Possible ways to help many autistic people find love?
by Mona Pereth
Every time I look at the Love and Dating (a.k.a. "Loathe and Hating") sub-forum on Wrong Planet, I become more and more convinced that finding a romantic relationship is a problem that many autistic people -- especially heterosexuals, both men and women -- just cannot solve by themselves under current circumstances. (Lesbians and gay men face many other kinds of difficulties, stemming mostly from a tradition of societal disapproval, but at least the dynamics of relationships and dating tend to be simpler and more straightforward for most same-sex couples than for most other-sex couples, as far as I can tell -- at least in the mainstream dating world, which I've always avoided anyway.)
The male-female mating game, as it currently exists in mainstream Western society, is just too damned subtle for most autistic people, with too many pitfalls, although some of us do get lucky (I'm bisexual, in a longterm other-sex relationship). Self-improvement is important, but nowhere near enough.
In my opinion this is, to a large degree, a societal/cultural problem, not just an individual problem -- but not an intractable biological problem either, as is claimed by the "Incel" crowd. Rather, we should consider possible ways that it could be mitigated in the future by one or more sufficiently large and well-developed subcultures (without reverting to old-style patriarchy, and without otherwise obliging women to do anything they don't want to do). We can't dictate the norms of society as a whole, but an organized subculture can have its own unique dynamic, either deliberately or spontaneously, or some combination thereof.
Consider, now, both the autistic community itself and other subcultures that it could potentially spawn eventually. How could a better-developed autistic community help? Lots of ways, including the following:
- Helping us meet each other
- Overcoming prejudices of potential NT partners too
- Helping us find better jobs (and thus become more desirable)
- Sadie Hawkins Clubs
- Online games with locale-based teams
- For the kinky folks among us
- For those of us with mental illnesses
- Developing a more secure self-identity
- Some general thoughts
Helping us meet each other
The most obvious way the autistic community could help us would be by making it easier for autistic people to meet other autistic people, as potential romantic partners as well as potential friends. This, of course, would be helpful only to those of us who want an autistic partner, which some of us do (usually on the grounds that an autistic partner similar enough to ourselves can understand us better than anyone else can) and some of us don't.
As I will explain in other sections below, there are some important ways that a better-developed autistic community could make it easier for autistic people to find NT partners too.
For those who do prefer an autistic partner, there already exist some dating sites/apps for autistic people, although they haven't yet gotten enough publicity to have lots of clients:
- Uneepi (based in NYC)
- Hiki: Friendship and Love for the Autistic Communith
- Disabled Mate: Autism Dating Club
However, not all of us are comfortable with the idea of meeting prospective partners via dating sites/apps.
Also, the autistic community as a whole has the problem of a very high male-to-female ratio among autistic people (at least given current understandings of autism; we don't yet know how much the ratio will change as the psychotherapy and research establishments' understanding of autism in girls and women continues to evolve). This not only makes it much harder for heterosexual autistic men, in particular, to find an autistic female partner if they want one; it also creates problems for autistic women, especially young women, who are likely to get lots and lots of unwanted attention that they are ill-prepared to deal with. For some women (primarily, but not exclusively, women who are public figures within the autistic community under their legal names), the unwanted attention has been known to escalate into severe harassment.
Hopefully a better-developed autistic community could come up with good ways of helping women protect themselves from being overwhelmed by too much -- and/or too aggressive -- attention from those attracted to them.1 Better protection for the women would be in the best interests of heterosexual men too, by making it more likely for the women to stick around in the organized autistic community, thereby making the male-to-female ratio less extreme, and also making at least some of the women more likely to be willing to date men in the autistic community.
In the meantime, even in the autistic community today, the male-to-female ratio varies widely from one group to another. For example, in the online forum Wrong Planet, the male-to-female ratio is often close to 50-50. Also, autistic rights activists tend to be disproportionately women (and disproportionately transgender and nonbinary people).
