Autistic Romance

[ More Articles ] | Inspired by "I don't know what I am missing" by Dr. Lars Perner, another autistic

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Many autistics are sick of hearing about romance because it makes no sense to them, but everyone tells them that they ought to become involved in it.

Yet for someone who does not desire intimacy, why fall in love and get into strange troubles? After all, TV shows seem to indicate that it is both financially and emotionally expensive to have girlfriends and wives. What's wrong with choosing freedom from the emotional complications of being with other people?

Some autism books provide tips on how to handle romance, but perhaps what autistics would like to know is its significance - what it means and why. Intimacy did not make sense to me when I felt irritated by touch and disgusted by emotions. It only made sense to me after I awakened to and accepted my emotions.

[The real experience cannot be defined in words, but...] Romance is an intense relationship between two people where both feel the overwhelming desire to be with and to hold each other forever. This is a wonderful, beautiful experience of the body. It is arguingly, one of the most delicious highlights of Earthly life. It is not surprisingly that many Earthlings think that autistics are missing out a lot if they do not have such experiences.

In order for romantic relationships to be successfully, intimacy is required. This is like gentle and subtle "play" between adults (in contrast to the rough and tumble "play" between children) that builds an intense bond between partners. This foundation allows us to have great fun with our partner. For this to happen naturally, we must first get used to our body and our place on Planet Earth. The first milestone is the conversion of disgust of other people's touch into comfort. The second milestone is the feeling of comfort and joy in one's body. The third is the development of the desire to touch other people as part of communicating with them. Then one is ready to attempt the 4th milestone: a intimate relationship. The fifth, consummation, is then made possible.

 

Yet, I believe that romance is a personal choice, not part of a checklist that high functioning autistics should aim for. To all the Earthlings who think that they are helping autistics by encouraging them to be more social: Please respect the autistic's choice to have or not to have any form of relationship. Without the desire, there is no meaning in the action. Without the understanding, there is no meaning in the words.

One of the reasons why autistics detest relationships is because they feel that they are sacrificing their interests and compromising with others all the time. Nothing good will come out of this level of understanding. For autistics to appreciate the true nature of human relationships, they will have to understand the concept of will and mutual sacrifices. To understand will, they must experience the pain of making difficult choices and compromises that they know will affect many people as well as their own destinies. To understand mutual sacrifices, they must see that other people are also making such choices and sacrifices for their sake.


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It is not too surprising that many autistics fear the sacrifices and potential troubles of romance and so choose to be single. After all, TV drama shows have created a dysfunctional understanding of relationships in which pain and insanity reigns. For instance:

  1. A marriage is a lifetime irrevocable commitment for both parties to betray oneself and pretend to be someone else in other to please each other
    • Before marriage you are incomplete, afterwards you are "finished"
  2. Even if you regret the marriage, you must force youself to try and keep it intact
    • Even if you no longer love your spouse anymore
    • Even if your spouse is abusive towards you
    • Even if he or she is having an affair with someone else
  3. Our society is a competition where the winner takes all the prizes
  4. It is normal for people to exploit each other for our own emotional or physical needs
    • People who know how to exploits others are ahead of the "social game"
    • While those who cannot (or choose not to) are like sheep waiting to be slaughtered by the competition
  5. We should never trust anyone because we would not know what they are really thinking

When people form relationships expecting to obtain something, fill their own inner void or cover their emotional pains, they are asking for trouble. Joy, serenity and satisfaction is not something that exists outside us. If we do not have them already within us, then we will never find it anywhere else. Only a different understanding of relationships will being about sanity:

  1. A relationship is an arena for us to express and experience who we are
  2. A marriage is a official announcement of a journey where both parties mature and deepen their inner growth together
  3. Like all Earthly things, relationships are transitional and should only last as long as it is conducive to both parties
  4. The best relationship is one of freedom, where both parties no longer need or depend on each other

So I use the 6 tests of a good relationship:

  • It should help both parties mature, not stagnate
  • It should lead to freedom, not control
  • It should be a place of contribution, not exploitation
  • It should create joy for both parties, not resentment
  • It should be meaningful for both parties, not superficial
  • It should be recognized and accepted as temporary, not permanent

 

Romance and marriage have the power to create major changes people's lives. As they are some of the most important relationships on Planet Earth, they should not be taken lightly.

Romance works for people who are ready to give and take. It works for people who can love themselves, including their history, behaviors and self image. It works for people who have created a meaningful and satisfying life for themselves. It works for people who already have a inner knowing of who they are. With this, romance will bring out the best in both partners - the best of empathy, playing, sharing, surrendering and creativity.

Romance does not work for people hungry with unmet needs. Romance does not work on sexual desire alone or the desire for approval. Romance does not work with demands and obligations. This kind of romance will bring out the worst in each other - jealousy, blackmail, frustration etc. Autistics are vulnerable because they tend to be self-loathing and not in touch with their positive feelings.

Without a good foundation, the romance or marriage may develop into a power struggle or a resentful hatred. This is when painful breakups occur. Thus, it is wise to develop and choose romantic relationships carefully.


 

A common form of unhealthy relationship is the victim-exploiter relationship. One individual (usually female) acts as the victim, surrendering herself completely to the whims and fancies of her exploiter. The exploiter then demands sexual access and complete obedience, creating a very unhappy victim.

Another form of unhealthy relationships is emotional dependency. One requires one's partner to perform certain acts to show their love. For instance, a lady may want her boyfriend to listen to her complains for a few hours every day, while another wants her boyfriend to occasionally buy "secret" presents and play a game of hide and seek to find those presents. When they did not receive this "emotional stroking", they often end up in ugly quarrels.

Sometimes these people insist on their own ways of showing love despite knowing that their partner does not find it meaningful. For example, some will show their love with gifts of money while their partner does it with amateur paintings and fun games. Both did not appreciate each others' affection. Result: Mutual unhappiness and accusations of lack of affection.


 

Perhaps some autistics are wiser to ask for a really good partner and not to settle for anything lesser, or to avoid romance altogether. Their overly weak or aggressive individualism can make them too submissive or aggressive for their partners. Instinctive impairment may make it impossible to for them to perform the coordinated social dance. Sensory sensitivities may make them unwilling to develop intimacy due to "the weird disgusting feeling" when others touch them.

Neither do autistics easily understand the human archetypes. They tend to be unable to "digest" them, feeling anxious and disgusted as a result. The more non-autistics talk about tasting the sweetness of love and a man's duty in protecting his woman, the more it puts autistics off romance. The challenges autistics face with intimacy may too difficult and alien for non-autistics to understand.

Perhaps (like me in the past,) many autistics are actually looking more for a professional relationship - someone who will share and complement their skills, knowledge, obsessions and interests. They are not necessarily keen to snuggle together in the park, but to debate philosophy and share stories of imaginary worlds. Their idea of a wonderful night may be of the couple completing a mathematical thesis or computer program together. They would like a partner who appreciates their talents, skills, and interests.


 

Some people who do not understand may say things like "come on, expand your horizons" and "getting a girlfriend will help you learn to love people". Sometimes I am also tempted to ask them to study astrophysics and advanced calculus to expand their own horizons.

A little tip for autistics: It is OK if you are not interested in romance, but it is generally bad taste to announce that to other people. If you are not interested, just state that you are single by choice as you prefer to focus on your career. Smile and let people tease you a bit. In most cultures, it is acceptable to sacrifice romance for career advancement. And if you are lucky enough to find a good partner who loves you and who you love, I hope that you will also share your blessings with the world. Planet Earth definitely needs more love.

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