Hi Doc, whenever I’m out and see someone that I like, the three man things that come to my head are:
1. “She probably been asked out by many guys, better not bother her like the others”
2. “She is just being nice and I’ll just make it weird, better not bother her”.
3. “I read that it’s unacceptable to ask someone out in this location, better not bother her”
I unfortunately have Aspergers Syndrome and never been in a relationship or had sex. Not that it makes me less of a person but I often feel undesirable which would be understandable due to my ASD. It never bothered until last year, I don’t know why. To be honest if there was a pill or a procedure that would get rid of my desire to be in a relationship/have sex I would take it instantly (unless they had a cure for autism of course).
I often read experiences as well as hear the women in my life say that they often get a lot of unwanted attention when in public which is understandable. I’m not scared of rejection, I’m scared of creeping someone out because people have called me that a lot when I was younger with my weird quirks. I tried online dating and made an effort with the profile, even showed my male and female friends but have little success. I would stop but I feel like it’s the only ethical way to date because at least most people are there with the purpose of hooking up or to get to a long term relationship.
I don’t want to date my friends because whenever I become friends with a woman, I immediately lose attraction and see them more as a sister and it seems weird and desperate to ask if they have single friends.
Work is off the table since I will be working in management and would be unethical and wrong to date coworkers. On top of that all my hobbies are solo/male dominated and wouldn’t feel right asking a woman out in those environments because they likely had many annoying guys approach them.
Fortunately I have improved and can talk to anyone platonically, over the years I managed to completely change my personality through a trial and error process so can (for lack of a better term) appear normal and act like a functional human being. I am doing well professionally and academically so I’m not completely defective.
I know that this sounds like one of those asking for permission to give up posts but I looked statistics that showed that ASD men are more likely to remain single and never be in a relationship (can’t remember source but it was from an official autism organization). Worst case scenario it’s not the end of the world if I never experience a relationship or have sex, I’ll keep trying but if I can change my personality then surely I can find ways to cope with this. I acknowledge that I am not entitled nor deserve a relationship/sex and it’s not on women to alleviate my insecurities that are insignificant in comparison to their daily experiences of harassment.
Thanks in advance,
Defective Homo Sapiens.
There’s a lot to parse here, DHS, but let’s put this one right up at the top: you’re not defective and you should stop describing yourself that way. Immediately.
To start with, this is a classic case of nominative determinism. You’re assigning yourself a label that doesn’t describe you or define you, but it does describe how you feel about yourself. The magicians of old were right: names have power, and what we name ourselves has the most power of all. The way you talk about yourself, the way you describe yourself, even the things you tell others about yourself… all of these things affect how you see yourself and how you see yourself changes how you see the world and interact with it. When you label yourself as “defective”, you’re telling yourself — and the world — that there’s something wrong with you, something broken at your very core and that’s unfixable by definition. You’d be a great person… except you’re “defective”.
This is very much in the same vein as people who make joke-y jokes at their own expense; occasional self-depreicating jokes are one thing but it takes very little before those go from being jokes to just describing yourself. Our brains tend to start to believe things we hear over and over again, and that includes the things we tell ourselves. You can only make so many comments about being a worthless piece of shit before you start believing it about yourself. To paraphrase Vonnegut (badly): we become the things we describe ourselves as, and so we must be careful how we describe ourselves.
Second most of all: being autistic doesn’t make you defective, it doesn’t make you broken, it doesn’t make you lesser and it doesn’t make you weird or creepy. Your brain works differently from other people’s and you may struggle with things that other folks seem to understand or grasp intuitively… but that doesn’t make you broken or defective, it just makes you different. Different isn’t bad, it’s just different; it makes you uniquely you. Normal isn’t the norm; it’s just the most common. Does being neurodivergent mean you’re going to have challenges other people don’t? Yes. It may — not will, but may — make it more challenging to date than it would if you were neurotypical… but a challenge is very different than impossible.
