Do we fall in love differently/feel attracted differently?

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orbweaver
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23 Jul 2022, 11:34 pm

This is something that I've felt for much of my life; as if the way in which I have crushes, feel attracted, and or fall in love, is somehow different from what's expected in NT World.

I am in a good relationship now and have been for years (with someone who is ND, but not autistic - he has ADHD). Before this, in my teen years/early 20s, I had numerous attempts at relationships with NTs, and then a couple of really weird codependent, enmeshed, engulfing relationships with other autistics. What came up for me in my attempts at relationships with NTs was that the way I loved was, basically, wrong (and part of my period of high masking was about trying to learn to feel attraction/horniness/infatuation/romantic love in a way that was more socially acceptable to NTs, and trying to date NTs after a couple of really messed up relationships with other autistics.) And even in my attempts to *hide* that I experienced these feelings the way I did, some kind of... "vibe" still came across to people, so no amount of doing "The Rules" really helped me with anything except allowing me to preserve my dignity. I still scared people off, and it's like I totally unmask when I'm attracted to someone. What's more is that the feelings were generally intense and intrusive and disruptive of just about anything I was trying to do, like hold a job. In fact, I've never started a new relationship while holding a job.

This comes up again for me despite its low relevance to my present day life (in a happy monogamous relationship) for two reasons:

1) It would go a long ways toward helping me understand myself and relate how my autism connects to my life, especially coming out of years of being in denial about being autistic;

2) I am writing a novel about an autistic character and wondering if she experiences the same thing and or if it's common among other autistics. I find myself dredging up old experiences I haven't thought about in a long time in trying to portray this character's journey through her teens and twenties.

I had an active dating life as a teen, but there was something about how I acted/responded with NTs I was with, that tended to put them off - and put off some of the more "sensitive" types of autistics as well, the energy was too intense for them (and they sensed it more than NTs did) and made them respond like a snail eye being touched.

In fact it became more problematic further into adulthood and one reason I became obsessed with books like The Rules was to try to mask these aspects of my autism, but it proved impossible. The only thing that really helped was that the edge came off just a little by my 40s. It doesn't matter that I learned to not "behave" intensely (even though it involved intense amounts of masking in the beginning, or just... largely just meeting people online and spending long periods talking to them, so that I'm not catnipped by their physical presence too soon). It's like... they always picked up on it.

I wonder if this is specific to autistic sexuality and it's something anyone else relates to? I feel like my responses, turn ons, and sexual experiences are actually demonized in the mainstream and nobody really talks about it. I'm lucky to be in a relationship where I can be myself, but sometimes I wonder how I even got here.

***

Basically, whenever I've been attracted to anyone, it's never been purely physical, and it's like - when I feel attraction in the moment with someone new, I go nonverbal. It is INTENSE for me, and transcendent. I'm completely overwhelmed with feeling in the moment, it's like being heavily intoxicated and it overwhelms my senses, even my ability to move. And when I'm feeling it, all I want to do in the moment is sit and feel it, and stim on that feeling. All I am aware of, when I am feeling that feeling, is feeling it. It blots out everything else. I'm not even aware of what the person is saying to me, sometimes. I CANNOT hold a conversation when that feeling is present.

I learned to recognize at some point that I am not "in love" just because I'm feeling this thing, I just feel crushes/attraction/etc unusually intensely, but that's not enough for most people who experience the other side of it. They always feel like I'm going to devour their soul and if I was masking my way into a relationship (which I did when I was young) then it's when this feeling hit, that the mask would likely drop, and the person would be surprised that this vivacious person was suddenly quiet and deeply withdrawn and clumsy and weird-acting. I am wondering what other autistic behaviors might have come out because I don't know how I am seen by others. But basically if I am feeling this feeling, then others I'm with experience me as quiet, intense, and weird.

