Weird Shit Happens When the Lights Go Out: Dating While Autistic5 min read

I went on my first date when I was about twenty. I know. I’m too cute to be such a late bloomer. I’m autistic. I also have anx­iety, selec­tive mutism, PTSD, and ADHD. I thought my first date would be a dis­aster, and it did not dis­ap­point.

He was a few years older than me and had much more expe­ri­ence than me. I only liked him because he made an appropriately-timed Buffy ref­er­ence. At this point, I hadn’t told anyone I was gay and still lived at home. I made up a believ­able lie and took a train to the city. We chose swim­ming as our activity. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. I can’t even swim.

To make matter worse, I had to wear a swim­suit that was three sizes too large. He couldn’t under­stand why that made me feel uncom­fort­able. I sup­pose if you spend a lot of time at gyms, you get used to exposing your­self in front of strangers. I’d never been naked in front of anyone before. I remember feeling vio­lated when I took a shower and he watched, but it also felt almost exhil­a­rating. 

Like I was some­thing worth checking out. Yet, I couldn’t com­mu­ni­cate my dis­com­fort. He just thought I was self-conscious, irra­tional, and weird.

We went back to his place. I didn’t feel com­fort­able nav­i­gating the city at night alone, so wanted to head back to the sub­urbs in the morning. The bus ride to his house sent my senses into over­drive. He wanted to hold hands. I have a love-hate rela­tion­ship with touch.

I have Sensory Processing Disorder. Gentle touches to my skin feel shocking to me, espe­cially if I don’t have time to men­tally pre­pare for them, while pres­sure can feel com­forting or suf­fo­cating. The warmth of his hands felt good at first. I had never held another man’s hands. 

At the same time, I still hadn’t said the words “I’m gay” aloud. I come from a broken home where abuse, crit­i­cism, judg­ment, and neglect were normal. My dad made homo­phobic remarks reg­u­larly, so I felt I had no choice but to keep quiet about my sexual ori­en­ta­tion. 

Showing public dis­plays of affec­tion made me feel like I was doing some­thing wrong, even though in my heart I knew that I wasn’t. I didn’t want people to stare at me. Staring awk­wardly at people is my job. 

I asked some a fellow autistic friend to describe what it feels like when she hugs, hold hands, etc.

When I’m over­es­ti­mated, touch feels like the sound nails on a chalk­board makes. That makes only about 50% sense, but it’s my best descrip­tion.

-Brittney, 29, ASD, GAD, VA


After unwanted small talk, we went to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to. I have PTSD and epilepsy. I have night ter­rors. I seize. I scream. Not always, but enough to cause worry. Once, I woke up with a random black eye.

Weird shit hap­pens when the lights go out.

At some point, he asked me to stand up. I didn’t have any clothes on. He slid his fin­gers down my back. I’d never been touched inti­mately before, and I didn’t know what to make of it. I liked how it felt. His touch was elec­tric. I felt stim­u­lated in a way that didn’t make me want to rip my skin off and cry. I hated it.

I couldn’t handle that much sen­sual stim­u­la­tion. My whole brain went numb. I didn’t speak for the next twenty-four hours. I couldn’t even con­jure up thoughts. My brain is nor­mally in a con­stant state of cre­ative energy, but now it felt like a waste­land. I didn’t even feel human any­more. I was just skin and a beating heart. 

I didn’t go on another date for two years. My second first date showed me awk­ward is my brand. I over­looked his ter­rible taste in music because he had a nice smile and a cute butt. I made him dinner.

Tip one: enun­ciate. I asked him if he wanted car­rots. He thought I said babies. I know I have a speech imped­i­ment, but car­rots and babies sound nothing alike.

Tip two: don’t channel surf. We decided to watch TV. I was flip­ping through chan­nels and a doc­u­men­tary about dogs came on. They all had missing limbs. My par­ents had recently given two of our three dogs up for adop­tion. One of them had paral­ysis in her back legs.

I started sob­bing on the spot. I don’t cry often, but when I do, I do it on first dates. It leaves an unfor­get­table impres­sion! He must have found my “sen­si­tivity” endearing because we made love shortly after.

