Found love in a hopeless place (called 2020)

It’s the 31st of December 2020, and there’s a champagne bottle in my fridge. It’s there for a few reasons, in increasing order of importance:

  • To celebrate New Year’s Eve, because I’m always inclined to do something celebratory.
  • To celebrate the end of 2020, one of the most difficult years in recent history.
  • To celebrate my birthday, which was back in April when everyone thought lockdown was only going to be a few weeks, and a lot of people expressed sympathy for me not expecting that their own birthdays would be in lockdown too. The bottle was a present from my housemate, and I determined to save it for a special occasion.
  • To celebrate being able to legally meet my boyfriend indoors.

And last but not least:

  • To celebrate the fact that I have a boyfriend.

It has taken me a long time to work out how to write about this. I find I want to keep it short, there’s so much else going on. But setting up a blog about love and relationships when you’re autistic and then abandoning it as soon as I get into a relationship, also seems very counter-intuitive.

Even with online dating, I think meeting a person who is right for you is down to chance – I know, the second-least helpful advice in the world, only after “you need more experience”, but still. I was on the free version of Hinge that only allows you to make selections on certain parameters like distance and age.[1] It was September, I’d just finished with one of the nice men I described in my previous post, and I began to wonder if the future meant not so much finding a “Yes”, but giving up saying “No” so much. This was a pretty dismal prospect, so I was ready to pack it in and focus entirely on work and study.

One of my friends said that it sounded like I approach dating very authentically, and I guess I do, though less in the spirit of empowering, stretch-marks-in-the-selfie, #nofilter confidence and more “I don’t really know how to be a different person”. One of the questions Hinge invited me to answer was “You’re my kind of weird if”, which was very much “me”, and I put “After you watch a film you look it up to find out about the trivia and hidden meanings”.

I had one message in my inbox, that had been waiting for a week in response to my answer to this question, saying “I thought I was the only one.” I looked at his profile, I liked it, and despite my ennui I thought I’d have one more spin of the wheel and replied.

We exchanged a few messages, and then had a couple of video calls. I wasn’t sure about video calls, as I find them a little awkward even after so much practice in 2020, but now I keep recommending them. They are a good safety measure, and not just from the point of view of Covid-19; it’s very easy to turn off the call if you’re uncomfortable, and if dating and/or video calling takes a lot of energy from you, you can begin to rest immediately afterwards.

We agreed to meet in early October when Oxford was in Tier 1 (the lowest threshold of Covid-19 restrictions in the UK) and multiple households could meet indoors. The pub we’d wanted to meet at was too busy to admit us, so we walked down some Jericho backstreets to a small pub/restaurant with French cuisine. We decided to order some wine, and he said something like “You can’t go wrong with a French wine”, and told me that he’d been to France many times with his family, and worked there for a year as a teaching assistant.

There was pure luck. De la chance. I love France a whole lot. I did my undergraduate degree in English and French, I worked there for a year as a teaching assistant, and now I’m studying to be a French>English translator. Neither of us had mentioned anything about France on our profile[2], and we’d arrived at a French restaurant only because our British choice was overcrowded.

He talked about the chateaux and history of the Loire Valley, one region I’ve never been to, and so I wasn’t able to add anything, only listen. I remember actively thinking, “oh well, back to the drawing board”, which in hindsight was very doomy, as I doubt many men would select a girlfriend on the basis of her knowledge of Loire Valley chateaux (and if they did, they’d surely put it in their dating profiles). But it did mean I was pleasantly surprised on the way home, when he told me he thought I was wonderful.

That was nearly three months ago, and we have been dating ever since. Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, we spent two months meeting outdoors exclusively (it was a lot like this). Then I met up with him for a walk on Christmas Day, and he asked me to be his support bubble[3]. We will be spending New Year’s Eve together, drinking another, more sparkly, French wine.

Something I want to add is that I was honest about my lack of experience, and I don’t regret that. I know this is a source of ever-increasing shame, terror and despair for a lot of inexperienced people that makes you think you may never, ever be able to date. If you look online you will find people who say “I would never date someone who had less experience than the average 17-year-old”. But whatever self-critical and anxious thoughts you have, you can find someone online voicing them. When people say things like this, they are voluntarily letting you know you don’t belong with them, that’s all. I think that inexperience is more common than convention allows us to admit, but some advice I read that was more reassuring was, in summary: every person is different, and so even the most experienced person is beginning again when they date someone new.

Good things happen. When I was thirteen, I grew my fringe out, which mean months with my hair pushed back by a hairband, and my hair does not like to stay tidy so it was a bird’s nest a lot of the time. Then I had my school picture, which was taken when I was probably somewhere between smiling and talking, and my eyes were not looking at the camera, and as a result I had one of those ugly in-between expressions you try not to let the camera catch. Yeah. I also had braces, and spots, and I was dressed in an ill-fitting pale pink T-shirt. Thinking about that picture is sort of funny now I write it down, but as you can imagine it absolutely was not at thirteen. The picture was my self-image for a long, long time.

Three years later I was in TK-Maxx shopping for my prom dress, and I thought it would be like that T-shirt. Pink and unpretty. Instead, I found a gorgeous, sparkling blue dress. Somehow, even though the dress was available to be sold to anyone who would buy it, even though nobody jumped out to say “How dare you, that dress is for pretty girls only!”, even though such a person would be an arsehole if they did, I had accepted, subconsciously, that I couldn’t have something that wonderful. That is the best comparison to how I feel now. I have been waiting years for a chance like this, and to meet someone in the year when the world came to a halt seems such a bizarre stroke of luck that even months later it still stuns me.