Now, you say that you’ve learned how to appear neurotypical to others — a process known as masking. For a lot of folks this can be a mixed blessing; while this can make it easier to function socially in a world that can be hostile to neurodivergent folks, many autistic folks find that masking is emotionally and mentally draining and it increases anxiety and stress. I think part of the problem, in your case, is that this may have reinforced your feeling that being autistic is defective or a condition that needs to be cured. It’s not, and believing that about yourself is a far greater problem than actually being autistic.
However, I want to point something out: if you’ve learned how to mask yourself like this, it demonstrates that you can learn other skills. Not, mind you, ones that hide or disguise that you’re autistic but ones that will help you navigate sex, dating and romance as an autistic person. Case in point: let’s look at the way your jerkbrain promotes your own anxiety with meeting women.
The examples you mention all seem to be in the context of a cold approach — that is, approaching someone that you have no personal or social connection to. So, a stranger waiting for the bus, for example, or walking down the street as she runs her errands. Like I’ve said before: that’s not how most people meet their partners. Most people meet their partners through shared activities and interests, through mutual friends and dating apps.
This is why it’s not desperate or weird to ask your friends for help. There’s nothing weird with saying “hey, I’m single and looking and dating apps are such a trashfire. If you happen to know someone who you think I’d click with, I’d love to meet them.” In fact, I’m willing to bet a lot of your friends would cheerfully help you out if they can. The only reason why people think it’s weird or desperate is because people have a self-limiting belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and it’s not. Nobody — not neurotypical folks or neurodivirgent folks — can reasonably expect to get what they need if they don’t ask for it. Hoping people will instinctively notice and volunteer their help unprompted just means that you end up waiting a long time.
Which is part of where the overemphasis on cold approaches becomes a serious drawback. While cold approaching is a valuable skill to cultivate and has applications beyond trying to get dates or get laid, people put far too much emphasis on its importance. Cold approaches tend to work best in context-sensitive conditions; that is, in places where it’s considered the norm to approach strangers, especially with an eye towards sex or dating. You (the general you, not you specifically, DHS) would have better luck cold-approaching someone at a single’s bar or a networking event specifically for people looking to meet folks to date.
However, there is an incredibly underrated skill that is related to cold approaches, and one that you could cultivate: simply talking to people. Starting conversations and seeing where they go. If you look around, you’ll find there’re opportunities to start brief conversations all the time. My favorite example is making small talk with folks standing around with you when you’re waiting for your coffee at Starbucks or Peet’s or your local coffeeshop. Making a general observation or comment will often prompt someone else to reply; respond to what they say and boom, you’re having a conversation. This doesn’t need to be long or involved, and that’s ok; it’s just an opportunity to practice getting comfortable talking to folks. Sitting at the counter at a restaurant or bar and making chit chat with the folks around you is another opportunity to practice talking to strangers. It’s low investment on everyone’s part; nobody is expecting this to mean anything or to lead anywhere, and if folks aren’t interested in talking… well, it’s no big deal, either. It takes more to weird folks out than you’d think, especially if you accept their disinterest with good grace. It isn’t even terribly embarrassing; you’re not going to see them again so hey, no harm, no foul.
But if things go well and you and the people you’re talking with hit it off, then hey, bonus! You take a moment and say “oh hey, I’m being rude; hi my name is…” and introduce yourself. You may have made a new friend — and if so, you can always ask if they want to connect on social media or invite them to connect with you — or you may have just had a good conversation with someone. And like the sage said: a conversation with a fascinating stranger is one of life’s great pleasures.
Developing this skill will serve you well in life on many levels; it will help you become more fluent in social signals and reading the scene, it will help you feel less awkward and uncomfortable in social situations and it’ll remind you that you’re an interesting and fun person. That will help you build your confidence and help you remember that being autistic doesn’t mean you’re weird or broken or defective. And building your confidence will help you learn that you don’t need to apologize for being who you are or acting like it makes you “off” somehow. You’re autistic, yes, and you live in a world that is unfriendly, even hostile to autistic people. But rather than trying to pretend you’re not autistic, it’s better to work with it and around it, so that you can understand and be understood. Being more confident, for example, will help empower you to actually ask for what you need. If, for example, you’re unsure about what someone means, it’s better for you to ask for clarification than to try to puzzle it out and hope you get it right. Likewise, you will feel more empowered to ask friends and partners to communicate with you in the way that you can understand.
