Autism and Me (and Relationships)

I don’t really believe that everyone on Earth has a soulmate, hell, I don’t even believe in the concept of soulmates. My worldview has been called pessimistic in the past, but I just like to think of myself as a realist. Not everyone is destined to find somebody, live a full life with them, share beautiful experiences, all before reaching old age and passing on into the unknown. It’s a symptom of romance being peddled to us as if it’s something that is an A1 guarantee, as opposed to something that can break a person down before they build themselves back up again. Relationships and even that dreaded word, “love” are hard enough for everybody. It’s one long, laborious process of trial and error for most, and it involves putting up with a fair share of unpleasantness before finally settling down with “the one”.

Now, if you throw a disability into the mix that impairs one socially, disallows one from understanding facial expressions and social cues, and instils a fear of physical intimacy in one that is so crippling that just hugging a member of the opposite sex is a huge challenge, we can see where the problems arise. In less than a week, I’ll be 22 years of age, very much still a spring chicken in the grand scheme of things. When you’re in your 20s, you think you’re an adult and you must be doing something wrong because your life isn’t as together as a normal grownup’s. Really, we’re still children, the only difference is height and the chemicals inside us making our bodies do strange things. But, as I look back on my life up to this point and measure it against most neurotypicals in my age group, I am certainly far behind on the whole romance thing.

As I look to my Facebook feed, it seems that I have various peers who update their status to “in a relationship with…” every other day. Sometimes, couples I’ve known for a long time are getting engaged (although I’m not in any way bitter about that, I’m happy for them and hope it works out), and a shroud of doubt is cast over me. I’ve never had a relationship, not really, nothing that would match up with how I define the word. I’ve never been on a date, something even the most socially inept people that I know can say they’ve done. And while I think that society tends to put far too much emphasis on virginity being a big deal, when you’re rapidly approaching 22 having never had sex, you do start to wonder if having a girlfriend is just something that isn’t in the cards for you. It is frustrating when people I know assume that I mustn’t believe in sex before marriage and that’s why I’m still a virgin. No, I’m just autistic.

Expressing myself emotionally is a skill I lack, at least when it comes to talking in person. The Internet is a godsend for people like me, it’s a wonderful communication tool that allows me to choose who I talk to, and how and when it happens. I don’t have to run instructions through my head as I do with a real life encounter. I don’t have to weigh up how long it’s been since I last made eye contact, I don’t have to check to make sure I’m not coming off as rude because of my lack of apparent empathy. I’m very much capable of empathy, but I’m uncomfortable with showing it. So when it comes to communicating with a woman, the fear that most warm-blooded males feel is harshly amplified. Flirting is off the table, simply because it’s like asking me to walk on water. You can talk me through it as much as you like, but to quote Arnie in Terminator 2, it is something I can never do.

I’d like to clarify that I do not identify with those bitter single “nice guys” who moan about how they’re still not getting any, despite being kind and attentive to a female friend of theirs. Being nice is something that you do because you want to be nice, not because women are required to sleep with you if you are friendly towards them. It’s not a McCafĂ© stamp card, you don’t listen to a woman’s problems eight times and get to go to bed with them. There does seem to be a groundswell of intense misogyny among bitter single men, who like to blame all of the women around them rather than themselves for the pornography-ridden wasteland that their lives exist in. I love and respect women because that’s what my mother raised me to believe. Women are strong, they are beautiful, they are essential. I was given life by a woman, fed by her, clothed and sheltered by her. For me to expect that every woman should want to be in a relationship with me because I’ve been single my entire life is just the kind of entitled attitude that leads to men becoming aggressive and hateful.

But do I want to be in a relationship? Honestly, more than anything in the world. I don’t believe in soulmates, but I do believe in romance, and I do believe in love. I want to have a friend who I can walk down the street holding hands with, someone who I can cuddle up to on the sofa as our heartbeats sync up while we binge on the latest season of our favourite show. I want there to be a person who makes me light up with unrelenting joy when I think about them, because I know that they feel the same way about me. But as I said, I’m a realist. The reality is that I’ve liked the same girl for around ten years now, but will never do anything about it. The reality is that I nearly have an anxiety attack when the thought of dating or physical intimacy enters my mind. The reality is I have no idea how to demonstrate my affection towards another human being and never will be able to. Autism is my blessing and my curse. I can memorise a wealth of information, which would ironically be helpful in a relationship. I’d never forget a birthday, a favourite restaurant, likes and dislikes. I view being in a relationship as something that people are lucky to have, and would cherish every moment I had with somebody, devoting myself to them wholeheartedly. But all of that is performing the marathon, I just have no way of training for it.

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