I’m not saying that attention from a man has fixed my life, nor did I ever expect it to. But I wanted to know what it was like to have that kind of attention and affection from someone else, even if it didn’t last long, and I’m gratified to have a chance to find out.

I don’t need to be told that something will eventually go wrong, possibly horribly so. My mother said “You know it won’t be all fun and games”, but I’m an adult, I’m familiar with the concept. I’ve never been skydiving, but nobody would need to tell me “You know there’s a certain risk here”.

In a year of risk and fear, I feel like I won the Lottery, except I could share Lottery money with other people. I hope, at least, that someone out there enjoys reading this. I’ll be back in the new year with more thoughts and ideas, and I’d love to hear yours as well.

I’ve never meant this more sincerely – Happy New Year.

[1] That said, my friends and I have discussed how there must be some secret algorithm that knows to offer me men who like “board games” and “nature walks”, and not “the gym” and “voting for UKIP”. I only play board games occasionally, but every man I have ever dated has turned out to be a big fan.

[2] Though I did have the EU stars surrounding my face in my profile pic, which I’m pretty sure I’ve had since Article 50 was invoked.

[3] Under the UK’s coronavirus restrictions, all persons living alone are allowed to form a “bubble” with one other household, whom they are permitted to see indoors and do activities that you can only do with members at your own household, such as attend restaurants, when they are open.

Why and How I Finished with Two Perfectly Nice Men

First, I want to apologise for the lack of updates. My day job gets overwhelming from mid-August to mid-October, and I didn’t have a lot of time for personal commitments.

Through Hinge I was fortunate to have a series of dates this summer with two men who were nice, friendly, attentive and with whom I had many interests in common, including books, being neither too neat nor too messy, and surprisingly, Disney Christmas tree ornaments. However, I came to the conclusion I didn’t want to pursue a relationship.

It was one of those situations where deep down I knew what I had to do, but I needed someone or something to validate my choice. A couple of times I have heard the advice to toss a coin, with heads representing one choice and tails representing the other, and if the result you get disappoints you, that is proof that the other one is what you truly want. But in this situation, what I actually did was spend a few hours scouring the Internet for articles confirming to me that it was OK to finish with these perfectly nice men.

And there weren’t many! Instead there were a large number saying to stick it out, give him a chance, because one day you’ll be middle-aged and single and regret it.

Homer Simpson GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY


I was disappointed, so I had my answer. (And a coin toss would have been quicker)

But this is a difficult situation, so I decided to write one of the articles that I would have liked to read. I am going to talk through how I knew I wanted to finish, how I counteracted the arguments against finishing that came up in my mind and in articles, and how I did the finishing.

Disclaimer 1: This post has more of an advice tone than others. I don’t want to claim any special knowledge, it was just easier for me write to a ‘you’. I address myself in my head that way all the time. If you have different opinions or experiences, please share them in the comments!

Disclaimer 2: This is specifically about short-term dating. Ending a long-term relationship is not something I have experience with. (If you do and would like to write for the blog, please get in touch!)

How I knew I wanted to finish with them:

  1. The dates felt like effort, not free time.  
    • For example, I organised a date in the morning because I had the feeling I wanted to “get it over with”, like it was a board meeting or a jog.
  2. If a friend asked me about them, my immediate instinct was to say something negative or neutral rather than positive.
  3. I did not want them to progress our interactions romantically.
    • This is a difficult one because everyone expresses affection and love in different ways, and some of us are uncomfortable with certain forms of affection even with the people we love most. But I realised I did not want words, gifts, or physical attention from them.

Looking back on this, the flags are rather large.

Les Miserables Paris GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Arguments against finishing and how I counteracted them

  1. Physical attraction is shallow. You are one of those people who expects everyone they date to look like a model.
    • I know I am not. I have been attracted to several men over the course of my life and while I thought they were lovely, they did not look like models.
    • Physical attraction is real and it’s important. It is the difference between a date and spending time with a male friend.
    • Even if you think your standards are high, the decision to change them can only be made by you.
  2. You said you wanted a man who had x personality trait/did x thing. Here is a man who does. Why aren’t you satisfied?
    • My friend had a good response to this. Essentially, you don’t have to accept anyone who has a particular trait you want. Your desires are not something to trap you.
  3. You should keep trying with them. Attraction can build over time.
    • It would be helpful if there was an easy point at which to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to whether a person is romantically compatible with you, but I genuinely don’t think there can be; every first meeting with every individual person will be different. Internet dating is only one type of dating; a lot of people date people they’ve met through work or parties, and that’s a different situation as well.
    • Personally, in my most recent attempts at online dating I have set a deadline of three dates to make a decision. While I don’t have alexithymia like some autistic people, I know it sometimes takes me some time to know how much I did or did not enjoy an experience, and so after three dates I feel I have had a chance to account for nerves and delayed emotional response. 
  4. Good men are rare, there are so many abusive arseholes.
    • One abusive arsehole is too many. ☹ Importantly, as I mentioned above, while I wasn’t attracted to these men I did enjoy their company and I felt safe with them. If I hadn’t, I would have acted differently.
    • “He didn’t hurt me or frighten me” is a minimum standard. Even if you have had bad experiences and he seems like the last man on earth who acts like a decent human being, it is still the least he can do. He needs to make you happy.
  5. As a woman planning to have children, your priority should be, would he be a good father?
    • In both cases I thought he probably would, in fact definitely would. But so would a lot of my male friends. Should I ask them to father my children? No. I am looking for someone for me, not just my children.
  6. You will never meet anyone else.
    • Being single is better than being with the wrong person. I had to recite this to myself like a prayer at my childhood friend’s wedding recently but it’s still true.
  7. You will regret this when you are forty and alone.
    • I struggled to find the right words for this but I have them now: I hate this.
    • What if you are already over 40? Should you date anyone who pays you attention, even if you are not attracted to them? Why?

