Sad Little Autistics Can’t Get Girlfriends and That’s Not a Bad Thing (#ASDay2017)

How many TV shows and movies now feature sad white cishet autistic guys who can’t get dates now? I’ve lost count.

Plenty has been written about tired-ass stereotypes in shows like Atypical and The Good Doctor, and I’m not interested in rehashing it here. Nor, to be honest, am I even particularly interested in revisiting the stuff on gendered expectations of dating and emotional labor that Emma and I did a while back (the first post of which is here if you missed that particular rabbit hole back when).

I am interested, on this year’s Autistics Speaking Day, in speaking about the following points:

1. Yeah, we flirt weird.

When I headcanon fictional characters (or real people) as autistic, it’s usually because I’ve noticed one or more traits:

  • They don’t catch veiled jokes or insults, or if they do, they’re baffled as to why the comment was made.
  • They either don’t catch on when someone else tries to mold their behavior, or they do catch on and still don’t play along, instead regarding the manipulation like a mildly interesting painting or bit of street litter.
  • Find the right topic, and they “bubble.”
  • …And don’t stop bubbling.
  • …Even when the jokes or insults about it are no longer veiled.
  • They flirt by bubbling, combined with increased flailing, and attempts to fix either just make them more hilariously bad.
  • And/or they flirt by recruiting someone to help them with a task because that person is highly competent at the task, inform the other person they recruited them for their competence, and then get confused when this comment is not taken as a compliment. (This form of flirting is often unconscious on the autistic person’s part.)
  • …Point out that either of the above are in fact flirting, and they freeze.

I’m 35 years old, dated for 15 of those years, and have been married for 5 of them. And I still, to this very day, my 12,830th day on this planet, don’t understand how to do non-autistic flirting. Half the time I don’t even recognize it when I see it. Neil Gaiman could invite me to a seduction and I’d still have no idea what was going on.

I flirt weird. I think non-autistic people flirt weird. And I daresay I’m not the only autistic person who feels this way.

2. No, that’s not a problem.

The plethora of books, articles, and blogs out there on how to teach autistic people to date sure make our weird flirting sound like a problem. So do the handful of (well known, but typically unrestrained) borderline stalkers in the autistic community who do things like ask every presenter at an autism conference how he, the speaker, can finally get himself a girlfriend – a thing that happened as recently as, oh, last month.

Which is to say: these “resources” make it sound like our weird flirting is a problem for cishet autistic dudes. While there’s a whole industry out there on helping these hapless individuals find girlfriends, there’s actually nothing at all on how to help cishet autistic women find boyfriends or on how queer autistic people can find anyone at all.

Again, Emma and I beat the reasons for that to death already. My concern here is that all these advice pieces presuppose that our weird methods of flirting are somehow problematic and wrong.

They’re not, and here’s why:

3. The only reason we want to know that you find our weirdness problematic is so we know if we’re wasting our time.

Do you think autistic people flirt weird? Tell us. Are you put off by our weird flirting attempts? Tell us.

And then fuck off.

I often headcanon both fictional characters and real people as autistic based on characteristic patterns of awkward flirting. And I headcanon their romantic/partnery persons of interest as “worth feeling warm towards” or not based on how they respond.

People who love and care about us? Find our weird flirting endearing. They like it. My husband thinks I’m the cutest thing that ever freaking happened to him, and we’ve raised kittens. He thought my bubbling, flailing, and rating of him as highly competent was prime friendship material. And that’s why he gets to keep me.

If you don’t find us endearing, say so. We like to know when we’re wasting our time.

…Oh, and if you do find us endearing, say that too. We might turn into that Breakfast at Tiffany’s “seen” meme for a moment, but that’s temporary. Remember, like writers, we’re notoriously bad at knowing when we’ve been invited to a seduction – and we genuinely appreciate people who can inform us without making it creepy.