That confidence will also go a long way towards helping you meet and date awesome women. Rather than suffering under blanket anxieties of creeping people out, you’ll feel better about just talking to folks without an agenda beyond getting to know them and seeing if they’re cool or not. After all, you don’t know anything about them except that you find them attractive. And while that’s great… that’s all you know. Just because they’re cute doesn’t mean they’re a good person or that they’re even your type. For all you know, their idea of fun is trolling people on Twitch or playing mailbox baseball or something. Talking to people and finding people interesting means that you put the focus on determining whether they’re right for you, rather than focusing all of your energy on worrying whether you’re “good enough” for some stranger you may never see again.
By that same token, this approach will help ease your worries about whether someone has been hit on by tons of guys. You’re not hitting on them; you’re just interested in meeting cool people. A lot of the folks you meet at your meetups or events, for example, aren’t there to find dates… but most of them are open to making new friends and talk to cool people. If you’re just enjoying the conversation for its own sake and you have no agenda, then it’s that much easier for you and them to be relaxed and authentic, to vibe and have a good time talking. If the conversation goes well and you think you’ve caught a vibe, you can say “hey, I’ve really been enjoying talking to you; would you be interested in grabbing a coffee next week?” If they aren’t, then all you have to do is say “Cool, no problem,” and continue to chat with them like you were before. In that case, you’re not some rando hitting on them like a creep. You’re someone who asked them out on a low stakes, low-investment date and took “no thank you” with grace and continued to be a good guy who’s fun to talk to.
Because here’s the thing: the randos who creep women out aren’t you. They’re guys who aren’t interested in her as a person; they’re shotgunning their interest and hoping something hits somewhere and she happened to be convenient. Their actions and behaviors indicate that she’s an object before she’s a person, and her personhood is often contingent on her returning their interest. A guy who isn’t cruising around like a horny shark, who is polite and a fun conversationalist is a very different beast.
So my advice for you is to reframe your situation. Start with changing how you describe yourself. You’re not broken, you’re not defective and you’re not inherently weird, creepy or what-have-you, and defining yourself like that only works against you. That definition of brokenness infects everything else. It’s why you believe that your interest in other people is an imposition, it’s why you believe that you’re doomed to singledom and it’s why you believe your wanting love and a relationship is something you need to eliminate. You’re different than the majority, sure… but different isn’t bad. It’s just different. You have challenges, yes, but again: challenges aren’t the same thing as impossible. And you’ve proven that you can take on and overcome other challenges already. The problem is that I think you may have taken on the wrong challenges or in the wrong way.
So instead of believing you’re broken, recognize you’re different and unique. Shift your emphasis from cold approaches to being comfortable talking to folks and being someone people like to talk to. That will go much further and have benefits in your entire life — professional, social and, yes, romantic.
You’ve got this, NON-defective Homo Sapiens
All will be well.
Long-time reader, first-time writer. I have the privilege of teaching improv comedy for a living. My students are all adults. Sometimes I get a vibe that a student might be interested in me, and sometimes I find a student attractive. I’ve always been wary of pursuing anything with a student as I’m aware there’s a power-dynamic, even though we’re all adults and the subject matter requires playful teaching. Also, I don’t want to complicate a happy client relationship.
However, these classes also tend to be an intense bonding experience, and with being a parent it’s not like I have tons of time for other activities where I can meet people.
So my question is this: at what point would it be alright to express personal interest in a student, and how? After the class is over?
Making It Up As I Go Along
Alright, MIUIGA, this one’s tricky.