How I finished with them:

My personal view is that calling is the best way to do this. To finish with them in person, you have to pretend you want to see them for a positive reason. At least, I have not heard of anyone who invited someone out, letting them know them in advance they would finish with them. In-person is a bit frightening if you struggle to articulate your thoughts without notes, and you have to think about how you will end the interaction in a safe and comfortable way.

Conversely, texting is a bit impersonal. Of course, everyone texts differently; some people only use it for transactional messages (“Hi I’m running late” “I’m at the train station now”) while others find it easier than speaking aloud. However, many people see it as informal due to the lack of voice and body language, and so trying to have an emotional conversation over text may seem inappropriate. In my opinion phoning combines the personal touch of in-person conversations with the capacity to prepare and to easily move away from the situation that you get with texting.

All of that said, the first time I did this, it was over text. He had asked me how I thought things (as in our dating relationship) were going, and I took this as my opportunity to respond honestly.

I think the message has to come from you, but if you are looking for inspiration, this is what I said.

“Hi X. I had a nice time on [date], it was a pleasure to [do activity with you]. In terms of how things are progressing, I am sorry but my feeling is that I would like to be friends. I have enjoyed our three dates, but I did not feel I wanted to progress things romantically. I wish I felt differently, because I like you and I feel like we have similar values as well as interests, but for these same reasons, I feel it would be wrong to lie to you.”

When I finished with the next guy, I said something very similar over the phone. Both guys were very nice about it; they acknowledged things had been awkward and they understood that I wanted to be honest with them.

I’m proud of myself that I chose such nice men to go out with. I think they will each make another person very happy one day.

Some people do get hostile when they are rejected, and that’s where the ability to hang up and block comes in handy. Nonetheless, rejection is a normal part of the dating experience and most people understand that. Honesty and openness allow you and the person you date to move on to a situation where they will be happier.

If you have got to this point, thank you for reading! I would love to hear your views and experiences in the comments if you feel comfortable sharing them.

As always, the blog is open to contributors so please get in touch if you would like to share your thoughts!

Book Review: ‘Exciting Times’ by Naoise Dolan

In a reversal from my last review, of a book with an autistic main character by a neurotypical author, I am now reviewing a book by an autistic author with a main character who is not identified as autistic or neurotypical. This is the 2020 novel, Exciting Times, by Naoise Dolan.

A quick plot summary: It is the late 2010s – post Brexit but pre-pandemic. Ava, a 22-year-old recent graduate from Dublin, has moved to Hong Kong to teach English to children, because she isn’t sure what else to do. Her romantic interests are Julian, an English banker who specialises in affection via disdain and the stiff upper lip and Edith, a Hongkongese lawyer who is so beautiful and fascinating that Ava can hardly believe she keeps coming back to her.

If you’re thinking ‘It’s got to be Edith, surely’, you have identified Ava’s problem. The contrast between how Ava feels with Julian and how feels with Edith is powerful. With Julian, sex is something she does, whereas with Edith, it seems to reach who she is. Yet there are barriers holding Ava back from moving forward in her life, not entirely internal, but mainly so.

What distinguishes Exciting Times from other romantic comedies that I have read and seen, including The Rosie Project, is the absence of friends. Friends in these types of stories have the useful function of challenging the protagonist and reminding them of who they are, their core values. Ava does not have friends, not really. She is a lonely and insecure person, and this is put across in various observations that in many instances are so deadpan and so subtle that you only notice the effect of them once you have taken a step back. Part of this is the result of moving to a new country, but even in her home country Ava was solitary; she mentions, for example, that most of the time female friendship groups will chip in for a plane ticket to London if one of them needs an abortion, but having no friends, she has saved her own fund. Books written by young people in the 2010s/2020s inevitably get called ‘Millennial’ as if they are incomprehensible to older people, but what this showed to me was that the 21st century’s capacities for connection, geographical and social, don’t necessarily save you from ending up with the same experience of mediocre-to-no company endured by countless generations.

Ava seems to understand people well. She is full of extremely astute observations about them. But she has low self-esteem, which I believe explains, even if it doesn’t excuse, the behaviour some Goodreads reviewers described as “self-absorbed” and “cold”. Ava makes choices on how to interact with people based on her own instincts, which are in turn influenced by her low opinion of herself. At one point late in the novel (no spoilers) it turns out that the effect of her behaviour was the dramatic opposite of what she intended. A far too easy thing to do: I can’t imagine I am the only one who, reading that moment, reeled back and thought Oh, I remember when I did that. She struggles to find a response both appropriate and authentic. I cannot help wondering if some of the negative reviewers would have preferred a more dramatic climax – at least a bit of crying – but to me this was more identifiable.

The novel also explores the broader conflicts of identity in the Ava-Julian-Edith triangle, particularly through the metaphor of language. Ava is Irish, a woman and from a working-class background, which means she is viewed with some contempt by Julian’s friends, and to some extent by Julian himself. Yet, she is still a white, native English speaker and teacher, and her position in Hong Kong upholds the historic legacy of white supremacy and British colonialism. “If the Irish didn’t aspirate and the English did then they were right, but if we did and the English didn’t then they were still right. […] I was teaching my students the same thing about white people. If I said things one way and their live-in Filipino nanny said them another, they were meant to defer to me.” Ava does not do anything to act on her interest in social justice, beyond commenting on it internally and in conversations with Edith and Julian. I can understand why some readers would feel frustrated by this, but to me it is another manifestation of her own sense of unease. It is easy to forget on the other side of those difficult ages of 18-23 how all-consuming the process of what the author Paraic O’Donnell called in his review “self-making” is. Ava feels like she should be a writer. In a meta-way I suppose she is, since she’s narrating the novel. But every writer I’ve ever met has something inside them that they are driven to write about, and I think that, as well as friendship, is what Ava is waiting for.

