Q: I’m really nervous about dating, especially approaching someone for the first time. I have a hard time reading other people’s body language. Do other people not on the Autism Spectrum have similar experiences?
A: Absolutely. Most people are quite nervous to introduce themselves to someone they are interested in. It is a natural human need to want to fit in and not fail. Most people are afraid of failing so they never really try. And to be honest if we never try, we will never succeed. There will be times if we do approach someone, it does not work out well and then there will be times of success. So, it never hurts to introduce yourself and offer a compliment to someone whom you might want to get to know.
Q: Dr. Brown, are there any viewing recommendations that you would suggest for the body language of flirting?
A: I do not have any specific recommendations but books or movies about body language are very helpful. There are many movies in pop culture which demonstrate healthy and unhealthy ways to flirt. It is always important if you are unsure of a behavior to seek out the support of a trusted person and run it by that individual.
Q: I have a hard time with small talk. What topics are good when trying to show your interest in a person?
A: I always encourage people to try and take note of what is happening in the world. Was there a recent awards show? Is there a new trend like a picture that is setting records on Twitter or Instragram? Is there something happening in the world that is uncommon, like a total solar eclipse. We do not need to know everything about everything! If we have a little nugget of what is happening in the world, it can often lead to other conversations. I recommend looking at the news highlights in a variety of categories (even ones you have no interest in like sports or entertainment). We do not have to dissect the national political debate but we can certainly discuss what happened on Instragram with the Egg picture or who has better coffee, Starbucks or Dunkin’?
Q: Anything I shouldn’t talk about?
A: I encourage people to avoid hot button topics like religion or politics. These are for later discussions when you are more serious about one another. These are not necessarily topics to jump into and debate when you are first meeting someone. I say keep the tone light and jovial!
Q: I have a hard time turn-taking in conversations. I either talk too little or I talk too much. Any suggestions on how I can work on that?
A: I say use the rule of thumb of 2-3 sentences to convey your point and then ask a question of the other person. Allow time for reflection and convey that to the person if they ask you a question and you need a moment to process. It is a welcome response if someone asks a question and the other person says, “Hmmm, interesting, give me a moment to collect my thoughts on that…” You are acknowledging the other individual and providing that person with a prompt that you are thinking about the question asked and not simply ignoring what he/she has asked you.
Thank you to Dr. Melissa Brown, PsyD, of PinnacleHealth Psychological Associates in Harrisburg, PA for your helpful responses regarding the perplexing world of dating!