Is Dating While Masking Lying to a Potential Partner?

A couple holding hands with text that reads, "Is dating while masking lying to a potential partner?"

When I did my latest piece on masking, I have to say something kept nagging at me for a few weeks. Something that has very slowly taken formation in my mind before slamming into me like a freight train.

Masking is an absolutely essential survival skill for neurodivergent people living in a neurotypical world. Without learning how to mask, many of us quite literally wouldn’t have survived this long.

But, when does masking go from survival tool to an outright lie? IS it a lie? I think in the case of dating and potential romantic partners, it may seem like that to our NT counterparts, and I can understand why.

(Article continues below.)


Dating as an autistic person (or dating an autistic person) can be challenging because both parties speak a different neurological language. Reading books about how to communicate more effectively with your partner can help a great deal.

Here are some recommended books:


On the one hand, we HAVE to protect ourselves and, not only that, many of us do want relationships, and a person who does not know much about neurodiversity may not give a wonderful person a chance due to autistic behaviors they don’t understand.

So, some of us ease potential partners into it, or, we disclose as we realize because many of us aren’t even aware that we are masking.

Again, masking is not about inventing a whole other persona, at least not for me and many other ND people who have commented on these threads. Instead, it is a way of hiding “quirks” such as stimming, infodumping, lack of facial expression and tone of voice in order to convey who we are at heart without those behaviors being immediately misinterpreted before the person even has a chance to get to know us.

Personally, when I do date, I disclose right away. If we make it to a phone conversation, I’m telling you. It used to be I would wait for a date or two to see if it was going anywhere, now, I just tell people.

The reactions are mixed. I find the people who do “accept” it turn out to not really understand it, and, at the first sign of autistic traits, the conflict is immediate, and the potential relationship is over.

Being autistic isn’t a list of cute quirks. You’re dating someone whose brain operates quite differently from yours, and that’s a very big deal. It impacts every facet of your relationship, so there has to be good communication on both sides for it to work.

– Jaime A. Heidel

Have you read, “I’m Autistic – Not Your Manic Pixie Dream Girl”? You should!


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33 Responses

  1. Ann Russell says:

    Masking is abusive. If you can make your date a priority in the beginning as a “special interest” and provide affection, attention etc, then you are are capable of those things. Period. To “mask” to get a person is a lie and it’s abusive. The Neurotypical partner is left with OTRS and Casandra Syndrome. It causes real physical and mental symptoms from feeling rejected, neglected, ignored and lonely. Autism seems to be a valid excuse for abuse. If it’s possible for an autistic person to get a PHD, then they are capable of learning the skills needed to not abuse and neglect their partners. Especially if they are able to mask. You know who else masks in the beginning of relationships? Narcissists. I’ve been thru both and the results and pain are the same. But because autistic people “can’t help it”, they get a pass? No. Narcissists can’t help it either. Autistic people are much more willing and capable of reaching out for therapy and reading self help books than a narcissist is. Learn to love properly and consistently without masking before dating. Autism is not a valid excuse for lies, abuse or neglect.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      It sounds like you’ve been through a lot of pain in a previous relationship with an autistic person, and I’m very sorry. I can feel your pain and anger from here. I understand that masking is common in NPD, but it is different in autistic people, and I’ll try to explain why. Masking in autistic people is a survival and trauma response. It happens automatically to keep us looking and acting as “normal” as neurotypical people seem to need in order for us to not be attacked. It’s purely for the purposes of trying to blend in and keep safe. Now, if someone completely misrepresents themselves or uses you as their special interest, that’s not right. That’s never right. It can happen that someone may not realize that you are or were their special interest, but using and abusing a person is never OK. I will say this, when you ask us to love “properly”, you’re asking us to love in a neurotypical way, which means you are asking us to mask. You are telling us you don’t want us to mask, but yet you are saying that the only way you would feel comfortable and happy in a relationship with us is for us to mask. This is why it’s so complicated. Autistic and neurotypical people show love in different ways, and they can both look and feel uncomfortable for the opposite-neurotype partner. If you’re currently in a relationship with an autistic person, I’d be happy to talk with you further and see if I can help/translate. If you are no longer in that relationship, I would say to continue with therapy and only date neurotypical people from now on. You do deserve to have the kind of love you want and need, whatever that looks like for you.