This book is not for you if you are tired of novels about young people in cities having angst about their love lives with references to austerity and pretty lattes. To be fair there are a lot of these. It also has relatively little in dramatic suspense and climaxes, despite its title. But Exciting Times to me stands out for its stoic realism. A lot of life’s development happens in jobs you don’t like and are not good at, gatherings with people who are far from your friends, and lonely weekday nights with your phone. Combining this with clever lines about language and identity, and I was sold.

Getting back ‘out there’

No, this is not about lockdown. It’s about online dating.

I had a brief dating experience late last year/early this year, which, as previous entries might have indicated, did not work out. With hindsight I can tell it was wishful thinking to try to date someone who admitted that they were looking to overhaul their life as soon as possible, especially as I, in contrast, was planning on staying exactly where I was for at least the next two years. But I don’t attempt dating very often, and it just seemed illogical when enjoying someone’s company to say, “Shall we quit while we’re ahead?”.

Anyway, the point of this entry is that I’ve worked up the courage to try again. I’d say lockdown was the problem but that would be a lie. I just don’t like online dating.

These are the main reasons:


I don’t particularly like my appearance and I’m not photogenic. I have quite a small selection of photos to choose from, so small that a few of my favourites are now years old, which is a faux pas. I did it anyway.

I also just don’t like judging by pictures. I’m introverted and autistic and so it’s perhaps a bit unusual for me to prefer meeting people for the first time in person, but I really think that people are more attractive in the flesh. The wedding guest outfit is dashing but the smile is forced. The mirror selfie, its polar opposite in choice of participation and, for men, often in quantity of shirt, does not say a thousand words. And the picture sitting on a cliff edge, taken from some distance behind – even less. But when people smile, laugh and talk, you can see how beautiful they are.  

“Selling” yourself

I’m not going to say I hate writing about myself because I am literally doing that right now. But I hate any exercise where I have to list my qualities or my experiences, particularly in a template. I joined OKCupid and deleted it within about five minutes because just looking at the long empty profile exhausted me. I can’t stand job applications or performance evaluations either – it is too bad that managers do not accept 800 words of self-deprecation.


A dating profile has to show your character. It is frustrating to see a profile that simply says, “I like music” or “I’m looking for someone nice I can have fun with”. What kind of music? What kind of fun? Often, I think writing allows you to express yourself with more honesty, creativity, and intelligence, but these very things also make it excruciatingly complicated. It’s all the questions you ask yourself when talking to someone (“Can I say that? Is that too weird? Am I being arrogant? Am I being annoying?”) but with infinite time to think about them.

The standards question

Every single person (and I mean that in the sense of everyone without a partner, and possibly every person that there is) has heard that to succeed in dating you have to “lower your standards”. So how do you approach choosing people to talk to? Say someone likes your profile, or gives it a star or a wink or whatever. And their profile is not exciting, but you can’t identify any reason not to talk to them (see “I like music”, mentioned above). Knowing that every interaction is potentially going to lead to love, but also possibly to nothing in particular, what do you do? Answers in the comments please?


Over the past few years, I have been to a lot of Meetup groups and I have developed my skills of talking to new people. A lot of the time I enjoy asking someone questions about their interests. But sometimes, like exercise, it feels better to have done it rather than to do it. This is another reason why the experience is so uncomfortable online; in person, it comes to a natural end in a few minutes, as you find something deeper to talk about or something distracts you. Online, your new conversation partner is still there hours later, waiting for you to say, “Oh yes, I need coffee in the mornings too!” or “How interesting, what is your favourite book?”. I’m avoiding three conversations with perfectly nice men as I type this, because the thought of replying makes me tired.


Even taking into account that no one is an expert in dating, I know I am inexperienced. There are novels’ worth of known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Childhood bullying has left me with a dread of being manipulated or mocked, and I worry very frequently I will invite it upon myself because I missed the signals. Also, women in general are frequently taught to, and expected to, put up with things we don’t like because that’s just how things are. Naoise Dolan, a queer autistic author whose book I am currently reading and hope to review for this blog, described this wonderfully in a recent tweet:

Really this says in 49 words what I’ve been trying to say in nearly 1000. Which is not to say I am done on this topic.

And yet…

People do not find me, I have to find them, especially in this time of coronavirus when parties and Meetup groups can no longer exist online. I chose to join Hinge, because I heard it set you up with friends of your friends which I liked because my friends are excellent people with excellent taste. It actually doesn’t, but it is very easy to set up, it took me less than an hour.

It has questions you can answer on your profile, and one of them is ‘You’re my kind of weird if you…’. I get the impression this is where you write something cute and eccentric like “You sing Les Misérables in the shower”, and not something like “You have eaten cheese sandwiches most Sunday nights for as long as you can remember”. In the end I went light weird, and said I look up the reviews and trivia of every fictional thing I consume. Will this work? I will report back.

And if you have made it to the end of this entry, I want to hear from you! Please leave a comment, and if you are interested in contributing your experiences to this blog, please get in touch! You can also find me on Twitter at @smallscaletweet.