What I have come to realize is that I think most people don't feel this feeling when they're attracted to somebody, it's not as powerfully and overwhelmingly intense for them as it is for me. I have swooned, I struggle with control over my body sometimes if I'm experiencing powerful emotions, I had an orgasm just from someone putting their hand on my sternum once, etc.

It's very black and white for me: either I'm completely repulsed by touch or I'm deeply and powerfully sensitized to it. Nothing in between.

I also have had a problem with limerence in the past.

For a long time, I thought this was how most people were attracted to people, especially given the romantic narratives in 19th and 20th century novels (but not so much 21st century ones). But apparently it's not, and the intensity for me (even though I learned not to act like a stalker) has scared off every partner I've ever been with except for the person I'm with. Not even just NTs, it's been especially bad for the autistics I was with. It was too much for them, it was common for them to shut off and withdraw.

Another thing that happens for me is that I go totally nonverbal during sex, and it took a long time for me to learn to really give and take feedback to and from my partner. All in all I've found that having a good relationship in which there is the time, love, and patience to work all this stuff out, has helped me a lot. The reason I find myself thinking about all of this again is because of reflecting on my autism but also writing my character and using my own experiences to help create her.

FWIW my ex was sure I was BPD because of my history of really intense crushes, but... I don't "split." I never hate them... I just get over the crushes usually, and I usually just double down on my interests and projects. As of my 30s I came to find the crushes to be a bit of an intrusive drag, especially since I knew that these feelings did not actually lead anywhere, that I did not feel romantic attraction like "normal" people and didn't want to subject anyone to this thing again. During the last crush (before I got with my partner) I actually went on an SSRI med to try to numb the feeling a bit/take the edge off, and maybe it's the placebo effect, but it worked.

Somehow I managed to get into the relationship I'm in, though I did have to wear a heart monitor because the feelings were so intense that they scared me/I thought I was having heart problems, lol. But I think that it has gotten a bit better as I have gotten older.


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klanka
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24 Jul 2022, 4:33 am

Quote:
But apparently it's not, and the intensity for me (even though I learned not to act like a stalker) has scared off every partner I've ever been with except for the person I'm with. Not even just NTs, it's been especially bad for the autistics I was with. It was too much for them, it was common for them to shut off and withdraw.


What behaviours did they see that scared them off?

It takes me a while of getting to know someone before even contemplating trying to make things physical. I think I'm NT when it comes to the things you have described above. I feel physical attraction immediately but dont want to act on it unless I know the person. It could be just because I have only started thinking about dating this year.After a 17 year marriage.

If I'm talking to an very attractive woman I just get a bit self concious, have the urge to kiss them and start thinking 'she's beautiful'. But I dont feel anything like what you described.

I felt love quite intensely , similar to the way you described, once.



rdos
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24 Jul 2022, 8:25 am

Yes, it is common for autistics to have strong crushes that can last for a long time. Additionally, it appears to be essential to have these strong feelings as they create a strong attachment that lasts for a long time. The nonverbal thing is an important issue too. People that start with a crush and then start to date (which involves a lot of talking), end up with weak attachments as talking appears to interfere with the attachment process. So, what you experience is your "ND algorithm" that guides you how to create a strong and long-lasting attachment. It's the same issue with autistic guys that experience an inability to start a conversation with a crush, which will result in a poor attachment.

That being said, it's very important to be able to control the infatuation process so you only get crushes when it is likely mutual and thus can lead somewhere. I used to be able to do that, and I could terminate a crush up to a certain point just by assigning negative feelings to the woman.

Sex is a bit complicated, but I'm pretty much convinced that the "ND algorithm" for sex is not based on having sexual intercourse, rather this should be done mind-to-mind to be most enjoyable. This is likely the legacy of being able to control reproduction, something NTs are completely unable to do without contraceptives.



