CW: This letter discusses some adult themes pretty explicitly.

I’m 29 and would love to enter a polyamorous relationship but there are several things holding me back from going out and start dating someone:

1) I never had a relationship before in any shape or form so I’m not experienced at all about all these rituals and things you do when you date someone.

2) I have Asperger’s and all these rituals in getting to know one another like dating, flirting, sensing whether the other person(s) like(s) me is something that I feel I’m not very good at. Like, many aspects feel kinda like being dishonest because you’re hiding behind smiles, reassurances, saying that it’s okay etc. I would love it if I could just plainly explain my desires to people and what I’d like our relationship to be without all these muddy things they hide behind.

3) I’ve had many crushes but as I said, I’ve never had a “successful” relationship (the word successful makes it feel like a competition to me which makes me deeply uncomfortable, hence the brackets) so I’m hugely afraid that I’ll experience further “failures” leading to my barely existing self-confidence about finding a relationship to crumble further and I already feel like it’s not worth and I should just give up but I feel lonely and I want relationships.

4) I think I may be aromantic (not 100% sure about that though) because I don’t really experience romantic feelings towards people I like but I do experience sexual desires. I might be demiromantic but I won’t know until I’ve entered a romantic relationship with someone. This makes me further anxious because I’m not sure whether the majority of people still believe in the cishet narrative that every relationship has to be romantic. I’m afraid that me explaining my situation might destroy the date.

5) I also have a kink or fetish (what’s the difference between those two?): I’m an ABDL (Adult Baby/Diaper Lover) which means that I’d love to experience a baby treatment, especially with breastfeeding involved. So I’m afraid that people will be disgusted by that leading to another reason why the date could go wrong.

6) I identify as trans/nonbinary/genderfluid and abrosexual. And I’m not out. I was born with a penis so most people immediately see me as a man. And I’d say at dates they treat me as such. I regularly commute between two different cities as I train for a job in a city two hours away by car from my hometown.

Thing is, I feel like that city is not very LGTBQIA+ friendly because it’s quite rural and just the vibe I get makes me think that. Might be prejudice for these kinds of cities on my part though. So I’m afraid that not only might potential partners might be transphobic but that, if I do engage in a relationship, I might not see that person for a long while because I have to go to the other city again.

7) I’ve tried dating apps but at some point they all demand a subscription of sorts where you have to pay a price, often not that cheap just to see who likes you and I didn’t want that. Besides, I don’t want my relationship to be bought.

Okay, there you have it. I’d also like to know what your advice would be if you rule out dating altogether because I read your column on Episode 44: You Don’t Need 5 Partners and it mentions that you don’t like dating so I wonder what other way would you go to find one or more partners?

There are definitely a lot of things to go through here, but the first thing I would challenge you on is whether any of these things particularly are holding you back or if your belief that they make you into a less appealing partner is what is holding you back. You don’t necessarily have to feel like these make you less appealing and changing that perspective might help you feel a little bit better about dating in general.

The first thing on your to challenge is that you do not need to have had a “successful” relationship to be polyamorous or to know necessarily whether or not you’re going to be interested in polyamory. In some ways, not actually having gone through some of the stereotypical dating rituals could actually be to your benefit in that you don’t necessarily expect some of the same things that most people would need in order to feel super comfortable on dates.

Defining relationship success

It’s also really useful for you to question the assumption of what makes a relationship “successful” or that someone being in a relationship means that they understand communication, or have come out of that relationship more confident or better able to do anything that helps contribute towards relationship health. Building your self confidence is something that you can do while you’re not in a relationship with someone but once you are, the “success” of that relationship isn’t completely on your shoulders. It takes two, as they say, to tango.

Autistic and dating

In terms of your concerns about being autistic, struggling with dating rituals, having kinks, being aromantic, or being trans, they are things that make you different to most people and might mean that it can be difficult to find partners who understand and respect those things, but it’s not completely impossible. It’s important to remember that all of those are things that are part of you. Hiding any aspect of who you are isn’t going to be helpful for you in the long run.

Building your self-confidence will mean that you don’t feel so held back by some of these aspects of who you are and it will also mean you’re able to understand the other ways that people relate without assuming it’s as simple as honesty or dishonesty. I absolutely understand the frustration you can have with some of these rituals, indirectness and people not communicating things clearly. I feel like I’ve been able to cope a lot better with the way non-autistic/allistic people do things by learning more about being autistic and learning how to find confidence within myself for my differences and that is something you can definitely work on now.

Having some time to build your self-confidence will also mean that you are not concerned about putting forth your needs. There’s definitely a balance of knowing when to bring up different kinks and when to ask for certain things but being worried about destroying a relationship and therefore being almost willing to hide or suppress your needs so that you keep a relationship might be an issue for you later on. Hiding or suppressing your needs isn’t necessarily going to help you in the long run, though being polyamorous means that your needs don’t have to be met by everyone.

Perks of polyamory

One of the benefits you could see in polyamory is that you don’t necessarily have to have a partner that is interested in all of your kinks and people who are getting their romantic needs met elsewhere may not mind so much that you’re aromantic. Also since you’re not necessarily staying in one place, you could find a partner who doesn’t mind you being around all of the time. Additionally, if you don’t find anyone interested in your kink or fetish (either of those can work), you can find a sex worker who can help with it and that wouldn’t necessarily be off limits as a polyamorous person in the same way it might be difficult in a monogamous relationship. There’s lots of things you’ve written that could work within a polyamorous framework.

Approaches to dating new people

Your perception of dating applications might be limiting you a little bit. There are a lot of free websites like OKCupid where you seek dates or places like Fetlife that are more geared towards kinky people so you don’t always have to have a paid app. There’s also an app called Open which you could try though I haven’t tried many applications for awhile, but there are some options. Paying for a subscription however is not buying a relationship per say. A lot of people meet on dating applications and the people who run and develop those applications charge for using it so that they can continue to develop those applications.

There are also other options such as going to kink or polyamory related events or festivals or going to groups of things you’re interested in and seeing who you meet. In terms of myself, I don’t like dating very much and haven’t generally found that formalised dating works for me. Instead of trying to explicitly find a partner, especially since I am on the ace spectrum and I feel like I don’t get super attracted to people right away, I’m more interested in finding good friends. Especially because I don’t assume that I have to only sleep with people I have a relationship with and I don’t assume that romantic relationships have more inherent meaning than friendships.

Conclusion

What might be best is three things: working with a therapist, if it’s accessible to you, to build your self-confidence and respect for your own needs. I would suggest definitely looking up books about being autistic by autistic people such as A Field Guide to Earthlings by Ian Ford. The second thing would be to work on building friendships in communities which are more likely to have people who share your kinks or identities. There are likely kink or polyamory communities close to you that you can reach out to to get to know people. You can consider trying an app, but for me it is more useful to try and make friends, not just date.

Another thing you may want to consider, is thinking a bit more about your assumptions of what “success” is in a relationship and what your assumptions might be of what a relationship has to entail. Even if you personally haven’t had experience in a relationship, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t necessarily taken in some of the messages from a mono-centric society about what relationships are and the hierarchy of how you place relationships over others. I have two articles that are a polyamory 101 and a polyamory 102 that you might find useful.

Overall, I think if you build some self-confidence, work on challenging some of your assumptions about relationships, and then go out to find friends within communities where you have something in common with people or give a few dating apps a spin, then you may find a bit more success in the dating field. Last but not least, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t find partners right away. Sometimes it just takes a while and it’s not always completely in your control, but if you can work on some things yourself then it might lead you to being in the best place you can be.

I hope that helps and good luck!