Book Review: ‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion

Fiction is one of the ultimate tools of empathy. Through it we find compassion and understanding, as we live through situations we might otherwise never have encountered. My last two blog posts have made it quite obvious how important fiction is to me personally. As such I always have some reservations about how autism will be represented in fiction, because I know how important it is. When I came across The Rosie Project, a romantic comedy starring an autistic man, I avoided it (though I did look at the blurb of it and its sequels furtively, as if expecting some embarrassing thing to jump out at me). But ever since the first time I was scared of a book[1] I have not been able to live with my own cowardice for long. I borrowed the audiobook.

Short review: I did not dislike it. I was pleasantly surprised.

Don, the hero of The Rosie Project, has not been diagnosed with Asperger’s, but the first chapter makes it very apparent that he has autistic traits. He is 39 and a genetics professor in Melbourne, Australia. Inspired by psychological research methodologies, he devises a questionnaire to find his perfect wife. It is through this project that he meets Rosie, a barmaid. Rosie does not meet the criteria of the questionnaire but she and Don get on well, particularly when she tells him she is looking for her biological father, who, her mother says, was one of the men in her graduating class. With access to DNA testing equipment, Don is just the person to help Rosie find her answer.

So the fun begins. The book is very tightly plotted; no scene feels too long, too short, under- or over-written, or out of place. It has a lot of farcical comedy based on wacky situations getting out of control, and so I don’t recommend it if you get second-hand embarrassment easily. I personally did have to pause the book a couple of times.

Don does represent more than a few stereotypes of autism. He is a white male scientist with a very ritualised existence, similarly to Sheldon Cooper and Christopher Boone[2]. He also has a genius level memory and seemingly poor awareness of others’ thoughts and feelings, particularly those of women. I would completely understand any autistic reader who found this frustrating and aggravating. However, I think we are in the early stages of our canon and for a lot of people even this stereotype is a type of person they have not tried to empathise with before, and as I will detail below, I think there are several positive aspects to the story. My argument would be that we just need even more autistic representation. I hope to create some myself one day.

The novel also does touch on some aspects of autistic experience that I had not seen in fiction before. As I mentioned above, Don has not been diagnosed with Asperger’s. I’m not familiar with the Australian context, but if it’s like the UK, it’s not unusual for someone of his age to be undiagnosed. However, he does briefly mention that he has been diagnosed with several mental illnesses, and his time in psychiatric care was traumatic. It would be inappropriate for a comedy novel to dwell on this, but I know that experiences like Don’s have happened and keep happening to autistic people, especially as mental health services continue to be poorly funded and there is little recognition of our needs in the healthcare context. It was satisfying to see this addressed in a novel, and hopefully gave some readers pause for thought.

Another part that I found moving was where Don appears to have broken his relationship with someone important to him. His psychologist friend Claudia says something like “Don’t worry, someone else will come along”, and Don thinks something along the lines of “That’s how it goes for normal people, not people like me”.  Whether it’s lack of luck or lack of skill, love has never been something that just “comes along” for me, either. I feel the loss of each chance very sharply, as I know I can’t tell when or if it will happen again.  

I could make many more points about this novel, but I am already at 800 words, so I will just add one more: I liked that Don and Rosie had fun together. As I mentioned in my first blog post, I did not feel at ease with the first people I dated. It was probably more about me than them, but that doesn’t make the point less important. When you have grown up with a sense that you don’t belong, and you are used to being ill at ease pretty much all the time, this can make you put your instincts aside and push yourself to accept something you shouldn’t. At the same time, it is often necessary to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, because things often do not find you. It’s complicated and impossible to get right. But the whole point of these messy enterprises called love, sex and relationships is that they must feel safe, and ultimately like they suit the person you really are, and not who you think you should be.

[1] My Mother is Weird, by Rachna Gilmore. Something about the illustrations made me afraid even to look at it. I was seven at the time. Probably an important bit of context.

[2] Strictly speaking, Christopher is too young to be a professional scientist, but he’s very much on his way to being one. I have a certain affection for Curious Incident, as the author did work with autistic kids local to me as part of his research, and, in contrast to The Big Bang Theory, the book doesn’t pretend not to be about autism. [CORRECTION: So I was pretty misinformed here. Curious Incident has never been strictly about autism, only interpreted that way by the public. That is really disappointing. However I still think it opened a massive national conversation about autism in the UK, and the theatre adaptation is particularly moving and well-made. I am convinced that the reason The Big Bang Theory writers do not call Sheldon’s neurotype by its name is because then they would have to admit they were making fun of autistic people, and not just a vague “people we find awkward and annoying”.

In Regards to Love: Special Interests

I am writing this to the soundtrack of Yuri On Ice, a romantic sports anime that stole the Internet’s heart, and mine, when it arrived in winter 2016. The year of horrible news had reached a new pinnacle with Trump’s election, and a positive, low-stakes love story with just the right depth of plot and character was the medicine I needed. Now it’s another wild year, and while I’m in a much better place mentally than I was in late 2016, still, a few nights ago after another day of lockdown I thought, I need a new special interest.

I often see people ask why special interests cannot be treated with the same respect as hobbies or research interests. There is undeniably a lot of overlap between the three: a special interest can be emotionally fulfilling and lead you to new skills, like a hobby, and it can drive you to accumulate massive amounts of knowledge, like a research interest. One interest – let’s say robotics, or the study of a language or a particular type of animal – could easily become all three. I also think that people and their interests deserve respect anyway, even if the interest does not meet certain judgement criteria from external observers.

And yet, as someone with a collection of hobbies and a collection of special interests, I believe they are still different things. A hobby feels good, but a special interest feels electric.

Looking back, it is hard to define whether you found it, or it found you. It might have happened at first sight or built up over time. All you know is that one day you were engaging with the thing, and you were filled with a feeling that was simultaneously energising and comforting. Some private list you keep, of things that are important and special to you, was suddenly being ticked off. It’s not just beautiful, it’s your beautiful. Oh wow.

