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.
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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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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.
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,
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.
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.
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
Hi, Lesley. I would love to help! Click on this link to book a translation session with me: https://www.thearticulateautistic.com/private-consultation-translation-autistic-adult/
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.
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.
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.
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?
I totally feel your pain. My husband masked the entire time we dated and then stopped when we got married. I feel duped.
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.