whom you can only communicate by feigning mastery of a social language in which you’ll never be fluent.