Overcoming prejudices of potential NT partners too
One of the biggest barriers to autistic/NT relationships is simply the instinctive prejudice of most people against anyone who seems weird. The autistic community, together with the larger autism community (parents and professionals) could do a much better job of overcoming this prejudice, at least within the relatively more open-minded sectors of society, than most of us could as isolated individuals. For example:
Together with the more enlightened autism parents' and professionals' organizations, we could proclaim an annual "Neurodiverse Couples Week" (perhaps in early February, in the lead-up to Valentine's Day?) to generate annual media buzz about successful autistic/NT relationships (which do exist, relatively rare though they may be) and how to make such relationships work. Conferences could be held for neurodiverse couples and for psychotherapists who specialize in relationship counseling for neurodiverse couples. Interviews with successful neurodiverse couples could be featured on various organizations' websites and quoted in press releases, and high-profile successful neurodiverse couples could speak at the conferences.
Hopefully the resulting media coverage, including some positive role models, could persuade at least some already relatively open-minded NT's to be more open to the idea of a relationship with an autistic person, and to be more understanding of autistic people's needs.
This idea has major potential pitfalls, though. In the interests of projecting a positive image, it could end up alienating many autistic people (and potential partners thereof) who don't and can't fit the image projected by the couples who are being put forward as role models. Addressing this problem would require a wide variety of role models, not just a few.
Another big potential pitfall is that a popularization of autistic/NT relationships would likely attract lots of highly exploitative / manipulative / abusive people seeking easy prey. We would have to develop, and teach, good ways to weed them out.
Helping us find better jobs (and thus become more desirable)
A better-developed autistic community would make it easier for work-capable autistic people to find decent-paying jobs in autistic-friendly workplaces. (See Autistic Workers Project.)
Most people -- especially most heterosexual women, but many other people too -- want spouses/partners who can support themselves financially. At the very least they usually want partners with some income, even if it's only government benefits -- which a better-developed autistic community could do a better job of helping people to obtain also, for those of us who cannot work.
Sadie Hawkins Clubs
For many autistic heterosexual men in particular, a big barrier to seeking a romantic relationship is the expectation that men must be the ones who take the social initiative. Some autistic heterosexual women too are frustrated by being confined to a passive role, which mainstream dating culture still expects despite the progress of feminism. And there are probably some NT's out there, both men and women, who are frustrated by these expectations too, but who feel helpless to challenge them.
The only way to solve this problem would be to create an alternative dating culture. Some of us could (most likely with the help of NT relatives or friends) create commercial entities that I will refer to as Sadie Hawkins clubs. (Perhaps someone else can think of a better, more up-to-date name for them?)
As I envision them, Sadie Hawkins clubs would hold various social events for (1) women who prefer to take the social initiative, rather than waiting for men to do so, and (2) men who prefer that women take the social initiative.
These clubs would NOT be aimed specifically at the autistic community. They would be aimed at all women and men who have the above preference and who also fit whatever other membership criteria a particular club might choose to have (e.g. based on age range or some common interest). But they would, ideally, be as autistic-friendly as possible, e.g. they would aim to be sensory-friendly, and they would feature structured activities of one kind or another.
Online games with locale-based teams
Some of the techies among us could develop new kinds of online games that would also facilitate people getting together in real life.
There already exist online games that encourage players to organize into teams. An example (which my partner likes to play) is Forge of Empires, a combination of strategy game, war game, and city-building game, in which players are encouraged (though not required) to join or create teams known as "guilds."
What would be very helpful, in my opinion, would be if someone could create some team-oriented online games in which players are encouraged to organize into teams based on their actual physical locales. That way, members of a team could have the option of getting together in-person if they so choose.
Getting to know people in the context of an online game and then meeting in person would probably be a much easier and less awkward way for many of us to find both platonic friends and potential romantic partners than either dating apps or just meeting people at in-person social gatherings.
