At a recent presentation on autism I took part in, someone asked me about the challenges people on the spectrum face when it comes to dating and love. And this is indeed an issue for many people I know. I mean, dating can be like playing Operation with the circuitry of a nuclear warhead even for those who aren’t on the spectrum, so additional challenges in reading social cues can make it even more difficult and scary.
And while some may see being chronically dateless as no big deal, I’ve met others for whom the resulting loneliness and feelings of being inadequate take a significant toll on their self-esteem. Looking back at my past self, for example, I thought there was something terribly wrong with me when I turned 22 without ever having been on a date.
My usual go-to response when asked about this issue is the standard “don’t worry about it so much, work on yourself first” line. I mean, let’s face it, if we’re constantly down on ourselves and miserable, chances are that’s not going to come across as very attractive. Plus, I personally don’t think it’s a great idea to define ourselves primarily by whether we’re single or not, or to get into a relationship just for the sake of being in one.
But another important factor to keep in mind that, for many of us on the spectrum, our development runs on a different timescale to other people. Dating in particular is often something we get around to much later than our peers. I started dating at 23. One of my colleagues started at 26. (Some people also simply don’t feel the need to date at all, and that’s fine too)
When I was 16-22, I was convinced I’d be Forever Alone. Turns out I just needed to give myself a little more time.
So if you feel like you’re the only one in your peer group who hasn’t started dating yet, don’t panic, and don’t feel pressured to keep pace with other people’s developmental timeline. Getting to your 20s without ever having a relationship doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It’s not a race. Different people reach different milestones at different times, and that goes for people who aren’t on the spectrum as well. There’s no shame in being a late bloomer.