What It’s Like To Be In A Relationship When You’re Autistic

Dating someone new can be a daunting prospect for anyone – but if you have autism and struggle with social interaction, meeting and getting to know a new partner can be very difficult.
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Seven months ago, my life came crumbling down before my eyes when I caught my fiancé of three years cheating on me at a New Year’s Eve Party. Hours later, I found him with another man in our hotel room.

These shocking revelations led to the cancellation of our October 2023 wedding. And after consuming cheap wine and crying to Adele and Lewis Capaldi songs for several weeks, I reluctantly returned to the dating scene.

As someone who had just experienced infidelity and a messy breakup, dating new people felt overwhelming and scary. This, on top of my autism and intense social anxiety, made my dating journey very challenging. But after multiple failed dates and awkward Tinder conversations, I finally met a lovely guy called Nathan.

It’s been two months since I traveled to England to meet Nathan, and we eventually decided to form a committed relationship. Sadly, our relationship wasn’t to last, but I did enjoy spending eight weeks with him, and I think it was a learning curve for both of us – that mainly comes down to my autism, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Dating someone new can be a daunting prospect for anyone. But if you have autism and struggle with social interaction, meeting and getting to know a new partner can be very difficult.

When I first met Nathan, I didn’t know what to say to him. I kept worrying about offending him by saying something inappropriate or coming across as ignorant by not saying much at all.

Since I also struggle to make eye contact with new people, I was worried that Nathan would see this as rude behaviour. I was probably just overthinking, another common trait of my autism.

On our first date, Nathan brought me to a farm park where we could pet animals. Although the animals were super cute, I feared catching germs if I touched them. I kept sanitising my hands every few minutes, and Nathan soon noticed this.

After opening up to Nathan about my OCD, he was very understanding. He didn’t think I was being ignorant or ungrateful, which kept playing on my mind during our first date.

Despite my social awkwardness and OCD, our first date was a success. A week or so later, we met again; this time, I stayed at his flat for the night.

This was even more nerve-racking than our first date. I get overwhelmed in new environments, so sleeping in his apartment for the first time was extremely overwhelming. I hardly slept and spent most of the night scrolling through TikTok. This woke Nathan, but after telling him I was anxious, he was very understanding and went back to sleep.

It took a while for me to feel entirely comfortable in Nathan’s bed, and he did offer plenty of hugs to comfort me. But hugging someone with autism doesn’t always go to plan. I remember him suddenly hugging me one night and I pushed him away. This wasn’t me being rude - it’s just another trait of my autism.

Due to autism-related sensory issues, my brain struggles to comprehend sudden body contact. A sudden hug feels cold and sharp to me.

Naturally, my first reaction is to reject the action being made by the other person. Again, I explained this to Nathan, and following that, before he offered a hug or kiss, he would tell me in advance. That might sound weird, but it meant that I could enjoy affection.

As well as sensory problems, I struggle to comprehend sarcasm and often take jokes literally. So, Nathan’s sarcasm and jokes didn’t come naturally to me at first. Luckily, he didn’t take offence if I didn’t laugh at his corny jokes. If I took one of his jokes literally, he would explain that it was just sarcasm, and we would move on.

Meeting his family and friends was also challenging. When I meet new people, I find it hard to start and maintain conversations. I can come across as quiet, even though I’m very bubbly. Personally, I’m extremely open about my autism. This helps people understand why I may seem shy or socially awkward when they first meet me.

After getting to know Nathan’s loved ones, I soon let my guard down and met them on a few occasions.

It’s fair to say that the last few months have been a rollercoaster journey for me.

I never expected to find love again after experiencing such a traumatic end to my previous relationship. While Nathan and I have decided to part ways, I learnt valuable lessons from my time with him – and I’m looking forward to returning to the dating scene and getting to know more people.

What’s abundantly clear is that dating can be tough for autistic people, but it’s certainly not impossible. Of course, forming a connection with a new love interest isn’t easy when you suffer from social anxiety. And for those dating an autistic person, understanding their traits can also be challenging.

But by communicating one’s traits and taking things step-by-step, autistic people can go on to have healthy and fulfilling relationships.

At the end of the day, everyone deserves to experience love - no matter how their brain is wired.