“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting.”
e e cummings, poet
7 dating tips for and by neurodiverse people
Here are 7 tips and techniques used and recommended by my neurodiverse clients. This includes clinically and self-diagnosed people.
I, for one, am fucking sick of dating articles that, covertly or overtly, encourage neurodiverse people to conform to neurotypical ways of dating, aren’t you?
In contrast, this article contains shared wisdom from neurodiverse people for other neurodiverse people. Of course, not all forms of neurodiversity express themselves the same way and someone’s neurotype doesn’t operate in a vacuum separate from the rest of their identity, body, or sexuality.
So I invite you to take what you find helpful and leave the rest. This article focuses more specifically on dating with Rejection Sensitivity Disorder (RSD).
1. Consider taking sex off the table
WTAF?! Yup, let’s start with a biggie. This might seem really radical to you, but many of my neurodivergent clients love sensual intimacy but don’t enjoy sex. If you feel a sense of relief reading this, maybe that’s true for you too?
This can be because it involves too many sensory experiences, it’s too out of control, or involves sticky body fluids. Some enjoy non-penetrative sex but not genital penetration, either giving or receiving.
If this is you, whatever type of sex you do or don’t want to have is valid and you don’t have to include any type of sex in your relationship if you don’t want to. It doesn’t mean you’re broken, wrong, need therapy or fixing.
Remember, sex and intimacy are based on consent and are therefore entirely your choice, regardless of social expectations. Intimacy is a buffet and only you get to choose what goes on your dating plate!
2. Know your sensory sensitivities
You are the expert on you and you know what exhausts and overwhelms you. This article will help you explore, understand, and talk about your sensory sensitivities in relation to sex.
Therefore, you know what activities or experiences use the most spoons and are likely to send you into meltdown, shut down, and situational mutism.
Find some time on your own to think about how you respond to smells, tastes, touch, and visual input. What levels of stimulation do you enjoy and what do you endure? How do you regulate the sensory input you receive? If you want to understand this aspect of yourself more, try this article.
For example, having more than one source of sound within earshot, such as two TVs in different channels, is exhausting for me. For other people, it’s synthetic light or smells. This is often cumulative and by the end of the day, something relatively small can make you overwhelmed and unreceptive to a loved one.
Do you know your own sensitivities? Do you share these with someone when you’re dating? If not, how are they supposed to know what does and doesn’t work for you?
I invite you to be generous with sharing what you need. For example, if you have no energy in the evenings, ask to go on dates during the day instead. It can even be as simple as, “yes, I’d love to go to the pub and if you see me looking stressed or if the sounds and smells get too much, I’ll need to leave quickly, is that ok?”
3. Take up more emotional space
Did the thoughts of asking someone to respect your sensory sensitivities make you recoil in horror? If so, don’t worry, this point might be especially helpful to you.
Raise your hand if you were an “overly sensitive” child? You felt all the feels, right? Contrary to popular opinion, Rain Man was not the Tin Man (and most of us aren’t savants, but I digress…).
While a lot of neurodivergent people are super sensitive, they can struggle with interoception (understanding and regulating the feelings and sensations in the body). There is research both for and against this.
To me, this suggests that many neurodiverse people experience their feelings and emotions in significantly different ways than neurotypicals (well duh!). Most importantly, we may be more likely to be internally flooded by our intense emotions and find it harder to put this experience into words.
If this is you, I invite you to give yourself as much time and space to process your emotions as you need (we’re talking days not minutes). If in doubt, expand your emotional real estate and take up more space. When dating, explain that you may need longer to process experiences and emotions. If you experience intrusive thoughts and wonder if you might have relationship OCD, try this article.
4. Evaluate your Love Languages
The idea of love languages is how you like to be loved and how you show love to partner(s). You can take the quiz here.
As many neurodiverse folks experience life as a series of overlapping sensations, which can be very difficult to put into words, the idea of a love language can simplify things.
That said, neurodivergent people often have other ways of showing love and affection, info-dumping and “parallel play” being common ones. You may find that your dominant love language isn’t a language at all. That is 100% ok and still worth knowing.
The invitation here is to research what ways you like to be loved. Take your quiz results and then evaluate them. Then make a list of things for and against your dominant love language. Acknowledge all the ways you don’t fit these boxes and talk to your potential partners about these differences.
The quiz is a fun and easy way to bring up relationship needs when you’re dating.
5. Use tools that work
If you are someone who struggles to find the right words, especially in emotional situations, then rely on research.
There are set phrases that you can learn to make communicating with your significant other(s) a million times easier, based on decades of psychological research.
A classic and one I teach all the time is:
I feel…..when you…..and I would prefer…..
For example, I feel overwhelmed when you ask me a bunch of questions all at the same time. I would prefer you to ask me one question at a time.
Or, I feel abandoned and uninteresting when you walk out of the room when I’m still talking. I would prefer you to tell me you need a break before you leave.
At first, this can feel clunky or unnatural, but trust me, it works. Another benefit is that you can prepare these sentences in advance. Lastly, it’s a million times better than not saying anything at all, isn’t it?
I invite you to think of it as trying a new recipe. Use what’s guaranteed to work until you can replicate it without looking.
6. Allow yourself to want something different
How open are you to allowing yourself to be attracted to different sorts of people? Some neurodivergent people can get very stuck in their ways (and personal rules and regulations). This can prevent them from dating someone who could be a brilliant partner but doesn’t match their expectations. Could this be you?
For example, have you heard of the term “neuroqueer” (which I personally prefer to autigender)? I’ve written an article about what neuroqueer means and how it relates to gender, sexualty, and sex called Am I neuroqueer?.
Many of my clients who are neurodiverse are also gender and relationship diverse too. For example, in a recent study only 57% of autistic Dutch women sampled identified as heterosexual, compared to the national average of 83%.
If you’re not sure, I want to reassure you that it is valid to explore these parts of yourself at any age. You can try anything you want as a consenting adult! You may find there are specific words that match your unique experience of gender, dating preferences, love, attraction, and identity. This is a great place to start that exploration.
Also, there’s nothing wrong with having a phase of intense self-examination and findings lots of labels that work or almost work, and then maturing further and finding other or fewer terms that work better for you.
To be clear, I’m not saying everyone on the spectrum is queer. I am inviting you to be more open about what you really feel rather than who society tells you you should date.
7. Get help from people like you
There is no shame in getting help with dating, any more than taking driving lessons or having someone help you write a CV. And why not get help from someone who really gets you?
Neurodivergent women and non-binary people are especially at risk of being abused or taken advantage of in relationships. If you feel you might be being abused in a relationship, on any level, please get help as soon as possible. If you’re not sure, trust yourself and seek support. Truly better to be safe than sorry.
For general dating, there are now some autie and aspie dating apps and websites such as Hiki, but not many. If you know of any others, especially in the UK, please tell me!
Personally, if I’d had to explain how I work to a therapist before we’d even got to my issues, I’d know they’re not the person for me. You’ve almost certainly spent enough of your life feeling misunderstood and over-explaining yourself already.
In summary, you deserve to receive appropriate support from people who get you. Dating as a neurodivergent person doesn’t have to be daunting and stressful.