      Love and light,

      Jaime

      • DJ says:

        Jaime,

        I understand why autistic people feel the need to mask but boy is it painful when the mask comes off and you feel like you are now trying to get to know a completely different person. This happened to me and happened without warning or conversation. The person put great effort in, in the beginning, mirrored all the things I was saying, but then seemingly overnight, stopped reaching out, wouldn’t commit to plans. I knew he was going on other dates and was ok with it but upon some retrospective, I think it’s clear I got used as a stop gap/special interest until the next special interest came along. I felt lied to and manipulated and it took me some time to come to grips with it.

        • jaimeaheidel says:

          This doesn’t sound like autistic masking to me, it sounds like someone with narcissistic personality disorder. Sometimes, the traits appear to overlap, but the intentions and reasoning behind them are different. Look into NPD, and see if that fits your situation better. It’s especially the bit about the special interests that has me wondering. Autistic people have focused interests, yes, and sometimes they can people, but I don’t think that’s super common. However, those with NPD have ‘supply’ in the people they seek out and charm. It’s very different. Either way, I hope you find a safe, healthy, and compatible relationship for you.

      • Lesley says:

        I’m not the person you replied to and it has been a while, but I am in a relationship with a high functioning autistic man and I would really appreciate if you could translate some things for me

    • Anon says:

      Better luck with neurotypicals because on behalf of the autistic community, we don’t want you ✌️

      • Bella says:

        That was her point. She doesn’t want to date anyone from the autistic community. Your comment reeks of “You can’t fire me, because I quit!” energy.

    • MopsyMoll says:

      This is an exact replica of men who claim that women are “catfishing” when they wear makeup or that being irritable with PMS is “abuse”. Work on your internalized misogyny and abelism, Ann. It’s unbecoming.

      Autism is a disability, not a choice. Do you think people “choose” to be neurotypical/neurodivergent? Do you also think being gay is a choice? I can’t help but notice that you mentioned narcissism in your post several times. Maybe you’ve Googled it a few times because you’re worried about yourself?

      Masking is a behavior learned in childhood and is as much a part of our personalities as whatever baggage you’re dragging around that makes you such a prick.

      It takes conscious effort, moral support, and extensive therapy to unmask even partially – mostly because of bullies like you.

      Did you know that deep and instant empathy is a classic hallmark of those with autism? We’re so sweet we apologize to furniture when we bump into it (anthropomorphization tendencies). Sorry for all the big words, Ann. I’ll trust in your cursory Google skills to help you get past them.

      Stop being hateful and read up or shut up. I may be disabled, but I bet my IQ is higher than yours and I can for damn sure stay on topic longer. You don’t want to be my special interest, Ann. Instead, I think you want to apologize or delete this crap before you cause further emotional damage to someone who was BORN with a different brain than yours.

    • Mistela says:

      I think you should not date autistics. Comparing masking with being a narcissist is an abomination. Someone said that you probably had a bad experience with an autistic person and they are sorry. I am not sorry for you, because if all you learned was to put all autistic people in a bag and come up with such a simplistic explanation about what is masking you clearly have not my sympathy.

      • Bella says:

        Yeah, that’s the whole point. She wants to avoid dating autistics but can’t tell them from neurotypicals due to masking.

    • bekess says:

      Great comment. The fact that they can stop themselves says they can help it. And if they can help it, why would they ever stop themselves from stopping themselves.

  2. A Person says:

    My partner did not know he was autistic, it’s just been discovered via our child. Now the mask is coming off (honestly it dropped as soon as we were married but I didn’t understand and thought it was me. That he hated me or found me boring or he was being a jerk) I only see the man I married when he’s masking for work now. I miss him. I wouldn’t have married him unmasked because we are not compatible at all. I’m stuck in a very lonely marriage, it’s really not fair on me. Our son is pda and I can’t cope alone (right now). This has wasted my life and I do feel tricked.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      I’m really sorry. While I don’t think it’s his fault he didn’t know, I can understand how painful it must be for you to be in a marriage with a person who is wholly different from who you believed you fell in love with. I think the long-term solution to this in general is to create more awareness and acceptance around neurodivergence, so neurodivergent people don’t feel we have to mask to survive for so long and then end up inadvertently tricking the people who come to love us. This is a systemic issue. If there is anything you feel you’d like help or answers for in regards to your husband or your son, I do offer private consultations. I certainly couldn’t come close to fixing the marriage, but I might be able to provide some insights.