The idea of power dynamics and power differentials is one that gets thorny very quickly, in part because… well, the definitions and ideas about how they change and influence relationships gets twisted up very quickly. One of the biggest reasons why power dynamics can cause problems is when they can be used to manipulate or pressure people into doing things they don’t want to do. A teacher, for example, often has direct influence over their student’s future; they could use the promise of better grades (or the threat of poor ones) as a way of pushing a student into a sexual relationship. Even if it’s not overt, the dynamic is still there; the student could feel the need to do things they might not otherwise consent to because they feel like refusing might negatively affect their grades, even if their teacher didn’t say anything.
Similarly, part of the reason why we have age of consent laws is to prevent unscrupulous people from trading on the inexperience or immaturity of minors. Even when the relationship is seemingly consensual or based on mutual attraction, a lot of people in their teens don’t have the maturity to be an equal partner or have the experience to be able to judge whether a particular relationship is good or bad for them. Nor, for that matter, are they as likely to be able to advocate for themselves, maintain necessary boundaries in the face of pressure from their partner or other be able to extricate themselves from the relationship. The case of Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau is a great example of how this can play out. For all that people make it out to be that Fualaau was “lucky” and how they were “in love” this is a story of a woman who continually pushed herself into a 13 year old boy’s life, who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer and who would ignore restraining orders and demand that he let her see him. That’s the sort of pressure that a 13 year old is very susceptible to, and unlikely to be able to push back against.
Now in the case of a teacher and student in an improv class… well, that’s a little different. To start with, as you said: everyone’s an adult and presumably fully capable of standing up for themselves and agreeing to do things even though it might be a bad idea. On top of that, most improv classes aren’t exactly a graded experience. One rarely “fails” an improv class, nor does one need a passing grade to advance or further their academic career.
However, a lot of improv classes are part of a series; you have to take level 1 to take level 2 and so on. Plus, many are often tied to specific troupes; classes with The Groundlings or the Upright Citizens Brigade, for example, are often taken with an eye towards hopefully graduating to becoming a member of the troupe. This is especially true for groups like UCB, which are often a launching pad to a career in comedy and show business. So in those cases, there is a distinct level of power or influence that comes into play; the teachers there do have a direct influence on what may or may not happen in the student’s future.
(And while yes, relationships happen and people in the scene will use sex or the offer of sex in hopes of influencing others — teachers and students alike — the potential for squickiness is high.)
But power dynamics aren’t the only consideration here. You may not teaching classes that’re seen as being the first step in getting cast on Saturday Night Live, there’s the simple issue of comfort. Even if these are classes that a person is taking on a lark or because they want to sharpen their social skills, the teacher flirting with them or hitting on them has the potential to make things feel awkward and uncomfortable. They didn’t sign up to find a partner or to get laid, they signed up because they want to learn improv. And there’s also the matter of the improv scene being relatively small and insular; if word gets around that one of the teachers was hitting on the students, that can negatively affect the classes and the program, even if it’s otherwise on the up and up.
There are other complicating factors as well. As you said, the fact that it can be an intense experience, which means feelings might feel stronger or deeper than they actually are. That can make a minor crush or passing attraction feel much more than it is… only to have it deflate when the experience is over. So while that’s not necessarily an ethical complication, it is something to keep in mind. Part of the reason why so many actors and celebrities hook up while working together and break up soon after the project is done is because of that amplification effect. And that effect can also make it a little trickier to judge mutual interest; it runs the risk of being dickful thinking on steroids.
So with all of this in mind, my general opinion is that this runs a little too close to functionally sticking your dick in a beehive. Whatever rewards you’re likely to find are drastically counterbalanced by, y’know, getting the shit stung out of your dick. If this were something that you were to actually pursue, I think your best option would be to let your student make the first move after the class is over and you’re no longer their teacher. While this may well mean that a student who’s interested won’t make a move for fear of being turned down, at the very least it keeps the current status quo and doesn’t negatively affect the class, your reputation or any client relationships.