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Jackie Schuld Art Therapy Blog

Is Dating Worth it as an Autistic Adult?

I originally didn’t like the show “Extraordinary Attorney Woo.” It is a South Korean fictional tv series about an autistic woman who is an attorney. I was put off by the show within the first episode because of the portrayal of autism. The show primarily focused on the character’s somewhat stereotypical external autistic coping behaviors. This has been done over and over again in tv shows and movies (you can watch my YouTube talk show episode on this here). I’m tired of it and I don’t want to waste my time with more of it.

However, after two of my autistic clients encouraged me to watch the show, I decided it was worth watching a few more episodes. I’m glad I did, because I’ve been impressed with how the show approaches unique challenges and questions about autism. It causes the viewer to think about complex issues on a deep level - something I wasn’t expecting from this show.

After I had a particularly challenging experience with someone I’ve been romantically interested in, I found myself turning to the show for comfort. I deeply identify with Attorney Woo’s confusion about the world and strong desire to not hurt anyone. [Spoiler alert] In the show, Attorney Woo begins dating someone at the law firm, but later breaks up with them because she doesn’t feel she can be a good partner to them. She is concerned about how she will make them feel.

Autistic Art Therapist Jackie Schuld shares a sketch of multiple people
"The Many Parts of Me and Dating" Sketch by Jackie Schuld

This feels deeply relatable. Now that I know I’m autistic, I have a different lens with which to review my past relationships and understand my role in why some were difficult (for the record, I do not attribute all of the problems to me).

I’ve also been single for the past 2.5 years. This stretch of time has allowed me to get to know my autistic self fully and design a life that works well for me. I feel the most balanced and happy that I’ve ever been.

And yet, I know there are certain aspects of life I’m missing out on by not having a partner. I’m aware of the benefits and challenges I’m not experiencing.

As I’ve stepped into the dating world, my hope is that my newfound knowledge about being autistic could help me to genuinely connect with someone and avoid the pitfalls.

I’ve found it to be far more difficult in practice. I know most people, neurodivergent or neurotypical, find dating to be difficult. I think I find it especially difficult now because I’m trying to leave old masking behaviors behind and be my full self. It’s a new way of doing things and it takes practice in the high-stress state of dating. Furthermore, I’m not always successful at it.

To add to this, I now understand my unique way of being and challenges so well that I am concerned about what it will be like for someone else to be my partner. Similar to Attorney Woo, I don’t want to harm anyone or make their life difficult simply because I am different. How will my moments of overwhelm impact them? Will my unique needs mean I won’t necessarily be able to attend to their needs? Will they be slowed down and have a less full life because of me? Will they get frustrated by my ways of being?

Will I be able to articulate my unique way of being?

Given these concerns, it’s hard to discern if all of the effort of dating is worth it. Many times I think I’d just like to float about in my happy single life. If someone plops in, great, but why work so hard for it?

Our American culture would scream, “Love is always worth it! Love is all that matters.” But it isn’t all that matters. That harmful myth implies that anyone without romantic love has a life that is less significant.

I know our culture also likes us to stay on the positive - to always figure things out and hope for the best. I think this kind of black and white thinking can be deeply harmful. I try to help my clients break free from it, and so I am also trying to break free from it in my writing.

To say that it’s ok if we don’t know. It’s okay if things are unclear. If there are things we are unsure about - like love or dating. We don’t have to have all the answers - for ourselves or for autistics in general.

So I’m here to say, I don’t know if dating is worth it or not. And it’s ok I don’t know.


Post Script: I wrote this essay earlier this year. I am now in a committed partnership - for this person, dating was and continues to be worth it. This deserves a full future essay, so I'll just leave it at that.


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