The games, as I envision them, would be marketed to online gamers in general, not just autistic people. But they would be designed by teams of autistic programmers, with the social needs and difficulties of autistic people in mind.
Ideally the games would be of genres that appeal to roughly equal numbers of men and women.
For the kinky folks among us
Those among us who are drawn to nonmainstream erotic activities should be encouraged to explore the relevant organized kink subcultures and given instruction on the relevant dating norms, which are somewhat different from mainstream dating norms.
Note that exploring kink via the relevant organized subcultures is, in general, much safer than exploring kink with a random stranger whom one has met via a popular dating app, for various reasons including the following:
The organized kink subcultures have a body of lore on how to keep things "safe, sane, and consensual."
Longtime members of an organized group have a need to preserve their reputations, including a reputation for being safe (as well as a reputation for being imaginative, etc.).
Interested women, in particular, should be encouraged to join women's groups within the kink communities, for further advice on how to stay safe.
For those of us with mental illnesses
For those of us with co-occurring mental illnesses, we need the relevant mental illness communities to become much better-developed too, as well as the autistic community.
For now, theres's a dating service called No Longer Lonely. I've heard that it's currently not very active.
Here is an old Reddit thread about the idea of a "dating website for depressed people." Most people in the thread, including the OP, thought it would be a bad idea, because it's difficult if not impossible for depressed people to have healthy relationships.
But I wonder if might be possible for someone to create a program involving some combination of support groups, matchmaking, and couples counseling, that (along with individual therapy and/or psychiatry) might work well for depressed people, and/or for people with other mental illnesses.
If you're an autistic heterosexual man suffering from clinical depression: If the above-described hypothetical program existed, you'd be in luck, because depressed women vastly outnumber depressed men.
Developing a more secure self-identity
A better-developed autistic community could help autistic people develop, through interaction with each other, a more secure self-identity, which may help some of us to become more attractive personalitywise. (This idea was suggested to me by Amity here on Wrong Planet.)
Some general thoughts
The above are all longterm goals. In the meantime, the psychotherapy establishment can help, to a limited degree, by providing more counseling for autistic heterosexual men with the specific aim of improving their mainstream dating skills.
I'll post other ideas here as I think of them, or as they are suggested to me by others. I posted an early draft of this article here on Wrong Planet to get feedback.
The question of how to protect women from social overload, harassment, stalkers, etc., in a subculture with a very high male-to-female ratio, deserves a separate article in itself, which I will write eventually. Some preliminary thoughts:
(a) In an organized subculture, the pests can be expelled from groups and clubs. Groups should have clear rules and guidelines, enforced first by warnings and then by expelling persistent violators.
(b) Protecting members' privacy: Online support groups should avoid Facebook and other social media platforms whose terms of service require users to use their legal names. Instead they should use message boards (e.g. Wrong Planet) and/or small online chat and messaging platforms, separate from mainstream social media, so that members can exchange a limited type of contact info and stay in touch without revealing their real-world identities except to those other members whom they have gotten to know well enough to feel safe with. In-person groups, likewise, should avoid using Facebook as their main means of contact with members. (It's fine to use Facebook as one means of online outreach, but not the group's primary means.)
(c) For those women whose careers require them to be public figures in the autistic community under their legal names (e.g. licensed counselors of various kinds) -- and for those women who have chosen to use their legal names for whatever reason, or who have been doxxed -- we need good systems of evidence-gathering to track down harassers, and we need more pressure on the police to do something about it, given the evidence.
(d) We can encourage autistic women to make friends with each other. Friends can help protect each other in various ways.
Various autistic peer-led groups including support groups, career-oriented groups, and hobby-oriented social groups, led or facilitated by members of the Autistic Peer Leadership Group. Our newest group is the Autistic Women's Support & Social Group. All groups currently meet via text-based chat. Some groups will hopefully meet in-person after the COVID crisis is finally over with.
Where to get an ASD evaluation as an adult: This page will be expanded and updated sometime after the COVID crisis is over with.