72

Background

I recently met a woman on a dating app and we hit it off. Last night we went on our first date, which went very well and we are planning to go out again. I am interested in potentially having a serious relationship with her if the next date goes as well as the first.

I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (a form of autism) when I was in college, and I haven't had a serious relationship since that time (about 3 and a half years ago). Over the years (both before and after diagnosis) I have learned quite well how to "fit in" with people who are neurotypical to the point that most people wouldn't know I'm on the spectrum unless I told them.

Although I have gotten better at managing a lot of the social issues that accompany my autism, I still have sensory issues that can be problematic. While I don't tell everyone about my condition, I could never seriously date someone that didn't know. It is almost a guarantee that at some point while with her I will experience difficulties that I can't control because I'm autistic, and if she is aware then she'll be better able to understand and deal with the situation. To be clear, I'm fully self sufficient (job, apartment, etc...) and not looking for someone to take care of me. I just don't want to scare her the first time she sees me experience sensory overload.

The Question

How do I tell her about being autistic and the issues that causes without jeopardizing a potential relationship?

11 Answers 11

59
+250

Background to my response

I'll start by giving some context from my own experience. I am a woman who has been dating a man who has Asperger's for over a year and a half. We have also been living together for about nine months. We met on an online dating site and our relationship is continuing to strengthen as we go along.

He told me that he had Asperger's on our second or third date. By this stage, we had chatted a lot and I found that he was very focused on his areas of passion, so when he told me it wasn't a huge surprise. However, I simply accepted it as part of his personality and whether you label it Asperger's or not, it did not alter my perception of him. All it did was made me be conscious of how he felt in certain social situations so that I could help him be as comfortable as possible.

So when should you tell your potential partner?

Well, I would first see if you seem to "click". If you don't have that to begin with, then disclosing your Asperger's won't really make any difference either way. Why do I say that? Because if you have to explain your traits to her, then you already have a problem. To me, his disclosure of Asperger's was simply a cue to me to put a context around behavioural patterns I'd already seen with him and that I was completely comfortable with.

The thing is, even now he is more worried about his Asperger's than I am. He is him, and these are simply aspects of his personality that make him who he is.

Summary

The most important piece of advice I can give is to make sure that you are not being so focused on your Asperger's as being an issue that you make it into one. Be yourself, and if things are going along well then the disclosure of Asperger's will be more of an "Oh, ok. That makes sense!" rather than something that will suddenly become an issue.

If it IS an issue for her, then you probably had more serious longer term problems ahead.

Best of luck, I hope it works out for you!

9

It's all a question of timing. If you tell her too late, she'll be unhappy that you didn't tell her sooner. And if you tell her too soon, she might misunderstand or be scared off. The "right time", unfortunately, is when she is able to comprehend what you're saying but still likes you enough to say "so what?" There's no good formula to this.

The big thing is for you to control the narrative. Let her find out in a way that is not a big deal and does not involve a lot of change in your behavior together. I'd suggest first of all to go on dates where there is less risk of your sensory issues being triggered. (I assume those are bright lights/loud sound but that's something I'm pulling out of my... well, you know.) Go out with her 2 or 3 more times and get to know her and let her get to know you. Let her see that you are a fun person with a lot to offer. Then, when she is more comfortable with you, I'd say would be the right time.

Take her someplace that the both of you enjoy and have a good time together. Then, at the close of the evening, say "I really had a great time tonight and the past couple dates have been a lot of fun. I should tell you that I would rather not be around certain situations and these are... [your triggers]. They affect me this way..." Tell her the effect, not the cause. If she cares about you and enjoys seeing you, this is what will affect her, not your Asperger's. So focus on that.

She may ask questions; don't be evasive. If it's embarrassing to explain something, tell her that you're not ready to explain yet but will later. Advise her that "this is what I look like when I have a sensory overload and here's what I'd ask for your help with." Most people have no problem with someone asking for help; you're not asking her to be your nurse but rather to partner with you to manage something.

You can do it! The big thing here is confidence and being able to face your condition. You obviously have done the second well, which should help you do the first.

5

When
When she knows you're pretty normal. So not on date #1, but after like 3-4 weeks of dating/texting (or, if you don't text much and see each other just once a week, perhaps 5-6 weeks) when she knows you're not super socially inept.

