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Thursday 01 June 2023

Love and romance as an autistic young person

Music has often connected me to my feelings, and ‘Love is a Game’ from Adele’s album has hit home regarding my recent love life. The lyric “all your expectations of my love are impossible” rings very true. The anxiety, unwritten rules, a need for clarity and structure – things that some neurotypical people can’t comprehend. However, the lyric “my heart speaks in puzzle and codes” sums it up best. I’ve been told “you’ll just know” when someone you fancy likes you back. But I’ve always needed to be told, as reading those subtle signals is often harder.


Going on my first LGBTQ+ date

As 2022 ended, romance was the one thing that had stayed the same. However, I received an opening line from one Tinder match that grabbed my attention. It often feels like it’s me that makes the first move with people, so to have someone compliment me (given self-image doubts can hang around sometimes) feels good.

He seemed nice, and after platonic chats combined with light flirting, a video call followed. We had chemistry, and I asked him if he wanted to meet in-person. My dream date idea has always been going to Kings Cross’s iconic ‘Gays the Word’ bookshop as it’s a calming environment for me compared to noisy, strobe-lit nightclubs. He said yes!

I didn’t specifically frame it as a date. When I told people about it, I’d sometimes say, “I’ve got my first ever date on Friday…at least I think it’s a date”, another example of the autistic mind needing certainty. I am more open about being autistic and how it affects me now, so when we greeted, I asked him if it was a date. He said it was. We got on, he kindly paid, and he forgave me when I made a mistake naming a song by his favourite artist.

A first date was going to bring mistakes on my part. He told me that he also had other dates to come. I replied (perhaps somewhat naively) that I hoped to beat the others to him! I asked him if he’d enjoyed the date. He told me he didn’t get date vibes from me, so we agreed to meet again as friends.

Initially, I was sad and a little hopeless. Getting a personal connection with someone doesn’t happen often, and the thought of building that again was overwhelming. However, I’m pleased it happened, because it also taught me that that feeling is normal and will pass. 


Relationships and mental health

The next person I matched with seemed cool. Lots of great interests, fun and sensitive. Sparks flew quicker than I thought possible, then he confided in me that he was also autistic. I'm interested in dating anyone that I get on with if it feels right, but when the other person is autistic too, naturally there is an additional sense of comfort that they must surely be understanding and accepting of my quirks and struggles.

I sent him a voice message, but apart from liking it, he didn’t reply for a few days. He eventually said how sorry he was, citing personal issues that seemed understandable. However, this pattern of behaviour continued – I wouldn’t hear from him for days or a week at a time, then he would apologise for his lack of replies, insisting he was still interested. All the energy from the initial conversation seemed a distant memory. But when we were talking, we were still getting on. So, we arranged to do a video call, and it was like we’d never been away! Another video call soon followed, where I insisted to myself if it went well, I would ask him out on a date. I’d never formally done that before. This time though, no anxiety or fear, just go for it!

It started well and we got on again. Fuelled by the adrenaline I asked him out on an in-person date. He said he’d love to but wasn’t sure about ‘Gays the Word’. We agreed to discuss ideas then arrange it.

However, after thinking about it, some things he’d said during that call didn’t feel right. He told me he likes to set potential partners secret tests, to see whether they will stick by him. It didn't seem healthy to play those sorts of games on a potential partner. It can do harm to relationships and mental health. Subtle hints and game playing are also things that we find difficult to read, so prefer upfront communication.


The future

It's easy to feel like there’s something wrong with me for not having had a relationship yet. However, I must keep reminding myself that it shows strength. I also always worried that I would let people get away with things and walk all over me if I liked them. This has proved the opposite is true. I don’t have the time nor the will to mess around – I know what I want and need.

I’m not sure the best place to find romance is online. I’ve always found it comforting as it feels less awkward getting to know someone than an initial in-person meeting. However, people’s personalities and intentions are not always as clear.

I want to join an LGBTQ+ football team, as I want to play regularly again while finding fellow queer people who love The Beautiful Game. I will also think about other MeetUps and community spaces that work for me.


About the author

Nathan is 23-year-old gay, autistic writer from London. He has just graduated from the Central School of Speech and Drama, and now works as a TV researcher.