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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5 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,


      • DJ says:


        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.

  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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