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. 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, 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. 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.
 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.
 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.
 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.