    • Acceptance says:

      I’ve been married 20 years, my husband only found out his diagnosis a few months ago. All three of our kids have asd. My husband was a different person when we dated then literally within a week of marriage he changed into his true self. Like you, the only time I see the person I dated is when he is at work or we are out on a double date with my friend group. I’m sad he needed to survive that way for so many years. Family and friends assume he is social, funny, and outgoing but all they see is his masking version, but at home all he does is play video games and avoid life at home including avoiding the kids. I’m “mom” to everyone basically. It is painful, yet I also understand he is burnt out from masking at work all day and shutting down at home most of the time. We are basically roommates. I just wanted to say I get it, the pain you experience. You “believed” you were marrying who he said he was, he was the one who chose the image he presented to you. While his masking may have been in survival and it was not to cause pain, pain is obviously going to come out of finding out who he presented was not who you married. It is a lie, even if one done out of survival. I don’t have any advice. I wish I did. No two experiences or paths are the same. I hope you have support.

      My path is awkward. I am one of the people who is going to stay with my partner and cheer him on, but I am also building a social life outside of everything – or at least trying to. It is so hard building a second life while maintaining my family, I can’t even express how many tears I’ve cried in 20 years. EMDR is helping, but that is just what has worked for me. Just wanted to validate your experience and say you aren’t alone.

      • Audrey says:

        Hi! Im reaching out for help here. I have been with my boyfriend for4 years and since 3 months its been hell. I was wondering if 3-4 years is too long ofa period before unmasking? For how long did your husband masked until he stopped?

    • Denise Carmody says:

      I totally feel your pain. My husband masked the entire time we dated and then stopped when we got married. I feel duped.

      • Annon says:

        this I’m sorry your living this. The exact same
        Thing happened to me as soon as we were married in our wedding day the mask came off

        • Anon says:

          I end through the same experience, at one point I asked my partner if he was autistic which he denied and as soon at we were married, literally once the vows had been exchanged he stopped masking. I am just finalising my annulment. I can’t be married to a man I no longer trust.

        • Me says:

          I wish I knew about masking before I got married. Prior to our wedding I asked my partner if he was autistic which he denied and as soon at we were married, literally once the vows had been exchanged he stopped masking. I am just finalising my annulment. I can’t be married to a man I no longer trust.

  3. Acceptance says:

    I just wanted to say thank you for bravely writing this article. This is the one of the most difficult topics that you’ve ventured into with ASD. I hope you continue to explore it. With how much pain is experienced by both partners that just says how much work and talking needs to be done to help. Not just our own understanding and lives – but also to create change for future generations.

    What we knew about ASD 40 years ago vs now is so much improved. What could it look like in 40 more years? Ever the optomist, I hope not only a better world for my ASD spouse, but especiialy for a better world for my ASD children. They aren’t dating yet, I admit I am soooo scared for that phase. I am trying so hard not to mess up parenting, but hoping that building lots of acceptance around them with teachers and friend groups and teaching them how to navigate will help. Even NT’s mask in a sense socially at times, so I believe it is a good tool for them to have, but when it comes to their inner circle I want them to live beautiful and authentic lives. One part of me charges ahead as an NT parent, but I am learning to slow down and listen instead.

  4. l says:

    Where is the line between masking and just making an effort? I do things in social situations to make an effort, talk about a topic i dont care about with my mother in law, smile at jokes, be careful and diplomatic at work, do things for my partner i know he likes ect those are all effort. is doing things for your partner really masking? is it masking then when I have to work really hard at comunicating a certain way, repressing my feelings/wants. shouldnt it be meeting halfway? he says I am asking him to mask, I dont want to do that, I do want to feel loved

    When I read about neurodivers relationships the advice is always to be very clear with your partner what your needs are and that most will be happy to do what you ask even if they dont get it. Its so hard for me to accept that he cant just give me a little more affection. He says he is trying so hard and I dont doubt it but its still so hard to see the effort. He says he feels more ASD since he found out about it, maybe its the mask coming off or maybe its a selfforfilling prohesy thing, overidentifying with what he reads?

    we are 7.5 years in and i love him and 90% of it is good I just need a little more affection, I dont want to leave but I’m so scared I’m fooling myself and its doomed. I want marriage and kids, so does he but only once he is sure he can make me happy, I am scared time is running out, a. I will stay we dont work out and I never have kids or b. I leave lose him and maybe never meet anyone else and at least not in time to have kids. Im living in this anxiety for the last year and its killing me