I don’t know the neurochemistry of it, and I think words like ‘obsession’ are stigmatising, but special interests have an intensity which is difficult to repress. You may commit hours and hours of your time to it, including at times when you probably shouldn’t; when Yuri on Ice was released, I remember seeing a Tumblr post along the lines of “Please brain I’m begging you, I have to stop thinking about Yuri on Ice now, I have to work”.[1] Talking about it is a way of discharging that energy, and so even when you know the neurotypicals around you are annoyed and would rather talk about something else (Car parking! Haircuts!), despite your best efforts you can’t stop entirely.

There is a loneliness in this. The invention of the Internet has been a miracle for us in so many ways, and one of them is the way it allows you to find endless opportunities to explore your interest with like-minded people.[2] The Internet’s increased portability also makes it easier than ever to check in with bae quickly when you are busy or apart and find a spot of release on a bad day, of which many of us have many.

Did I just call it bae? That is a bit of a reach, especially for someone who does not have a bae (a significant other, to translate). But I think there are parallels. Some special interests are brief flames. I once spent two days fixated on the early days of the Roman Empire. Then I woke up after those two days and I was back to nothing stronger than a fondness for Shakespeare’s Roman plays and the work of Mary Beard. A brief flicker when I went to visit Rome, but no more since. Other interests stay with you for years of your life, growing and changing as your world does. Others will ebb and flow. I don’t spend hours looking at Yuri on Ice stuff anymore, but I have yet to find any situation or emotional state to which Stammi Vicino, a signature song in the soundtrack, does not add an aura of meaning and poignancy.

The intensity of a special interest, while lonely, has such a beauty to it, that I am grateful to lived with them in a way I am not for my regular hobbies like yoga and cooking. I hope that if I make it to old age, I will have a long history of special interests to look back on with deep affection. Someone will say to me, “Julius Caesar!” and I will be transported back to being 21, late at night in Warwick Library Tiffany STOP reading about Octavius you have a deadline

Life goes on. I’m writing in a place of anticipation for my next journey. Like they say, perhaps it will come when I don’t expect it. 

[1] It was not mine. I would say if it was, honestly.

[2] I once had a special interest in a book with no fandom whatsoever. It was all I could do to read the reviews, which were unfulfilling. In the end I wrote a fanfic.

‘The Great Gatsby’, Truth, Lies, and Disappointment

I recently re-read The Great Gatsby for the first time since I was seventeen or so, and my timing was accidental but impeccable. The book’s narrator Nick Carraway turns 30 during the novel, and I am about to do so myself in two hours and 20 minutes. But that’s all coincidence; what I was really inspired to write about was dreams, and disappointment.

Both the novel and the character of Gatsby have a reputation as the essence of party, and while I knew that the point, clear as neon lights, is that this all is a façade, it still surprised me that Gatsby is awkward, almost from his first appearance. He talks to Nick for some time before they come to realise he hasn’t introduced himself – at his own party. Nick, an astute and cynical observer, describes him thus.

“Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.”

We all experience the routine of choosing particular words for particular people as part of moving through the world. But there are situations where your focus narrows just as if your conversation was a pivotal scene in a novel. For example, when you are autistic, when you are trying to attract someone important, and especially when you are trying to do both. It is objectively absurd to enter conversation asking yourself “Who do I want them to think I am?”, and hope that this person first does not notice this fakery, and second, somehow still likes you how you truly want to be liked. But I at least have done this before and will do it again.

The Great Gatsby has a reputation for being over-analysed, so let’s assume for a moment that Daisy, the object of the eponymous Gatsby’s adoration in the novel, is not the American Dream or money or anything but another human being, and that Gatsby is another. One of the high points of the novel is the scene where Gatsby introduces Daisy to his extravagant home and possessions, all of which he has built up in the hope of attracting her. Now think for a moment of objects that are broadly considered valuable and impressive. Mansions. Swimming pools. Champagne. Luxurious food. Antiques, maybe. How many more would you list, until you got to…shirts?

I found the scene where Gatsby shows Daisy his enormous collection of shirts to be one of the most human scenes between them, precisely because, as lovely as they might be[1], shirts are not generally impressive. But Gatsby clearly likes them a lot, and so does Daisy, for she cries “stormily […] “‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”” To love a person, in Gatsby’s book, is simultaneously to wish to be an awe-inspiring, legendary version of yourself, but also to hope they like fancy shirts as much as you do.

Even long before the conclusion of the novel, which I’m not going to describe because of spoilers, our narrator Nick can see where this is going:

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. […] No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Few of us will go as far as Gatsby does for Daisy, but to me what he feels about her is, at its core, relatable. Having a romantic dream of another person is about so much more than them. When you experience disappointment, what you’re letting go of is not just that person but also who you wanted to be with them; that legendary version of yourself.[2] It is so powerful a thing that it would almost be helpful if you did not need them to sustain it, but once they go the dream must go with them. That phrase, “his ghostly heart”, seem to suggest that a man can dream himself out of your own body, but eventually he must return to it.  

I don’t know if it’s Asperger’s that makes me a very pragmatic thinker or just my personality and background, but I believe there can be no promises out of disappointment. You don’t know if you will ever meet someone who inspires you that much again, or if you should. You can go through the famous bargaining stage of “What if I had…” “What if I said…”, but nobody is going to give you the answer to your questions. I found The Great Gatsby more moving now than I did as a teenager, as I have come to know what an enemy I am to myself, before, during and after my ideas.

The only thing that can be done about disappointment, is not to let it stop you. In the next decade of my life I look forward to being free from dreams.