Afterward, I returned to the dead zone. My body and mind couldn’t handle that much stim­u­la­tion. I still felt numb, but I enjoyed it. I found him attrac­tive and enjoyed his com­pany, so it was worth the sen­sory over­load.

Is an hour of plea­sure worth a day of not being able to form words? Apparently. We dated six months, and then I ghosted him for no good reason. My par­ents lost their house and moved in with me. I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I was gay, so I pan­icked and shut down.

NT-ND rela­tion­ships are hard. Most NTs under­es­ti­mate how dif­fer­ently autistic brains work. They think with enough prac­tice, our com­mu­ni­cate skills/styles will nor­malize.

They think that with enough rep­e­ti­tion, the uncom­fort­able sen­sory expe­ri­ences will sub­side. They’re usu­ally sur­prised when they realize this isn’t how it works. 

Some don’t care. Some have their own anx­i­eties. I often make people feel self-conscious about their weight. I’m a skinny-ass twig with the legs of a runway model. It prob­ably doesn’t help that I rarely think before I speak. I also have high verbal intel­li­gence, which some find intim­i­dating.

I feel guilty because people seem to think they need to change to impress me. You could be a modern-day Einstein with two yachts and a man­sion. I’d still break out the Shania. I’d rather people embrace them­selves fully.

I worry I come across as selfish. I’m not good at talking about my feel­ings. I don’t com­pli­ment people unless I’m mes­mer­ized by the outfit they’re wearing.

It likely comes across as if I care less than I do. I’m not the person you come to when you want to feel better about your­self. You come to me for insults and cri­tiques.

I’m not someone who is going to fight for a rela­tion­ship. But I do care. I don’t know how to iden­tify love. But I do feel it.



  1. Hi Patrick. My first date was obscure, because nei­ther of us were really out, so were they really dates? But the even­tual one that put us back at his house with him touching me on the couch (Me in my head: “Is this just a friends thing?”, because I’m an idiot)… that one, when it became obvious more than friends stuff was about to happen… that one, I started shiv­ering. Well, actu­ally, more vibrating. Like a ringing mobile phone with its vibra­tions switched up to “tec­tonic” sit­ting on a glass table. He didn’t really know what was hap­pening, but he said he’d go up to his room and I could come up if I wanted but if I didn’t that was okay. It all worked out in the end (after I’d vibrated a bare patch into his couch, and not in a sexy way).

    His whole time with me has been dis­cov­ering odd things about me. Including when we both dis­cov­ered (or rather a psy­chol­o­gist dis­cov­ered for me) my autism a couple of years ago. I should prob­ably credit him more for his com­pas­sionate, if any­thing hap­pily or sup­por­t­ively curious, response to my odd­i­ties, seeing as we’ve been together 28 years and last year we mar­ried.

    I still only usu­ally do three second hugs though, with him (one second at most if forced to with others).

    I love him. I love a lot of people, but I love him more than any­thing. He’s here for the weird shit. And though I wouldn’t fight for a lost rela­tion­ship, and for any untrust­worthy betrayal I will drop someone like a hot rock, I’d fight to grim death anyone who tried to take this one from me. Love is love, as the lapel pins say, just as much for autistic folk, or this one anyway if I just speak for myself.

    (I hope this hasn’t offended. It’s meant to be “Yeah, right on, dif­ferent but same here!”. I always pro­tec­tively proof­read myself mul­tiple times, and every­thing always sounds right in my head, but then someone points out I’ve inad­ver­tently called someone a jerk. If so, it wasn’t meant.)

    1. Author

      I don’t offend 🙂

    2. thank you for sharing!! i’m happy for you and your hus­band <3 my gf & i have a sim­ilar dynamic. hope we can also make it as many years.

  2. I wonder if rela­tion­ships are easier when you date someone neu­ro­di­ver­gent. I kind of might want to try that someday, but I’m not sure, because I’m 23 and still have no expe­ri­ence nor any cer­tainty about whether I’m gay or just con­fusing myself.

    1. It has been expo­nen­tially easier for me to date (and marry) another aspie. We are (almost) always on the same page. Seven years in, and it’s still a fairy tale of whimsy and dark humor.

  3. Author

    I’m very curious myself. Part of me thinks it would be easier, but I would need to have the expe­ri­ence to be sure.

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