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      Oh, I’m sorry! This sounds like a rough and complicated situation. 🙁 When you say you need a little more affection, can you elaborate on what you view as being shown affection? Because everyone, regardless of neurotype, shows affection in different ways. Feel free to email me to speak more: thearticulateautistic@gmail.com. 🙂

  5. Zoe Shipley says:

    I came to this site to do some research on unmasking because my boyfriend recently told me he was trying to slowly unmask. he told me this because I kept asking if something was wrong or if I made him upset, I feel bad because I want to be able to understand what’s going on and how I can be of help, but at the same time, I’m scared things are going to change in our relationship. like that my needs won’t be met or he’ll be a completely different person even though I fell in love with the person he was while masking. I love him so much, I’m just afraid the good thing we have going will change and we won’t be compatible anymore.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      *heavy sigh* Yeah, that can be a rough situation. The thing about unmasking is this, the core of the person remains the same. It’s not that your boyfriend isn’t the same person, it’s that he isn’t manually performing neurotypicality anymore because that’s draining for him. For example, he may not be forcing his tone or his facial expressions or body language into a certain pattern that you, as a neurotypical person, would see as positive. He’s emoting the way he would naturally. The feelings are all still there, but he’s showing them his way now, not the way he used to when he was masking. See, autistic people have to manually do so much of what neurotypical people automatically do without thinking about it, and this is EXHAUSTING! Like, burnout-inducing, mental-breakdown-inducing, vampire-draining-the-life-out-of-you exhausting. This is why it can never last. Again, his feelings and your connection won’t change, but how he expresses those feelings and that connection will. Now, if part of his masking was pretending to like or be interested in things he actually isn’t (a survival instinct, not an attempt to be a jerk), that may change your relationship dynamic a bit. I would encourage you to read books by autistic authors, so you can better understand the way his brain works. If you’d like, I also offer one-to-one consulting, which you can book here: https://www.thearticulateautistic.com/private-consultation-translation-autistic-adult/.

  6. Norbert says:

    I have been in psychotherapy for years but my real problem, that is ASD has been suggested only recently by my current therapist. Before that, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and “narcissistic personality” has been recorded. This last was a misdiagnose: I was vulnerable but never grandiose. I started reading about ASD and the more I read the more I understood of my life (I am 40 now). Here is my sad story about masking in a romantic relationship.

    I have separated from my former wife in 2017. Before my marriage, I had only one relationship in my adult life, lasting less than a year. But after I moved out, in the next ten months, I have been sleeping with more women than ever before in my entire life. Retrospectively, I learned how to be a charmer. How to be a man who can attract women. Most of these encounters were one night occasions. The women knew it, I knew it, nobody were harmed. In two cases, we wanted to try something more. It wasn’t successful. I dropped one girl and another dropped me. That’s life. But in August 2018, she came…

    It was Tinder. We were texting for a week, met and fell in love. I mean true love. She was wonderful. She was happy. I was happy. And the luckiest guy on Earth. My woman! And she loves me! Never happened before. (Yes, my marriage was more of a project, to have a home, have a family, have a partner in life than love. And it was a project for my former wife too. Judge me, but it happens and not only with neurodivergents.) I was between Heaven and Earth. Unfortunately, I had to fabricate a mask for this. She is a super extrovert. Traveling, party, theater, museum, she wanted it all. And she wanted a strong, confident charming man. Something I always wanted to be. So I fabricated the mask. Totally unconsciously. For nearly 8 months, it worked. I was never happier in my life, she said. And I wanted her to be happy. And wanted her love. Believe me, I never used or abused her. I put extreme amount of energies into our relationship. Then came the COVID and the quarantine. Isolation imposed a high pressure on her causing depression. For months, we have been in the same flat for 24 hours. And I couldn’t keep the mask on. The first signs was the disappearance of confidence. If I did something for her, I started to ask multiple times for the same thing If that one made her happy. Next, I started to drink alcohol. It helped me to be more relaxed and sociable. But my energy was slowly draining. We had other problems as well. Most significant, my daughter. Yes, I have a daughter, now 9 yo. She couldn’t accept her. And I failed miserably to break the wall between her and my daughter. More pressure on her, more pressure on me. I started to lose showing empathy when we had an argument. She was crying and I couldn’t give her a strong arm. My loved woman was in trouble and I couldn’t be with her. More alcohol. Slowly and painfully all my energy has gone. I became sleepy and depressed. She had mood swings. I could barely hold the mask. In parallel, she started to suspect that I am not the person whom I was pretending. She lost her trust in me. For me, realizing that the personality who I am is not enough for her was a catastrophy. We broke our relationship in December, 2021. For two years, we were on and off, trying to figure out how can we live with or without each other. That is over. But we could finally speak about what happened. And I could tell her, I was never consciously aware of masking. She feels to be tricked and harmed. She started dating with others. She is afraid if someone will pretend to be another person than who actually he is. My pain because of harting my love is awful. And of course, the feeling that I cannot find mutual love because of my personality (which is nothing else than ASD, I learned) is comparatively awful.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      Thank you for sharing your story. I’m really sorry that happened to you both. We live in a society that nearly demands we mask our autistic traits, even if we don’t even realize we’re autistic, and that can take a huge toll on everyone emotionally. It seems like lying to the neurotypical person, but us autistic folks aren’t even aware we’re doing it or why. It’s ingrained in us that way we simply are as human beings is wrong, and that does a disservice to everyone. To all of society, really. I truly hope you find the person you’re meant to be with. Someone who understands you and accepts you for exactly who you are, no mask needed.

