He Said-She Said: Socializing and Asperger's Syndrome
- 2010 22 Jul
EDITOR'S NOTE: Each He Said-She Said column features a question from a Crosswalk.com reader with responses from a male and female point of view. If you've got a question about anything related to singleness, please click here to submit (selected questions will be posted anonymously).
QUESTION: I have made some attempts to date, and by date I mean build a close relationship with the opposite sex—even if it is just a friendship. The problem is that I have Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. It makes it hard to meet many people. When I do meet someone interesting, it's usually in a group. I feel expected to get to know a woman in a group before I ask her out. Asperger's makes it impossible to socialize in groups. That's probably the biggest reason I'm not really close friends with any women. I also have difficulties asking women out. I have never really gotten a yes. How do I work around my disorder to build close, opposite-sex relationships?
HE SAID: I appreciate the sincerity of your question and, although I have had no direct experience with Asperger's Syndrome, nor know the severity of your condition, I will share some thoughts that will hopefully help you in your relationships.
Asperger's Syndrome, from what I understand, affects social interaction (especially reciprocating and empathizing with the feelings of others), non-verbal communication (eye contact and awareness of body language), behavior patterns (causing repetitive body movements), and may encourage preoccupation with a certain item or subject (one-sided conversations).
Responsiveness, empathy, eye contact, body language, and listening are fundamental in any relationship, especially when you are trying to show interest in (and impress) someone new whom you would like to date. These are difficult yet crucial obstacles to overcome whether you have a diagnosed condition like yourself or just struggle with them personally, which many people do.
I would suggest trying to form close friendships with some of the guys in whatever situation you are in, if you haven't already. Although guys can be pretty "competitive" when it comes to dating women, especially in a group setting, it would be advantageous to have a couple of people who know you, your heart, your desire, your condition and whom you trust.
David had Jonathan, Moses had Aaron, and Maverick had Goose. We all need that "wingman"—someone who is looking out for our best interests (above their own at times), someone who encourages us and builds us up when we're down, a close friend who will stand by and speak the truth to us.
If a guy flies "solo" in a group speaking primarily to women, the tendency is to think the person is only out to find a date. Even though that may be your primary intention, it is always a good idea to get to know others (both guys and girls) because "you just never know" how God may use them in your life or you in theirs.
When you have your wingman in place, together approach a couple of women who you may be interested in getting to know and suggest going out or meeting sometime, like a group or double date in a sense. The whole symbolism of an "alone date" sometimes freaks people out. It carries with it so many different ideas, questions of what it represents, what it's leading to and what it means.
Small group dates can be a lot more fun, a lot less stress, and an opportunity for you to not have to be on the spot and carry the whole evening. Your "get-together" doesn't have to be some formal, structured "date." It can be a very casual, informal thing where you can all just get to know each other and not be specifically singled out with one person or the other. It would take pressure off of you and off of them. Also, having a good friend nearby who knows you can help out with the conversation if you seem to be struggling.
When you do have the opportunity to socialize, do take your time, be honest and share with them who you are, but try to focus on her—listen to what she has to say and ask questions of her. Sometimes we can get so excited about wanting to share something (and put our best foot forward), we stop listening. Use the opportunity to work on communicating and feeling comfortable in that kind of a situation.
If things seem to be going along well, ask to get together again. There's no need to rush into a "formal" dating relationship. If things don't click, don't take it personally; she may not be the right fit for you. Just go out and try again. Dating can be difficult even for the most skilled, experienced "dater." Don't put too much pressure or yourself and don't beat yourself up about it.
The most important thing on a date (for me) is to be real and to get to know the other person—warts and all. I don't want to go through months of dating a gifted "actress" only to find out she isn't the person I thought she was.
Be yourself. Be who God made YOU to be. Enjoy the experience.
SHE SAID: As I've contemplated your question, I have tried to put myself in your shoes. What social situations make for awkward moments for me when I don't know what to do or in what types of circumstances have I found myself having a hard time connecting with others?