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24 Jul 2022, 10:47 am

I have been in two relationships with partners who I believe were on the Autism Spectrum although perhaps only one of those had full-blown autism. In references to them plus myself, for me the key distinction is the ability to experience sexual intimacy in the absence of strong emotional feelings for another person. Both these two women (although I didn't think of them as "women" at the time, they were 20-21 years old when I met them) had solid track records of seeking casual sex for its own sake. As for myself, all my "romantic encounters" were the result of seeking a sex partner, although by this I mean a regular sex partner rather than a one-and-done hookup. If you were to ask me how a relationship progresses, I would say that initially both people agree to have sex, having done so continue to have sex, and as time goes on if they find they enjoy each others' company they proceed to cohabitation and probably marriage. Or not. As for being in love, for me this comes about from years of having another person in my life and sharing such things as parenthood, etc.

In particular, as for the partner who I think most likely to have been autistic, she definitely fell hard for me the first time we met, although her way of expressing this was very unusual and would have put a lot of guys off. In my case, I didn't care as she was an available female who seemed to present a realistic alternative to the person I was involved with at the time (and had already split up with once). As for her having a crush, my impression is that she probably believed she was sending clear signals of sexual availability but I didn't go for the bait immediately due to experience having misread what I thought to be such signals in the past. Once I did make a move, she made it clear that she was ready to get down to business and was puzzled I had hesitated for so long (2-3 prior meet-ups?). This relationship developed into one in which she was ready to get married.

So this does not in any way resonate with what you are saying but I have gotten the impression elsewhere that this may not be entirely unusual for people on the spectrum. Basically, your romantic history may not be inconsistent with autism but I wouldn't assume it's typical OTOH it's probably naïve to thing anything is really typical.

The real downside to my experience though is that the relationship I just described might have fully succeeded had she and I made a conscious effort to discuss our true feelings about each other. As I remember it, both of us just assumed we were a successful couple because we enjoyed being together but there should have been more than that.

When I've seen people on this site say that they believe autistic-autistic pairings are preferable, it may just be that autistic people are less emotionally demanding, less likely to insist on confessions of undying love and easier to be around on a daily basis because of less need to demand attention, also less insistence on being gotten "into the mood" before sex can happen. However these are sort of negative "advantages" in the sense that an autistic person is less likely to exhibit the sort of relationship behavior that stresses another autistic person. But we also probably need some positives as well.


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MaxineQ
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24 Jul 2022, 11:50 am

I am currently dating someone on the spectrum and I am very mildly on the spectrum myself. Mostly we get along well, our energies match almost exactly, our issues are understandable to each other, we give each other space. We text well, we have sex well, we mostly talk well.

The area in which I see difficulty is I feel like he approaches "the relationship" as a set of actions. And his actions are great-he does the things that anyone would appreciate: keeping in contact via text, responding to my comments about what I like/want/need. But it's just actions-there doesn't seem to be feelings behind the actions. This is difficult to describe but he seems to approach everything as an equation-if everything meets certain standards then everything is ok. This has me feeling a little insecure because I don't want to do/say something that tips the equation away from calm homeostasis.

I've thought about this a lot and I think in "typical" relationships there is a foundation that is laid that consists of emotion: caring, fondness, concern, desire, attachment. This grows over time and builds a foundation that helps when things get difficult-when something tips the equation in a non favorable direction. But I feel if there is no foundation of emotion then at any moment things can go wrong.

I want to discuss this with him but I don't know how. I don't want him to "be different" and I don't want him to feel bad about how he naturally is. But I also should not be different for him, accept actions without emotional connection if I determine that is important to me, or be forced to be uncomfortable or insecure for prolonged periods.

This has caused me to wonder what is most important: the physical actions of a relationship-togetherness, intimacy, reliability or the emotional aspects of a relationship-intense bonding, sharing of deep thoughts and emotions, caring for the wellbeing of another, "loving" someone?

The spectrum parts of me have difficulty sorting this out. Sometimes, when I look at him I feel such intense connection, emotion, this flutter of feelings in my chest that just makes me WANT him, primal feelings that I just care for him so much it overflows inside me. Maybe this is female/male difference? I don't think he feels this way at all. He is precise and polite and considerate. It's not that I need him to feel the same about me, but I'd like to know he can or might someday. It feels slightly dangerous to feel these feelings for someone who can't or won't feel them for me.

