Dating can be difficult for anyone, but people with autism tend to have even more problems than most. These problems can include not being able to recognise social cues and signals, knowing how and when to flirt, and deciding when and if touch is appropriate. This article doesn’t pretend to solve every single problem. Its aim is to try to give autistic people practical advice that they can use, and also to increase their confidence in this area.
Recognising Signals and Cues
• Facial expressions – it can be helpful to do some work around recognising facial expressions. Lots of people do this, and focus primarily on happy or sad faces. But as somebody get older they may want to learn to recognise other kinds of facial expressions. This might help to tell if someone is listening politely, or if they are genuinely engaged in what is being said, therefore giving the autistic individual a better understanding whether somebody likes them or not. However, if both parties have autism then the usual clues in facial expressions may not apply.
• Body language – it is worth thinking of a list of obvious signs of disinterest or discomfort, for example constantly checking a watch or somebody looking over their shoulder, or moving backwards. The autistic person might keep this list in mind when they are talking to somebody they might want to date. Again if they recognise these signs they might be able to gather that the person is probably not interested or engaged in what they are saying, and it is not a good moment to ask them for a date. We all send out non-verbal signs and cues, and this is no different when we are attracted to somebody. These cues are hard for anybody to recognise so they will not be easy for the autistic person to read, but if they do some research and know what they are looking out for it might help.
• Misinterpreting Signals – It can be quite common for autistic people to not realise when somebody is flirting with them, and this can lead to them being accused of leading people on. Lots of autistic women find themselves accused of flirting with men they view only as friends because they have inadvertently sent out the wrong signals just trying to be friendly. This can obviously present its own problems, but misreading other people`s intentions can have other, more serious implications. If somebody is completely unaware that the person who has been flirting with them has a genuine interest this can leave them vulnerable because they are not picking up on the person`s intentions. Equally they can completely misinterpret somebody as being flirtatious, and end up giving that person unwanted attention.
• Asking other`s opinions – recognising signals and cues that somebody is interested, or giving out the correct signals is daunting for everyone. Try asking a trusted friend for their advice or opinion.
• The purposes of flirting – sometimes flirting is done just for fun. Sometimes it is to see if someone is interested. Flirting is also a way of achieving a confidence boost. Not every episode of flirting is intended to instigate a date or relationship.
• Be complementary but not gushing – it is ok to compliment someone, but there is nothing to be gained from being over-the-top. A constant stream of compliments isn’t really the best way to talk to somebody. It may sound false, but also it may unsettle the person who is being complimented. It is alright to let somebody know that you find them attractive, but there is no point always being at their shoulder repeating this fact.