“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning– So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

[1] I am currently wearing an excellent shirt myself. It is red and fancy and it fits me beautifully, AND I got it brand new from a charity shop.

[2] Another aspect of it is the hope of fulfilling that societal pressure to be partnered, but we don’t need two posts in a row about that.

Being “self-partnered”

When British Vogue asked Emma Watson about her relationship status ahead of her upcoming 30th birthday, she described herself as “self-partnered”[i]. The term sparked a furore on social media, with hundreds of people asking why she couldn’t just use the word “single” and scorning her for being…well, let’s talk about who she is.

Emma Watson is an actor, a model, a Brown University graduate, and a UN ambassador. I have to admit to a personal admiration for her. I am also a feminist, I love literature (including Harry Potter) and it’ll be my 30th birthday nine days after hers. I am also self-partnered.

I’m not an actor, though. I have two occupations, one of which is studying an MA in Translation. One of the first things I learned when I first started studying translation, before I started the MA, was that even if two words are classified as synonyms, they don’t, in practice, mean the same thing. They have different connotations, and different associations. “Amiable” and “charming” both mean “an attractive manner”, but “Prince Amiable” just doesn’t sound romantic.

I don’t think Emma Watson was just looking for a novel way to say “single”. “Self-partnered”, as I interpret it, does not exactly mean what “single” means – that you don’t have a romantic partner. It means that you are your own partner; that you look after yourself as another partner would. You are the person beside you on your journey through life. You are the person who knows you best. You are the person you turn to when you are tired, insecure, or sad. I think this will be familiar to many of us on the autistic spectrum. From our earliest childhoods, we find ourselves at an inexplicable distance from other people. I remember being totally disorientated when I found that words and gestures that made people laugh in one context somehow made them angry when I used them in another. And there are things neurotypical people don’t see and feel that autistic people do, things we can’t ignore – the textures of clothes on our bodies, the hum of computers, the touch of a brush on our hair.

This isn’t intended to be a summary description of how it feels to be autistic; that needs novels, not paragraphs. If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person: each of us has a unique lifetime’s worth of influences on how we perceive ourselves and others. To give another perspective, my good friend Paul Isaacs has blogged[ii] about how his perception of self and other throughout his life, and how autism, borderline personality disorder and other conditions have influenced his physical and psychological being.

The “aut” in “autism” is the same “same” in “autobiography” and “auto-pilot”, and suffice to say, when you are autistic, you have to be an ally to yourself.    

[TW: self-criticism talk]

My self is not a good ally to me (Let’s call her “she”). I have a lot of rules to maintain my self-confidence day to day and whenever I break them, which is often, she calls me hurtful words, like “freak”. When I question this, she reminds me of the many times I have been excluded and put down, as proof that I don’t even realise how weird I am. I don’t want to marry her, like the solo weddings organised by Cerca Travel, Japan[iii]. Some days I wouldn’t even give her a piece of cake after work, though I might wish someone else would.

Even so, I can’t leave her. I’ll be spending Valentine’s Day with her. No one will sweep into my life like a rom-com hero and even if they did, I still couldn’t forget about her. I want to make things work with her, because at the end of the day she’s everything to me.

“Self-partnered” is an empowering term in a world where even when you are a beautiful, talented actor and UN ambassador, society is waiting with a “Yes, but…what about your relationship status?”. These attitudes make it really hard to talk about being single actually feels like; if we are sad or angry we get pity, if we are happy it is assumed we must be sad and angry really – just look at the comments on this solo wedding article[iv]. It is difficult enough to build your self-esteem without an inner (or outer voice) telling you “That’s right, you are worthless”.

This isn’t an advice blog. I’m not going to tell you how to fix that inner voice because I’m still figuring that out for myself, and I’ve never been able to do the “what would someone else do in your situation” thing because, well, other people are not me.

But I know that sometimes it is very hard to keep being there for yourself when the world is overwhelming, especially when you and your self have been through a lot, and for a long time. And admitting this doesn’t say anything about how happy or sad, successful or unsuccessful your life is. Our relationships with ourselves – in other words, our lives, are more powerful and more precious than any word or phrase can describe.

This Valentine’s Day, be a good partner to yourself.

I am going to give myself that cake.  

[i] Emma Watson: “I’m Very Happy Being Single. I Call It Being Self-Partnered”. Available at: (Accessed: Feb 13, 2020)

[ii] Isaacs, P. (2014) ‘Autism, Mirroring and The “Sense Of Self”’, Paul Isaacs’ Blog, -12-01T07:57:27+00:00. Available at: (Accessed: Feb 13, 2020).

[iii] Kaneko, M. (2014) ‘Single, sad? Solo weddings pamper both wives and unmarried ladies’, The Japan Times Online, Dec 25, (Accessed: Feb 13, 2020)

[iv] Harris, N. (2016) “Everything but the groom: why I faked my own wedding”, The Guardian, March 5, (Accessed: Feb 13, 2020)

Why I started this blog

First things first: This blog is not just about me.

This blog is about being autistic, and how that interacts with experiences of love, romance, sex, relationships, sexuality, gender and many other things in those fields that we are yet to uncover. It is my hope that this blog will host stories from many people, from many backgrounds with many different experiences. However, somebody had to start it off, so here I am.

My name is Tiffany. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (saying that because that was the term in use in the late 90s) when I was eight. I am a cisgender woman and probably heterosexual.

My experience of romance is possibly more than some people’s but certainly less than a lot of people’s at my stage in life. I did not date anyone at all until I took up online dating in my mid-twenties, and that did not work out well. I went on five or six dates with one man over a few months, and though it was nice, and safe, it was physically and emotionally draining in a way I have rarely experienced before or since. I’ll write more about that sometime, but not today.  Then, three years later, I had one date which was again perfectly nice, but very draining, and I neither texted him back, nor did he text me. That didn’t disappoint me – it was clearly for the best – but I didn’t know what to do next.