I have had miserable failures of relationships my whole life, I am not proficient in these things. I care for him immensely and don't want to give up on him. I'm just not sure if this is long term sustainable. I want a place where I am safe and accepted and a place where I belong. I've never felt that and at this stage in my life that feels like what is most important. Yes, I have all those things in a solitary space I have created for myself, but I'd like to share that with a fellow human.



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24 Jul 2022, 7:05 pm

@MaxineQ Many people here might react to what you've posted by saying that you have no idea what a wonderful man you've found and would be horrified by the thought that you would leave him. Maybe you need some couples counseling to help you and him communicate about feelings, but by his actions I would conclude that he has very strong feelings for you and is committed to the success of your relationship, and to making you happy.


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MaxineQ
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24 Jul 2022, 8:49 pm

@MaxE thanks for your perspective, it helps me to hear that.



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25 Jul 2022, 12:38 am

I have had crushes on some friends a couple of times and it was very anxiety inducing.

I think for me since i had very little to no positive social interaction since childhood i develop crushes on the few people who choose to become my friend.

I put these people on a pedestal, like they must be an angel bc they actually like someone like me.

I don't like getting crushes for this reason.



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25 Jul 2022, 4:57 am

@MaxineQ Thank you for your kind words! I should have focused on this:

MaxineQ wrote:
But it's just actions-there doesn't seem to be feelings behind the actions.

So I'll wager the feelings are there, he's just not "typically" demonstrative. It's also possible he has been in a past relationship in which his partner demanded he perform certain actions and he trained himself to do as expected, without having to be told, so that his partner will be happy.

EDIT maybe you should make a point of telling him how much you appreciate the things he does and add how much they intensify the feelings you have for him.


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Last edited by MaxE on 25 Jul 2022, 6:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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25 Jul 2022, 6:06 am

I’ve had crushes since age 5. Sexual crushes since age 13.

I experienced my presexual crushes the way boys experienced puppy-love crushes in TV shows.

My sexual crushes were rather obsessive…but the extremity of the obsession started getting less as I proceeded in my 20s. I was hurt pretty badly by a woman when I was 21-23 years old.

I experienced sex and romance like a “normal” person experiences sex and romance in “rom-com” type situations. I like the romantic aspect more than I like the sexual aspect.

I sometimes feel lust for women in the street, even now sans prostate. I’m married so I can’t go beyond flirting. It’s enjoyable when a woman smiles a slightly lascivious smile—but I don’t like it when a woman becomes aggressive.



MaxineQ
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25 Jul 2022, 9:49 am

MaxE wrote:
@MaxineQ Thank you for your kind words! I should have focused on this:
MaxineQ wrote:
But it's just actions-there doesn't seem to be feelings behind the actions.

So I'll wager the feelings are there, he's just not "typically" demonstrative. It's also possible he has been in a past relationship in which his partner demanded he perform certain actions and he trained himself to do as expected, without having to be told, so that his partner will be happy.

EDIT maybe you should make a point of telling him how much you appreciate the things he does and add how much they intensify the feelings you have for him.


so this is exactly my issue-is he doing all the things because he thinks that's what he should do? Or because he wants to/feels compelled to because he likes me?

Maybe the WHY shouldn't concern me so much but it does. I do tell him how great he is, how much I appreciate him, etc but we don't really talk about feelings yet. We don't ever say we like each other actually. But we show it in our actions.

I don't need words but I'd like to know there are some emotions below the actions. Perhaps this is an insecurity of my own that I need to work on.



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25 Jul 2022, 6:23 pm

I don't believe in talking about "emotions" all the time.

I believe you seem to have a fine relationship with this person. I would love to have someone say they "appreciated" me.....



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29 Jul 2022, 4:22 pm

I've had many sexual crushes on other members of my clubhouse around 20 years ago.


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