‘I feel self-conscious, nervous and more awkward than I used to around women’

Tell Me About It: That you are lonely is a strong signal that you are ready for connection

PROBLEM: I was diagnosed as having Asperger’s in 2011 and in one sense it is one of the best things that has happened to me. It has given me a sense of clarity and a lot more ownership in terms of who I am as a person.

The downside to it is that I am pretty sure that what I have is stopping me from having a meaningful relationship. I constantly feel self-conscious, nervous and rather more awkward than I used to around women. I am beginning to doubt myself and I am feeling very lonely as a result.

Can you help?

ADVICE: You are linking your lack of success in relationships to your Asperger’s diagnosis and while this of course has an impact, what you describe is extremely common in many people. The idea that I am different and am having trouble fitting in is one of the most common self-commentaries that we have and will resonate with readers. Most worry is not grounded in reality but nonetheless these thoughts and fears can have significant effects on us to the extent that they might actually prevent us from engaging in social life or of seeing the opportunities there. So, you are not alone in feeling lonely and in need of romantic connection and the good news is there is something you can do about it.

You say diagnosis may have been the best thing for you, except in terms of relationships. Perhaps you are doubting yourself with women and are assuming what they think of you. However, you may have some negativity associated with the diagnosis and are assuming women share this view. You could try dropping this idea and take the view that women will pick you for who you are rather anything else.

Asperger’s syndrome became easily diagnosable in the last 30 years, so your particular sense of isolation is shared and understood widely by others with the same condition. In fact, there are traits that you are likely to have that the world could benefit from. These include an honesty in communication that is often not easily available in a relationship and a straightforwardness that can be a balm in a world where game-playing is rife.

That said, you are also likely to experience difficulty in reading other people’s social cues and may find it hard to decipher what is being masked in the social world. Many people disguise what they are actually feeling out of a sense of fear of being discovered as an internal mess or of being called out as needy, etc, but the truth is that all relationships (including friendships) require an opening up of that inner protective layer. Everyone has to go through this risk of exposure if they want to be deeply connected to another human being. You already have this capacity but there are steps to get to that connection that you might need to hone and learn.

The first point in any connection is to feel a sense of attraction and it is worth doing some investigation of what that means for you. Look at your history of friendships and ask yourself what kind of people do you like to spend time with and what are the traits that you connect with. Are you meeting those people regularly or do you need to make an effort to put yourself in a social group where these people are likely to be?

For example, if you like people who are dramatic or artistic you might want to think about joining a drama club or if you like people who rock-climb you might join a local club. The next stage in connecting is where you spend time with someone you find attractive, but this should happen slowly to give time for friendship to grow and solidify. You may well miss the signs if they are finding you romantic, so this where you check in with other people you have met and ask them to point it out to you – this involves you trusting these friends, so make sure they have your best interests at heart and that they will not set you up for failure.


Finally, there is the part of the relationship where you become romantic and this is where your focus and attention should be on the other person, what their desires and interests are and what they find comfortable in terms of a relationship. Ultimately, relationships make us unselfish and generous and help us become better people as we fully consider another person before ourselves.

You may already have experience of connecting with people online and this may have been positive or negative. In some ways people are more willing to expose their true selves online but it is equally true that people can cut you off with ease and suddenness that can leave you reeling. Gaining experience in real life can help your judgment develop so that your capacity for selecting someone in an online world becomes more refined, so effort needs to go into gaining actual live experience of potential romantic situations.

Not all relationships work out, so do not be too distressed by the experience of failure. It is better to regard it as a step in the process of finding a life partner. That you are lonely is a strong signal to you that you are ready for commitment and connection, so pay attention to this signal and let it push you into the social world. Go meet the very many other people who are also responding to this need for connection.