Possible ways to help many autistic people find love?
by Mona Pereth
Every time I look at the Love and Dating sub-forum on Wrong Planet, I become more and more convinced that finding a romantic relationship is a problem that many of us cannot solve as individuals under current circumstances. Self-improvement is important, but nowhere near enough.
Most of us, if we are to solve this problem at all, ever, will need the help of a much bigger and better-organized autistic community than now exists. Those of us who have managed to find love without the help of our community have done so, in large part, by extraordinary good luck. (I speak as one of the lucky ones.) Of course, finding love is largely a matter of luck for everyone, even NT's, but it's generally easier for them, and there are things that can be done to make it easier for autistic people too.
How could a better-developed autistic community help? Several ways:
The most obvious way would be by making it easier for us to meet other autistic people, as potential romantic partners as well as potential friends.
But that, by itself, is far from enough. It would be great for some of us who have found that an autistic partner similar enough to ourselves can understand us better than anyone else can. But it would not be enough for all heterosexual autistic men, due to the 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). And it would not be enough for those autistic people, of whichever gender or sexual orientation, who would prefer an NT partner for whatever reasons.
Yet, as I will explain below, there are some important ways that a better-developed autistic community could make it easier for autistic people to find NT partners too.
On the other hand, for those hetero and bisexual autistic women (especially young women) who are open to a relationship with an autistic man, a better-developed autistic community would hopefully come up with good ways of helping these women (and other people too) protect themselves from being overwhelmed by too much -- and/or too aggressive -- attention from those attracted to them.1
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 help people to obtain also, for those who cannot work.
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 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. On Wrong Planet, a user with the handle of Amity suggested:
I guess a clear vision/mission statement/goals designed for and by autistics across the ASD severity levels and from a range of orientations/preferences, could be more inclusive... But how to attract NTs? I guess by recognising the (often hidden because of prejudice) diversity that exists within the "typical community", making the commonalities more open, less "unknown"
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 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.
Another way that a sufficiently well-developed autistic community could help, suggested by Amity: "Also the increased participation with other autistic people could lead to a securer self identity ... a solid sense of self is more attractive from a stability perspective."
I'll post other ideas here as I think of them, or as they are suggested to me by others. I've posted 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: Ideally all in-person groups of autistic people would also use a special online chat and messaging platform, separate from mainstream social media, so that members could 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 and feel safe with. (c) Encouraging autistic women to make friends with each other: Friends can help protect each other in various ways.