Anybody can have an awkward date, but there are certain things about autism that can make dates much more awkward than they have any right to be. One of these is conversation: Starting a conversation, holding a conversation and knowing how to end one. None of this is easy. Below are a few tips that can hopefully make the flow of conversation a little more manageable during a date.
• Questions – Plan ahead; don’t go in to the date completely unprepared. You know that you are going to have to talk to the person, and that this might be difficult for you. Think beforehand of topics to talk about. It can help to consider what you know about the person you are meeting for a date, either from their dating profile or real-life conversations. Use this to think of some questions you could ask. For example if you know they have a particular interest in a certain band you could ask them if they’ve ever seen that band play live, or what their favourite album is.
• More Questions – if you ask a question and receive a short answer, try to have other questions related to the topic – follow-up questions. If you’re in a bar or café and you ask the person if they`ve ever been there before, and they just say `yes` then maybe you could ask if they`d enjoyed their previous visit. If you don’t ask follow-up questions it might look as if you don’t have any interest in what they`ve just said to you. Also, follow-up questions help in avoiding awkward silences.
• Contingency questions – if conversation stops abruptly, or it feels awkward have a few basic questions such as `would you like another cup of tea` (if you`re in a café). Keeping some questions in reserve – simple things like `are you enjoying your meal? ` Or `would you like another drink? ` – can be helpful. If things start to feel uncomfortable then you will have these to fall back on.
• Answers – it won’t just be you asking questions on the date so try to be prepared with a few answers to common questions. If you tell somebody you are in to music or films you are probably going to be asked what your favourite band or film is, so try to have some basic answers prepared. This means that you don’t have to spend as much time thinking, and the conversation will flow more naturally. Try to think in advance about answers you might give to questions your date is likely to ask, for example, what is your favourite music?
• It`s not an `interview` – try to remember that the person you are on a date with is not applying for the job of being your boyfriend or girlfriend. Questions are important, but try not to fire one question after another at them across the table. Rather than seeing if the person meets a specific set of criteria you might have, just try to see if you get along with them.
• Special interest – Sometimes, when you don’t know what to talk about it is easy to fall back on your special interest, if you have one. The problem is this can be very difficult for whoever has to listen. First of all, before you start to talk about it try to find out if the person you are with has any interest. For example, if your special interest is Star Wars, you might ask them if they`ve seen the films, and if they enjoyed them. If they say they loved them and they are their favourite films of all time, then go ahead and talk about Star Wars. If the person you are on a date with says they don’t like them at all, then try to move on after a short while. There is no point tying to engage somebody in a conversation only you have an interest in. Remember, there is a difference between talking to somebody, and talking with somebody.
• Talking at the same time – Sometimes people with autism don’t know when to come in to the conversation, and might end up talking over the other person. If you do find that you and the other person are talking at the same time the best thing to do is stop, and let them talk first. Don’t make a big thing of it, but just apologise and let them finish what they were saying.
• Ending the conversation – knowing when to end a conversation can be difficult. If you end it too soon you may be seen as abrupt and uninterested, but if you let it drag on for too long it can become awkward. The most important thing for people with autism to remember is that if they carry on talking for longer than they feel able to this will have more of an impact on them that it would on other people due to sensory overload. If you start to feel that you have had enough, and you want to end the conversation, or even leave, then wait until the other person has finished speaking, and politely explain that you need to leave. To show that you are not simply leaving because you are bored, you can say that you will text or message the person later.
• Nerves – it is ok to be nervous when on a date. The other person is probably nervous as well. And it is ok to communicate that you are a bit nervous if you feel that you need to. You also need to remember that the person is on a date with you; there are probably a lot of people out there who would want to date this person, but they haven’t gone with them, they`ve chosen you instead – half your job is already done.
One thing people always say is to just `be yourself` when on a date, and to act naturally. And it might seem that these tips are telling you not to be yourself, but really all they are is tips. You might use one or two, or none of them – or you might use them all – it`s up to you. But don’t try to use them as a way of masking who you actually are. It won’t do you any good in the long run. Hopefully they can just help you to get over the initial awkwardness of the situation, and help if you are struggling with your confidence when it comes to making conversation when you are out on a date.