How
Bring it up when you are (reasonably) private and have some time. She will have questions, and it might be best to talk about something else afterwards to end the date on a different note. A restaurant might be a good place. Wait for a normal time to change the topic.

What to say
You could say "By the way, you should know I'm actually diagnosed with Asperger's. Thought I should tell you early, so.. :)".

She'll probably be a little surprised, and either doesn't really know what to say, or ask "how does that affect your life?" (or something similar). If she doesn't really know what to say, explain anyway. Skip the theory and give examples. Just like two main things, not an exhaustive list! If there more, even if it's important, it should probably wait for another time so long as it's not urgent.

An example of mine is: "For example, I find new situations, like going to a new school the first time, more difficult to deal with than most people because I have to learn how to act. It's not as automatic for me."

4

As an aspie myself, and late-diagnosed also, I would suggest that "soon is good" but "not too soon" — she should have her eyes open before its "too late" emotionally and you unintentionally cause harm. I don't know you, or her and so its hard to out a figure on it and lots of aspies are not too good at "spotting the moment".

She'll probably realise you're not a low-functioning spectrum member by now so I wouldn't bother clarifying that. Just be upfront about what minor accommodations are needed and what pushes your buttons. Yours don't sound too unusual or extreme to me. She may have some in her family or friends and know what to do anyway.

You may get a surprise as I did. My date turned out to be one too.

3

One of the issues often faced with telling someone about a psychological condition or disorder is that many people have at best a confusing idea of what the name (the label) of the disorder translates into actually meaning. And generally different individuals experience different degrees and expressions of related symptoms. Furthermore, a label is a generic term that's simply not personally relatable in and of itself, unless that person is already familiar with someone else who it applies to.

Disorders with names that in the vernacular mean something different than their clinical application are prone to this, as are disorders that are often the focus of lampooning or other similar treatment, which only magnify the misunderstanding that is their basis.

Personally I've always found the best approach is to start with what's going to be relevant to your interactions with the person whom you're talking to, and allow that to provide openings for further discussion on the more general topic/diagnosis.

This

  • Places the focus and context on you.
  • Makes the topic immediately relatable, because you are the actual focus of the topic, rather than a generalized concept.
  • Helps avoid confusion related to prior or different understandings that aren't applicable to your situation: people generally cling to what they already know (or think they know), and the easiest way to change knowledge is through providing experience rather than merely telling someone that something is different than their current beliefs.
  • Is a sincere show of openness and trust.
  • Invites further conversation related to you and your experiences, clearly signaling that you're open to talking about it in that way.

I still have sensory issues that can be problematic. While I don't tell everyone about my condition, I could never seriously date someone that didn't know. It is almost a guarantee that at some point while with her I will experience difficulties that I can't control because I'm autistic, and if she is aware then she'll be better able to understand and deal with the situation. To be clear, I'm fully self sufficient (job, apartment, etc...) and not looking for someone to take care of me. I just don't want to scare her the first time she sees me experience sensory overload.

Why not start here? You have a medical condition that's generally under control but can cause certain things to happen when you experience certain environments. You can offer details on that. Be open about how it makes you feel when this happens, and it's ok to be open about how you generally feel about discussing it.

Part of a good relationship is establishing trust and finding just how far those levels of trust go when you make yourself vulnerable in some ways to that person, and while telling someone you have a clinical disorder and terming it as such is certainly one way of doing so, I've always found that leading with personal experiences and then following up with the explanation of something being classified as falling under a certain clinical label leads to both less confusion while also clearly signifying that you do want to and are open to talking about this in a personal context rather than just as a label.

Labels exist to help facilitate a quick (imparted with just that label), common, presumably shared general understanding in a way that is by necessity both imprecise and impersonal. They're at their most useful when the point is, ideally, to avoid having to give an entire definition of something when just the label itself will suffice. But the point here should be about you and your potential partner and your lives and how this signifies in them, and your ability to communicate between the two of you on personal matters like this… not just a generic term.

Starting with the personal aspects of living with your condition help place the resulting conversation in the context of it being a personal discussion of you and your life and not just a general clinical label that applies to you in some way.

