Log off the internet; someone out there likes you. That's my best dating advice. For a group project in school, I recently learned that fomites, the Latin word for Tinder, was discovered in the mid-1500s by an Italian doctor and means, “clothing, linen, etc. which although themselves not corrupt, can foster the essential seeds of the contagion and thus cause infection.” The ancients must have preferred face-to-face meetings.
Attraction, ASDs and dating are confusing. One of my best friends growing up once complained to me, "The thing that makes dating tough is that people expect you to read a bunch of BS signs and know a bunch of rules instead of saying what their intentions are." If I had said this, Asperger's would clearly be rearing its head. But trust me, my pal isn't part of the Asperger's club. He's a standup guy. There's a reason we've been friends since we were tiny and picked up where we left off when we last met.
A major sticking point people talk about when they talk Asperger's is making eye contact. Attraction and dating is one of the rare times after childhood you will have to look someone in the eye when you stand nearby them. If things go fine on a date, there's a good chance you'll see the other person's eyes gleaming. If you don't see that emotion, there's a good chance they're not right for you so move on. Just imagine that if you see their eyes glisten, your crush is opening a window into their soul and letting you peek inside. Maybe they're every bit as nervous as you were when your meetup started. Look around, and you'll see self-consciousness is a little more common than you might guess.
I looked at my passport before a recent getaway trip. The picture was taken when I was 18. I thought I looked very handsome. But, every time I looked in the mirror back then, I saw a pockmarked, gangly kid unsure of his surroundings and how to gain confidence even in things that came easily to me. I wasn't that far removed from being an unassuming teenager who looked around at other kids with grabby hands. It was hard to determine what was affection or harassment. I still saw shadows of being an isolated toothpick who struggled at making friends. The first time one of my classmates gave me her phone number, I was surprised. On the last day of school, this friendly girl helped take the edge off of overanalyzing diagrams on a Driver's Ed test. I'm glad she made me less surly after I screwed up what should have been an easy A. However, I thought she was goofing around. I don't call the number on the slip of paper she gave me. Not my best decision.
This was the first of many encounters with a nice girl, inside and out, where I doubted her interest in me. Replaying about a dozen shared memories in my head, I might be either stroking my own ego or someone actually liked me. Some of them had a significant other they really liked but weren't ready for the commitment required. There are many people I've known who have talked about someone special who got away. I can relate most to the last part.
I was 18. I had a friend who was a wild child but has since settled down. He threw himself a birthday party on a school night. A girl, who I'm going to call Little Miss Kryptonite, was hanging out across the hallway and stopped by for a minute. She had a book in her hand for school, and a megawatt smile despite being ready to go to sleep a little early to face the next day. I, on the other hand, could have drank a little bit to calm my nerves. I'm not saying get blitzed on a weeknight. What I am saying is that if you aren't an alcoholic, one or two drinks is no big deal. Especially when your first class the next day has one requirement: show up on test day. One cheat day won't harm anything. Motivation to face the next day, however, is a completely separate issue.
You might ask why I compare one of my peers to kryptonite. Two weeks later, I do my laundry, and the same woman crosses paths with me before she met up with some friends. There is a difference when someone powders her face before a night out despite the fact that she didn't need to doll herself up. In the moment, my throat froze up when I wanted to speak. I look back at her face especially her smile right out of a toothpaste commercial. She initiates a conversation with me. This would be a common occurrence when I'd do my laundry in this building that particular year. Every time, I'd see her, she was on the move, either on her cell phone or with a group of friends. Time felt like it sped up for me. The mix of surprise and the inability to devise a plan became a larger obstacle than it should have been. I chicken out repeatedly.
Several years later, I am in Target, grabbing last-minute items for an out-of-state job. I spot a girl's familiar face, skin tone, hair, and a couple ear piercings as her cell phone obscures her face. I dawdle and wait for her phone chat to end. I call out LMK's real name. "Is that you?" I call out.
"Simon? You remember me?"
Sweetie, take three guesses. The first two don't count.
Obviously I don't have the guide to dating. It's hard to get inside someone's head and determine what makes then tick, and I can't do that online. What I do know about is figuring out a way to dance around uncomfortable situations that can induce anxiety. Making a backup plan is one of the most important life skills you can learn, in any area. With that said, I do have a few suggestions for how to approach the latest apple of your eye.
Don't overplay your hand. Chatting with someone else should be like a tennis match, not Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Ask yourself how much you really have to say in one moment. It might take a little extra time, but that's okay.
A little bit of affection is fine, such as holding hands or putting your arm around someone. Your parents should have explained the difference between good and bad touching by the time you were three or four years old. Remember, if you have to ask if you should be doing something, the answer is likely no.
If you happen to have a mutual friend, try to ask them what your crush likes, or one of their favorite hangouts. Hopefully, some of your interests will overlap. No matter where you live, you should have a shared activity. If you are living in a city, there are all kinds of niches. You might like amusement games like go-karts, indoor rock climbing, and/or the arts. Choices are limitless, but let's stick with the rule of three. If you are into the arts and entertainment, you might have your favorite preferences, but if you go to something like an open-mic night or a writers' showcase, you can go somewhere with a smaller crowd that doesn't hit your wallet and is a good way to meet some interesting characters too. You might want to get outdoors, in which case maybe go to a city park and rent a tandem bike or something. All you're doing is one pedaling motion after another. If you want to get even more outdoorsy and aren't much interested in what urban things offer you, there should be an abundance of nature trails and parks for hiking, mountain biking, and an unlimited amount of activities. There should be something out there for pretty much anyone willing to take a first step.
I've been groups when people start talking about sex. For all I know, it's probably an exaggeration. One of these times, several friends and I found the base of a cavernous outcrop and cliff during geology field camp and relaxed in the shade. A couple classmates later said they could hear every word uttered by my friends during this break as they hiked past. If they weren't joking, the rock that surrounded us amplified the words shared by my buddies. I'm glad I kept my mouth shut. It's funny to me how people always say what happens between two people in private is no one's business, then turn around and tell everyone who will listen what happens between two people. Just talk out what's most important to yourself. You'll find someone you can trust.
Life choices are easy until you sit in your own driver's seat. All I can say is that someone out there likes you even if you can't see who it is. Now log off the internet and find out who that person might be. You might be pleasantly surprised.