Dating with autism

For most of us, spontaneity is a necessary component of romance and being in love. Not that you need it all the time, nor is it really feasible to be spontaneous constantly but we do love that giddy feeling when we lose our inhibitions and forget for a brief bit about making fools of ourselves. When we are consumed with overwhelming emotion which cause us to act in ways we would not normally. But what if love didn’t include any spontaneity? We would think that it meant it was passionless, or at least I would have, and then I read an article on “Dating on the Autism Spectrum” in The Atlantic.

While I hope that a majority of people already know that autism, as a spectrum disorder, comes in all forms, there is a generally assumed belief that those with autism tend to be practical and methodical without any of the emotional ups and downs that the rest of us have. However, recent studies show that they may actually have greater emotional capacities. “Studies have shown that people with autism can have feelings that are stronger and deeper than those without autism,” said John Elder Robison, an autism advocate. “Yet those feelings may be invisible to outsiders because we don’t show them. Because we don’t show them or the expected response, people make the wrong assumption about our depth of feeling about other people.”

Dating and romance tend to be particularly difficult for those with autism because they cannot read the social and gender cues that consitute so much of the dating game. They don’t understand the subtle undertones of flirting nor do they enjoy the chase.

I found the article intriguing because I think even those of us without autism often grapple with what our relationship should look like and what our roles should be. We all have this in common. Everyone, regardless of gender, religion, disability, has to at some point put up a wall between what that “normal” relationship is and what relationship they would like and what relationship they are in. There is no ideal partner. After 31 years of age, Paulette Penzvalto found freedom in her diagnosis not just because she now understood herself better but also because she was liberated from the pressures of having a “normal” relationship:

“The number one freedom I found in the diagnosis is I don’t need to really give into a partner’s idea of what a relationship should or needs to look like,” she said. “It’s really liberating to know I’ve been living my life a certain way, and it turns out that that’s okay”

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Cautiously in love

I just wanted to say thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to stop by and read my blog. A much bigger thank you to those who have liked, commented, followed, etc. I appreciate the support and am thrilled that you find this subject and the content as appealing as I do.

For today’s post, I received a question from a reader that I want to share and respond to. (If anyone else has any questions they want me to tackle, please feel free to send them in!)

Can you address how getting close to someone can create a feeling of vulnerability to the point where you fear getting too close to the person?
– Cautiously in love

Dear Cautiously in love,

My very first post mentioned a New York Times article discussing how Alain Badiou thought it was absurd that tourists were chaining love locks on Parisian bridges:

The idea that you can lock two people’s love once and for all, and toss the key, is a puerile fantasy. For Mr. Badiou, love is inherently hazardous, always on the brink of failure and above all vulnerable.

We are taught from a young age in the Western world to plan and to go for what we want. We have a difficult time acknowledging that not everything is in our control and that we aren’t as independent and as self-reliant as we try to convince ourselves we are. And love is one of those things that profoundly shakes up our sense of independence. It lays bare all of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, exposing them not just to others, but also to ourselves.

A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon introduces the idea of open-loop limbic resonance, meaning our brain functions are created and physically changed by those we care for.

“Because loving is a reciprocal physiologic influence, it entails a deeper and more literal connection than most realize. Limbic regulation affords lovers the ability to modulate each other’s emotions, neurophysiology, hormone status, immune function, sleep, rhythms, and stability…. Lovers hold the key to each other’s identities, and they write neostructural alterations into each other’s networks.”

So remember all those times when you can’t sleep at night because your significant other is away? Yes, those aren’t just because you’re pining for them and madly in love. It’s also because your brain misses the regulation that he or she provides by being close.

I think that the vulnerability you’re feeling is because both your heart and your head are slowly becoming more and more dependent on someone else and you are trying to think your way out of it. That fear you feel comes from the logical, socially-conditioned place that is resisting the direction your body is going in. And that’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for being cautious and not completely giving in to your emotions. You need to have some sense of self-awareness to be able to protect yourself in the event that your head and heart have misjudged.

But for now…guess what? The fact that you feel vulnerable means that you are already in too deep, so stop trying to think yourself out of it. Give your brain and your heart a chance! 🙂

loop of dependence

Male & Female Erogenous Zones and the Science of Falling in Love

I’ve been trying to read A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon for, oh, about 6-7 months now. It focuses on the science of human emotions and biological psychiatry, and has received numerous favorable reviews. My main issue is that it’s just a bit too heavy on biological functions (neural pathways, neurotransmitters, frontal cortex and such) for me to fully enjoy during my daily commute, which is my main reading time. However I do enjoy it so I will get through it, slowly but surely.

In the meantime, I found a lovely little infographic that details the science of falling in love, so you don’t have to spend hours reading the first few chapters of the aforementioned book.

Ladies, did you know that eyelids and the forehead are erogenous zones for men? Unsurprisingly, women differ in that they prefer the scalp and lips. I completely believe that since I don’t know of a single woman who does not enjoy a head massage. The ears, neck, abs, feet and the back of the knees are all hot spots for both men and women. Abs? Really? Do they mean actual abs or the region of the body where your abs should technically be for those of us who might have an inch or five of food lovin’?

Also, anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows that there is an initial “honeymoon” period of happiness, euphoria and excitement, and after a while, that phase ends as you settle into a long-term relationship. It’s usually during this transition that couples have their first significant arguments and question whether they want to be together. (Of course, the arguments and questioning continue to reoccur now and then in every relationship, both healthy and unhealthy.)

You can now blame something on the end of this honeymoon phase: nerve growth factor or NGF. Produced along with dopamine, which causes feelings of excitement and ecstasy, the amount of NGF in the body directly relates to the intensity of romantic feelings. NGF is more prevalent in people who are newly in love while those who are not in love or in long-term relationships have lower levels of it.

Here is the full infographic for you to peruse through for a step-by-step outline of what happens in your body when you fall in love (or conversely, what you experience and feel when your body is in love):