I've never found a specific wording or approach that necessarily makes this easier for me, but I have found that generally approaching life details like this can be helpful in turning the discussion into an honest conversation that focuses it more personally rather than trying to start off awkwardly as to whether the other person feels you are opening things to deeper discussion or not, or even defensively against either stereotypes or other misunderstandings (or worse, finding out later that the other person claimed to understand but held such misunderstandings but didn't even voice them, and they colored subsequent interaction).

This is the type of discussion that I would personally bring up sooner rather than later, if I felt like I was to a point where I could tell that it was someone who would make a good friend who I'd want to spend time with regardless of whether or not the relationship developed further romantically, once at least some more general personal topics had already been broached.

I think at the point in time where you judge from how things have been going that you'll be seeing the other person enough more for it to be good for them to be aware of your condition simply due to the outcome of symptoms of it is probably the right time.

Speaking perhaps more personally, I don't think you're hiding anything if that time does come later rather than sooner, and I also personally would feel that anyone who judgmentally considered you to have been "hiding" something simply because you have developed strong coping skills and it's not superficially apparent that you are afflicted with anything… might be someone you're better off not being in a relationship with. With that said, it's usually best to get certain details out in the open early: if you're afraid that it will affect a relationship, it's better to know sooner rather than spend too much time with someone only to find out they're more concerned with a label that's merely one of many that can be used to describe you than they are with the actual person they've been spending time with.

3

There's many good answers here, so I hope I can add something valuable :)

I'm also an aspie. I don't make it a secret, but I will rarely tell people. A couple years ago, I started dating my boyfriend. I figured it would be important for my life partner to know about (the reasons for) my behaviour. I had made myself a plan.

During the first months, I carefully polled how much he knew about autism and Asperger. If he was knowledgable, I would straight up tell him. If he knew the stereotypes, I would tell him only about my 'symptoms'. If he had no clue, I would do a combination.

I started out giving clear hints that I am not neurotypical. While I usually don't, with him I would point out what is difficult for me. I would tell him that I hate repeating sounds and wet things and that I can be very neurotic. He didn't link any of it to autism, but he understood where I needed help.

He started asking questions, like what is difficult for me and how he can help. He wanted to know to what extend I can function on my own. He has been really supportive, giving me the help I require.

This isn't part of your question, but I thought I'd include it anyway. My previous partner tried to 'fix' my autism by forcing me into uncomfortable situations repeatedly, so I would 'get used' to them. All this ended up doing was putting me in a depression. It taught me to clearly communicate my needs to my partner and that if they don't respect them, it's not a good relationship.

TL;DR: Communicate what makes you different and what you need (from her), as soon as appropriate. Don't be afraid to be different, even neurotypical people have things they can't do.

2

If the first date went well without telling her, is it possible that she just likes you for you? She may not need this information just yet.

In the days before Aspergers was as widely understood there were lots of undiagnosed people and anything that was symptomatic of Aspergers would just have been seen as a personality trait. We all improve our personality over time, even neurotypicals! Your developing yourself in order to 'fit in' as you put it is really not so different.

If there is some popular etiquette concerning this among Aspergers communities, I am not aware of it. I am speaking entirely from my own personal experience, I do know a few people with Aspergers and I think I would be happier to learn about this from anyone much later on, especially if we were getting along fine without an explanation of why they acted or spoke a certain way.

If you think you are getting along just fine and the relationship is progressing then why not hold off for a bit? See, to answer your question of "How do I tell her about being autistic and the issues that causes without jeopardizing a potential relationship?"....

Telling her early on will potentially involve much more speech, especially if she has no prior understanding of Aspergers. You will have to explain the condition and then go on to explain the sort of things she can expect from you.

Telling her later on - either at a point in your relationship that feels naturally the right time, or at a point when you feel that a particular behaviour needs an explanation - will mean she already has experienced your behaviour, she will have a frame of reference and likely understand it much better.

I don't know if this is popular opinion or what you want to hear, but I am prepared to throw this out there to try and be helpful. This is the feelings of someone who is neurotypical (although I do sometimes wonder!) and if the girl in question is the same then this may be her perspective also.

1

I'm going to buck the trend a bit with something that might be unpopular.

I think you should tell her as soon as possible. (I.e. on your next date - not right this second.)

I tend to find that the harder it is to tell someone something, the more important it is to tell them.