Now, even though I am a highly social person (and pretty much know no stranger), there are times when I am not completely comfortable and I feel like an introvert in an extrovert's body. An example would be at a party where I know no one and feel alone—even in a crowded room full of people! So, I can share with you in feeling intimidated or lost, if you will, in a group setting such as this.
Over the years, even if I didn't know anyone else attending I would just go to gatherings like these by myself and decided I could just make new friends on the fly. Sometimes that approach has worked, but more often than not I have found myself doing all of the heavy lifting when it comes to breaking into groups where everyone already knows everyone. It can be exhausting, as I feel like I must "tap dance" and put on a show in order to get people to notice me, open up and talk with me.
More often than not, though, I've found that people just don't want to have to adjust when there is a "new member" trying to enter the group or when an "outsider" is trying to make connection with them. They've got their friends, and they don't want to have to get out of their comfort zones to connect with someone new. Again, that's just my experience.
But, that being said, as I've gotten older I feel like I've made some healthy choices and changes for myself—one being that I no longer go alone to parties where I don't know anyone. I realized something important: I don't have to. (I know … rocket science, huh?)
Instead, if I really want to go, then I take a wingman (a friend, basically). The wingman is my security blanket for the evening or for the duration of the party or event. If I get tired of putting myself out there, trying to meet people and getting them to converse with me, then I have my wingman who will be my companion so that I won't feel lonely and will have someone to pal around with.
So how do I translate my experience to you, to your condition and to your predicament? Well, since I am not schooled in or very knowledgeable of Asperger's Syndrome, I would first direct you toward a support group or to someone (a counselor or other qualified professional) who can help you with ongoing tips or techniques that you might learn and utilize to help you in socializing in groups. This might go a long way in helping you to watch for cues and be on the lookout for expressions or behaviors (to help you gauge the social temperature in a room or reactions or emotions) when you are in a group situation.
But then I would suggest that you, too, find a wingman. Is there a guy friend of yours who would be willing to stay by your side and perhaps be a buffer (or help subtly direct conversations with women) in group settings? Is he emotionally stable and is he spiritually mature? Is he someone you trust? He might be able to give you feedback when observing your interactions with women or be the one who helps you to build a bridge (conversationally) with you and someone who interests you.
Once you have engaged a woman in conversation (and your wingman has witnessed this), go back to the "club house" (so to speak) and come up with your game plan. Was your wingman able to tell if a woman was interested in you? Was she attentive? Did she ask questions to try and get to know you better? Did she linger? (Meaning, did she hang around you for longer than just a "flyby" or a "hi" and "bye"?)
If he detects that there was interest on her part, the next step might be a personal e-mail or phone call from you to her. Perhaps you could suggest going out on a short double date for lunch or dessert and coffee (keep it brief at first, so that you can get used to this type of an outing). Your group would only total four people: you, your female interest, your wingman and his date.
This smaller group might help you feel more comfortable in relating to a woman and getting to know her better (in person, as opposed to communicating only via e-mail or phone). Also, perhaps your wingman could let his date know of the situation. Then, they would both be careful not to monopolize the conversation during your date, so that you and your interest would have more time to interact and see if there is something worth pursuing further between the two of you.
Bottom line, as believers we are here to (and are instructed to) help, serve and love one another. So tap into your pool of guy friends and see who you trust and would be willing to help you out and shepherd you through this process (Romans 12:10, Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:10). Perhaps this will be the right step toward building a close, opposite-sex relationship that you desire.
(P.S. Cliff and I know it's a little bizarre that our answers are so alike this time around. That being said—and as a reminder—we write our responses independently of one another and don't see the other's response until we've completed our own.)
HE is … Cliff Young, a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades. He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.
SHE is … Laura MacCorkle, Senior Editor at Crosswalk.com. She loves God, her family and her friends. Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who's counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one.
DISCLAIMER: We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. We're just average folk who understand what it's like to live the solo life in the 21st century. We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life's questions, and it's where we'll go for guidance when responding to your questions. Also, it's important to note that we write our answers separately (we think they sound eerily similar sometimes, too!).
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**This column first published on July 22, 2010.