Dating and Relationship Advice

The Australian Netflix series Love On The Spectrum has been on for two seasons, and its third one will be filmed in the United States. Their premise is, "Finding love can be hard for anyone. For young adults on the autism spectrum, exploring the unpredictable world of dating holds its own unique challenges." Speaking as a diagnosed member of this community, that phrasing itself gives away the show maker's lack of understanding of their subject right from the beginning. The majority of the Autistic community prefers identity-first language as opposite to person-first language (so, "Autistic person" rather than "person with autism/on the autism spectrum"). However, they are correct that Autistics (of all ages) face challenges in the search for love.

One of those challenges is the widespread assumption that seems to lurk beneath the surface of Love On the Spectrum, which is that Autistic people do not experience physical attraction or that physical chemistry is not a need for us. This doesn't just appear in movies, reality shows, and other media: it's thick and sometimes as blatant as "Autistics don't have empathy" in our culture and the minds of everyday people. I even had internalized this to a degree. I accepted the lack of physical attraction I felt for potential dates as "normal" for me and forced myself to continue pursuing the connection with several even after the point at which I later learned that physical attraction would start to grow. To say nothing of those particular people, continuing to romantically pursue a connection with someone you will never be physically attracted to is a waste of both people's time. While physical attraction alone won't sustain any relationship, lack of physical attraction (which can grow!) isn't sustainable in any relationship.

It took me years longer than it might have to learn that, for every other Autistic person and me I've met, physical attraction is not absent; it simply works differently. For many of us, it almost always has to grow based on an emotional connection. Still, there is some "key" physical feature that we can look for in a person to "anchor" to as we explore the possibility of building physical attraction. Apps like Iris that use artificial intelligence to learn what you're attracted to can help you know what you're attracted to—to identify that "key" feature for yourself and for each potential date. It takes intention and time to learn what that "key" feature is for us and what it is for each person—it's not always brown eyes or long hair. The "key" feature can be how other physical features work together with things like the sound of a voice, how one carries their body, and how their body fits next to ours as we walk down the street. Sitting next to each other on a couch, going on a long hike. After all, love—on or off the spectrum—is about being together.

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