To examine some of the likely scenarios:

  • If you tell her now and she has a problem with it, then you'll both be upset for a while but you'll move on.
  • If you wait until you're a lot closer and she has a problem with it, then it's going to hurt a lot more for both of you.
  • If you tell her later and she's fine with it, then that's good.
  • If you tell her now and she's fine with it, then it's a weight off your shoulders and she'll be able to understand some of your behaviours better.

She might not know what aspergers is, in which case you'll have to explain it to her.

Try to keep the explanation brief and not go too far into detail, otherwise you run the risk of making it seem like the entire date was just about you having aspergers.

When you're done explaining, ask her if she has any questions and reassure her that you won't be offended, that way it's a two-way conversation and she'll fell like you're including her rather than dumping something major on her.

Getting her to ask questions is also a good way to find out what she's like. For example some of her questions might be driven by concern, which shows she's probably a caring person. If she's more concerned about if it impacts your job then it may be a hint that she's more interested in your wallet. (These are generalisations, so bear them in mind but don't rely on them alone.)

Importantly, when she doesn't have any more questions, move on to a different topic to make sure that isn't the only thing she remembers about the evening. You might want to ask her once at the end something along the lines of "So you're ok with the whole aspergers thing? I'm sorry if it was a bit of a shock." (i.e. ask her how she feels and sound reassuring).

Hopefully if she's not ok with it that will be the point where she says "Actually I don't think we should see each other again", but most likely she will just say "Yeah, it's not a problem, don't worry about it".

Try to make sure you only ask her that she's ok with it once or twice. If you keep asking she might start to worry that it is a big deal or that you're insecure and looking for someone to cling to.

1

I'm neurotypical, so I was going to suggest you could say it early or even close to first-thing. But I see some of the other answers on here and they make very good points. I'll still give my original response but with a little less naivete.

I think it depends on the type of person she is to some extent. You've just met her on the app but you've also had a first date, so I think you're in the clear as far as telling her in general. It's easiest, of course, if she is a kind, gentle person, but either way, I think you should bring it up as early as you feel like on your next date.

I wouldn't lead up to it particularly. Just like:

Hey, I want to tell you that I have Asperger's, which I only mention because I sometimes have sensory issues. I just want you to know ahead of time that if [I have to leave the room, or whatever else you do to cope], it's only because I'm a little overloaded and need to even myself out.

I mean, those are words I'd use, but something like that that feels natural to you. She'll appreciate knowing ahead of time, especially because you'll be making sure that she doesn't get confusing signals. She'll likely ask you some questions, and I'd just answer them as honestly and directly as you're comfortable with.

She may feel a little awkward, but if she does, you can say:

Please don't worry about it; it's just something I wanted you to know. Let's talk about something more interesting.

If you have something else you can bring up, start talking about that, and give her time to process it.

If she's worth dating, it'll go fine. I really hope it does.

0

The timing is also a factor to consider. i.e not just how but also when. You first want to make a connection with the person, which sounds like you have.

If it was me, I would bring it up when the right situation comes up. For example maybe you can talk about a time that once affected you because of your autism. You don't need to make it seem like a 'woe is me' story or anything, but you could mention it then.

For example, if she is telling a funny story of an awkward time she first met a person, and she's laughing about something awkward that happened, you could try to bring it in by mentioning you aswell. For example, laughing and saying "A similar thing happened to me! I have autism which makes it a bit difficult for me to [x], so when [y] happened, it was really awkward. They saw the funny side though so it was ok".

This way you're not bringing it up in a serious "listen, I have to tell you something" kind of way, its in light of the current topic, and its not the main focus of the date. If she asks further questions feel free to answer if that's what you wish, but by bringing it up at least she knows.

Hope that helps

-1

I wouldn't use the diagnosis term, because labels are for cans, as someone noted above. They just lump people together who share some symptoms, and they're NOT all alike. Instead, when you're talking about a possible future date location, you could say something like,

"I don't go to amusement parks because the noise and flashing lights really bother me."
"How about (some activity you'd enjoy that you can do together, like a hike or bike ride, or miniature golf,or..or or.) "

Be very concrete about what you have trouble with. My wife got a concussion a few years ago, and got in the habit of telling people, "Please don't take it personally, but I had a concussion and I have a terrible time remembering names." The most common reply was, "I didn't have a concussion. What's my excuse?" Relax, be nice, be yourself.

protected by Community Feb 4 '18 at 0:47

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.