Have you ever seen the 1951 animated Disney film Alice in Wonderland? It’s my favorite Disney movie; according to my mother, I used to quote it all of the time as a kid, and wore out the VHS tape from so many repeat watches. One moment I relate to now, as an adult, is when Alice admits to herself that she always gives herself “very good advice… But I very seldom follow it.” I know how you feel, Alice. I have, at this point, acquired something of a reputation as a go-to person when it comes to topics related to romance, sex, and dating for autistic people.
The fact that I was offered this position at The Jewish Week stands testament to that! But I am also quite bad at taking my own advice when it comes to dating. I’m fairly consistent when it comes to following my own rules around consent and anything to do with respecting my own physical boundaries and other people’s. But when it comes to my personal sage wisdom on the topic of actually dating, especially the early stages which involve a lot of awkward uncertainty, I tend to freeze up, even when I know better.
I’ve advised countless autistic friends of mine who have come to me asking for help plucking up the courage to ask that special somebody out, and each time, I’ve given the exact same advice that I can barely bring myself to follow: “Don’t worry about the endless possible outcomes, just focus on that moment, there and then. If you’re in the moment, it’ll make it easier to deal with, regardless of what happens.”
I can’t speak for all other autistic people, but I have a fairly active brain and what you might call a high-octane imagination. This is, for the most part, one of my greatest strengths, it allows me to happily dive into writing and other creative projects with passion and enthusiasm. However, what can generate positively directed artistic drive can also fuel paranoia about the endless possibilities of outcomes of any given actions. This doesn’t just apply to dating. I’ve had many moments where I was incapable of taking action on anything from homework to going to a concert until I silenced the chorus of “what if” in my head.
I imagine many other individuals who are sensitive and imaginative can fall victim to this as well. It’s especially likely when dealing with something as absolutely uncertain as social or romantic situations! There are times when I feel like I’m an improv performer who wandered into a scripted play, and must think of many different scenarios at once in order to “fit the script” and not stumble over my interactions with others.
But if you focus too much on adhering to a script you haven’t even read yet, then there’s a good chance that you are missing out on some of the more fun and rewarding possibilities out there. So I am thinking over how to silence the negative, self-critical, or doomsday-oriented voice in my head and remember to focus on the moment I am ready to ask somebody I really like out. There’s a lot that you can focus on when talking with a crush, other than the possibility of them rejecting you: How nice they look today, how their face glows when they smile, their posture. You don’t have to draw anything from these observations, just let them exist as they are, right then and there. There’s no need to go the Freudian or Holmesian route and figure out the likelihood of an acceptance or rejection based on their body language or facial expressions.
I’m so proud of being able to come up with this advice that I plan on staying good to the premise of this column and applying it to my life. The next time I see him, I’m going to be asking my crush if he’d fancy seeing a movie or grabbing a cup of coffee this weekend after our final exams. I won’t be focusing on whether he’ll accept or reject, if he’ll embarrass me or I’ll embarrass him or what I’ll say to my readership if I end up writing another column about autism and the single life next week. I’ll just enjoy the chance to ask someone I’m very fond of to spend time with me and get to know him better.
Leah Jane Grantham is a full-time student and part-time advocate at the University of Victoria, or a full-time advocate and a part-time student, depending on how you look at it. She’s passionate about issues related to autism, self-expression, feminism, disability rights, art, philosophy, and history. When she’s not studying or advocating, Leah enjoys painting, writing poetry, reading, and blogging. Her personal blog can be found at www.quixoticautistic.wordpress.com