This enduring lack of experience, combined with the fact I didn’t feel able to do more about it, combined with how tired it made me, combined with the good old patriarchy chestnut that a woman is worthless if a man doesn’t find her attractive, and the good old social assumption that everyone can find romance if they just try…all of this has been an oppressive weight on my shoulders for about fifteen years.

So why blog about it now?

I went into 2019 with a determination to improve my life. I applied for a Master’s (and got on it) and started making a bit more of an effort to meet somebody. Apps and so on. And I had a date which felt different: it was positive. When it was all over, I did not even want to cover myself in blankets and play distracting video games like a convalescent. But I had questions, as you do, and I went on Google, as you do, and I searched for something like “dating advice autism”.

The results were by and large a bitter disappointment. Most websites were not by or for autistic people, only about us – not just for our neurotypical partners, but for our parents, for professionals, and, most depressing of all, the curious general public.

Here is a quote that particularly set me off. Look away if you don’t want to get angry:

“The woman [with Asperger’s] social immaturity may be appealing to those men who have natural paternal and compassionate qualities.”[1]

The thought that there was no hope for me but that a man might pity me enough to accept me as a wife/daughter hybrid was extremely upsetting, and I spent most of the rest of the evening and the following day in a fog of despair and rage.

Much of the “advice” on offer was also heterocentric and ciscentric. The assumption was that autistic men act like so, and autistic women act like so, and both want a relationship with the opposite sex. This can be explained by regular homophobia and cissexism, whereby cisgender heterosexuals forget that LGBTQ people exist, but I felt there was an ableist element to it as well. Like sexuality and gender identity was not something you as an autistic person discovered within yourself, but only wanted to imitate from other people, like “Oh bless her! She wants a partner! She must have seen that on TV!”. 

We know that these assumptions are emphatically wrong. Though both autism and LGBTQ experiences have historically been under-researched and misunderstood, research has indicated that a higher proportion of autistic people are not heterosexual, and not cisgender, than corresponding proportions in the neurotypical population[2],[3],[4]. I point this out to emphasise how very ridiculous it is to assume that all autistic people are straight and cis, but even if the proportion of LGBTQ people on the autistic spectrum were the same as for the neurotypical population, or smaller, it would be no less important for autistic LGBTQ people to have a voice.

That’s why I wanted to start this blog. Sexuality, gender, love and relationships are huge parts of our lives and the social expectations around them are immense. They can cause us extraordinary pain, but, at other times, can be sources of joy, creativity, self-expression and of course, wonderful connections with other people. Humanity has written millions of words about the experience of these things and is still not done yet, and I know for sure that not enough of those words have been about what happens when you have to deal with these things while autistic.

I shared the idea for this blog with friends in the Oxford Autism Experience Group, of which I was a member until it folded due to lack of funding in early 2020. Their support has given me the confidence to take the step of setting up this blog.

I don’t want this blog to be about me. I want it to be about us. About you. Maybe you have struggled to make any sexual or romantic connections in your life. Maybe you’re married. Maybe you’ve had a few partners in your life. Maybe you have a few partners now.

Whoever you are and wherever you’re at, I hope you also feel supported and listened to when you read this blog. Let’s start telling our stories.

[1] Moreno, S., Wheeler, M. and Parkinson, K. (2012). The partner’s guide to Asperger Syndrome. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, p.13.

[2] George, R. and Stokes, M.A. (2018) ‘Sexual Orientation in Autism Spectrum Disorder’, Autism Research, 11(1), pp. 133-141. doi: 10.1002/aur.1892.

[3] van der Miesen, Anna I. R., Cohen-Kettenis, P. and de Vries, Annelou L. C. (2018) ‘Is There a Link Between Gender Dysphoria and Autism Spectrum Disorder?’, Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 57(11), pp. 884-885. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2018.04.022.

[4] Van Der Miesen, Anna I. R., Hurley, H. and De Vries, Annelou L. C. (2016) ‘Gender dysphoria and autism spectrum disorder: A narrative review’, International Review of Psychiatry, 28(1), pp. 70-80. doi: 10.3109/09540261.2015.1111199.

Why ‘Love Autistic’?

Four reasons:

Love (when you’re) Autistic: Love, as experienced when you are autistic. Our definition of ‘love’ here is very very broad – we do want to talk about love, but also about sex, and sexuality, and gender, and friendship and self-care and a lot of things under that umbrella. But the blog’s inspiration came from the special mystery that is finding love, so “love” is the title.

Love (an) Autistic (person): Do you love an autistic person? Are you autistic yourself? If so, we would love to hear your joint story. Note: that does not mean it has to be jointly written – we just want to make sure where possible that people’s experiences are not publicised without their consent.

If you are NT (neurotypical, in this context meaning not autistic) you are welcome too. However please note this blog has been started to counteract a plethora of hurtful and patronizing narratives from NTs about their autistic partners, family and patients. For this reason, on this blog, we prioritise the autistic experience, and so we would only want to hear about your experience of a relationship with an autistic person with that person’s consent, and in a context that gives them respect and dignity even if the story is not a happy one.

Love Autistic (stories): We love stories of autism experience, please share them.

Love Autistic (people): We are autistic people writing for autistic people. We know that the topics this blog aspires to cover are very hard to talk about at the best of times, and we are not in the best of times. We are in a sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and ableist world, with pressure and aggravation from many directions. But in this place you are free to be yourself, and we hope you will feel loved.