Should you date a guy with Asperger syndrome?
In no way am I suggesting that one should avoid having a relationship with an Asperger's man. However, if you are in the early stages of a relationship with one (or are contemplating getting into one), then you need to know a few things ahead of time.
Unconventional people have always existed, but Asperger's isn't always recognized as a possible cause of odd behavior in adults. Even though Asperger's is on the high end of the autism spectrum, it can be mild (causing only somewhat curious behavior) or severe (causing almost complete inability to function in society without some assistance).
Adult "Aspies" (similar to children with the disorder) have trouble deciphering the normal rules of society, which impacts their home, work and social lives. They often have high intellectual functioning – but diminished social abilities (e.g., they may use peculiar speech and language, seem egocentric, lack the ability to read non-verbal cues, lack social skills, have limited or unusual interests, follow repetitive routines, appear clumsy, etc.).
Some of the things you can expect to see from a man with Asperger's may include the following:
1. He usually prefers a structured life with well-defined routines. He may become agitated or upset when these routines are broken. For example, if he normally eats breakfast at 8 a.m., he may become agitated when asked to eat at an earlier time. However, unlike a person with classic autism, the Aspie will probably be able to keep his frustration in check.
2. The Asperger's individual may be reluctant to initiate conversation and require prodding to talk to you at all, especially if he is already engaged in a favored activity when you try to initiate conversation.
3. Because a man with Asperger's typically struggles to understand emotions in others, he misses subtle cues (e.g., facial expression, eye contact, body language, etc.). As a result, he may appear aloof, selfish or uncaring. He may simply lack the social or empathetic skills to effectively manage romantic relationships.
4. Because he tends to be a literal thinker, the Aspie may have trouble understanding social metaphors, teasing or irony.
5. He may be unable to think in abstract ways. He may be inflexible in his thinking, unable to imagine a different outcome to a given situation than the one he perceives. This rigid thinking pattern makes predicting outcomes of situations difficult. He may develop strict lifestyle routines - and experience anxiety and distress if that routine is disrupted. To avoid such disruption, he may keep extensive written to-do lists or keep a mental checklist of his plans.
6. The Aspie may have difficulty interacting in social groups (e.g., he may choose inappropriate topics to discuss in a group setting or find making small talk difficult or even annoying).
7. The individual may demonstrate unusual non-verbal communication (e.g., lack of eye contact, limited facial expressions, awkward body posturing, etc.). He may speak in a voice that is monotonous or flat, and may engage in one-sided conversations without regard to whether anyone is actually listening.
8. He may have obsessive tendencies that manifest in many different ways (e.g., insisting all of his books be lined up in a certain order on the shelf, or that the clothes in his closet are categorized by color, style or season). Obsession with categories and patterns is a common symptom of the disorder.
9. The man's focus on just one or two areas of special interest often leads to a lack of interest in alternate topics and the unwillingness to listen when his partner is speaking. Such poor communication skills can lead to problems in relationships. The Aspie may talk incessantly about topics that others have no interest in. His thought patterns may be scattered and difficult to follow and never come to a point. Speech patterns may have a strange cadence or lack the proper inflections. And, he may have difficulty understanding humor and may take what's said too literally.
10. Unlike an adult with classic autism, a person with Asperger's wants to fit in with others. However, social and work-related difficulties can cause anxiety, anger, low self-esteem, obsessive compulsive behaviors, and depression. He may feel disconnected and distant from the rest of the world.
11. While an Asperger's man often has above-average intelligence, he may process information more slowly than normal, making it difficult to participate in discussions or activities that require quick thinking. He may have trouble with organization and seeing the "big picture," often focusing on one aspect of a project or task. Also, he may be rigid and inflexible, making transitions of any type highly difficult.
12. Other symptoms of Asperger's include:
- outstanding memory
- inability to understand other perspectives
- inability to empathize
- highly focused in specific fields of interest often to the exclusion of other pursuits
- great musical ability
- follows strict routines
- difficulty regulating emotions
- difficulty managing appropriate social conduct
- black and white thinking
- appears overly concerned with his own agenda
- a tendency to be "in his own little world"
Again, this is not an attempt to discourage anyone from developing a relationship with an Asperger's man. And it should be noted that, while this article focuses on the areas of potential problems for man-woman relationships, there are many more positives associated with the disorder than negative. Below are just a few examples.
Many men with Asperger's also demonstrate the following characteristics:
- work hard
- will not go along with the crowd if they know that something is wrong
- respect authority
- prefer talking about significant things that will enhance their knowledge-base rather than “shooting the bullshit”
- perfectly capable of entertaining themselves
- notice fine details that others miss
- not inclined to steal
- not bullies, con artists, or social manipulators
- have no interest in harming others
- gentle and somewhat passive
- exceptional memories
- enjoy their own company and can spend time alone
- don’t take advantage of other’s weaknesses
- don’t play head games
- don’t discriminate against anyone based on race, gender, age, etc.
- child-like innocence
- amazingly loyal friends
- adhere unvaryingly to routines
- accepting of others
- able forgive others
Unfortunately, in counseling couples affected by Asperger's, I've discovered that in some cases, all the positive traits in the world do not make up for the Asperger's man's (a) difficulty in understanding his lady's emotions and (b) lack of displayed affection. If those two things are missing, it's usually a huge disappointment (and sometimes a deal-breaker) for his lady, regardless of all the assets associated with the disorder.