  7. Jessica says:

    Frankly, I have come to the conclusion that to seek ANY kind of relationship, romantic or otherwise, while autistic is an act of unacceptable selfishness. The best we can give will NEVER be enough, so don’t try. We were never meant to exist. In times gone by, we were left out to die of exposure when our divergence became evident. It should be that way again.

    • jaimeaheidel says:

      I’m sorry you believe you’re not enough because your brain works differently because it’s not true. You simply are the way you are, and that’s not a bad thing. I hope someday soon you find a group of people, online or in person, that make you feel like you belong.

    • Grace says:

      Hey Jessica – cross neurotype dating will always require A LOT of effort from both of you and even then it is possible (very likely imho) to not be satisfactory for either of you. Plus NT people will have the entire world validating their experience and likely telling you that there is something wrong with you and you are fundamentally flawed.

      This doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you deserve to die – lots of evidence shows that the relational and communication problems that exist in cross neurotype relationships are not there in autistic-autistic relationships. (double empathy problem) My experience certainly bears this out.

      Perhaps you could explore attempting intimate relationships with other autistic people with similar profiles and sensory needs – you might just find something you have always been looking for.

  8. Bookish says:

    My ex has got autism and I know that masking for him was really tough. I fell in love with his mask, and it was quite a shock when he de-masked. While I can certainly understand why he masked and how exhausting it must have been to do it in prolongued social settings, he did also have an issue with dishonesty. I unfortunately realized once too often that he was flat out lying to me about the important things. it was heartbreaking. He was cheating, belittling me behind my back, not doing the things that he said he’d done and it was just one thing after the other. I tried to get us into couples counselling (focused on ND relationships) in order for us to learn to communicate better, but he was averse to this, so he tried everything to stop it. While I know he had hypersensitivity to criticism and anxiety, his lack of awareness about certain things was taking a toll on our relationship. He hated if I tried to broach certain subjects and would mask while we talked them out, but I’d always find out later that he was very upset with me for chatting about these things with him, but hadn’t let me know. This was where he was venting to the other women about how ‘mean’ I was and was encouraging them to speak nastily about me. I heard myself referred to in so many awful ways that eventually I couldn’t take it, and fell out of love with him. I was hoping that the therapist would help him feel happier to communicate with me, but he spent the one session that he attended telling her every which way in which I didn’t meet his expectations… with me sitting right next to him. All my failings had to do with the fact that I didn’t have a body like an anime character and I ‘wasn’t pretty enough for him’. It was quite embarrassing. I don’t bear any hatred to anyone with Autism but I really struggled with self-loathing after I broke up with him and it took a long time to come to terms with the relationship. It took me eleven months to accept a coffee date invite with another guy after the break up, but my ex was on eight different dating sites the day after we broke up, aggressively chatting up women. It really hurt and made me feel like he never loved me at all.

  1. April 20, 2020

    […] people use body language and facial expressions differently. Plus, we mask AND we emulate behavior to fit in with others and, more importantly, to not be attacked by others who can instinctively sense that we are […]

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