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I remember feeling disgust and then curiosity the first time someone explained the concept of “dating leagues” to me, or being stunned to learn that a girl who invites you to a hotel room to “just chill for a night” might actually mean the opposite of that, or that one who keeps postponing seeing you again is blowing you off. A lot of the “obvious” rules about dating are actually pretty arbitrary, so we aren’t instinctively aware of them.

Others with AS have told me about similar stories, all linked by a common theme: We experience dating, as we do all other social rituals, as non-native bumblers, struggling to comprehend a culture of Byzantine complexity (in our eyes) and lacking the unassailable logic of being entirely direct, straightforward, verbalized, and emotionless (which is clearly reasonable … I recently had a conversation with a friend who commented that people with AS should “just use common sense” when navigating the dating scene.

While the merely awkward are at least subconsciously aware of these variables when they’re engaged in an interaction, someone with AS is wired to assume that (a) if someone finds us attractive, they will directly and immediately state it from the get-go and (b) they would want us to do likewise.

For better or worse, there is a music to dating, and while people with AS can understand the verses (and often have a distinctly straightforward way of expressing ourselves that can be refreshing), we struggle with the pitch, rhythm, dynamics, timbre, and texture. The idea that people communicate interest other than through what they actually say, or that even what someone says is fraught with layers and nuances—none of this occurs to us, since our instinct (which we assume the rest of the world shares) is to just say what we think and feel at length without any filters.

While the resulting sense of loneliness is not unique to the mildly autistic, as Russell’s quote itself makes clear, having AS significantly hinders one’s ability to cure it. Mahari, people with AS may be able to ”feel a tremendous amount of empathy, compassion, sadness, happiness, and so forth,” but “it is not natural for us to communicate and to express our emotions in a social/relational context the way that it is second nature to NT’s [Neurotypicals, or people without AS]. It is work and requires effort and energy.” Not only does this cause people with AS to often come off as emotionless and lacking in empathy, but it makes the process of falling in love almost alien to us—you can’t develop or identify chemistry without knowing how to give off and read cues, or feel truly connected to someone with whom you can only communicate by feigning mastery of a social language in which you’ll never be fluent.

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