Book Review of Autistics’ Guide to Dating: A Book By Autistics, for Autistics and Those Who Love Them or Who Are In Love With Them
The Autistics’ Guide to Dating (by Emilia Murry Ramey and Jody John Ramey) is a fairly short book bearing only 109 pages. It was co-written by two autistic people who are married to each other. I chose to read this book mainly for purposes of review, and also to see the authors’ explanation of romantic relationships in comparison to friendships.
The book has chapters that purport to be about the difference between friendship and dating, how to meet people, how to transition a relationship from a friendship to dating, how to involve physical affection and sexuality, and how to think about marriage. A large portion of each chapter consists of anecdotes from both authors, and the book changes point of view fairly often—from first-person as Jody to first-person as Emilia to third-person-omniscient or first-person plural—and I found that confusing and jarring, despite that some sections were marked “Jody’s story” and “Emilia’s story.” It was hard for me to know without guesswork who was talking at any given time.
In terms of the content of the book, more than half of it consists of anecdotes of the development of the authors’ relationship. It is repeated throughout the chapters on which particular calendar dates they met, began dating, held hands for the first time, became engaged, kissed for the first time, and married. Either one or both of the authors kept meticulous records of all such moments in their relationship, and felt it necessary to repeat those dates throughout the book.
The book was unclear with respect to the precise differences between dating, courting and friendship, other than to say that a romantic relationship looks and feels different than a friendship to the participants and people around them, and that a romantic relationship is more likely to involve physical affection.
It is worth noting that the authors were both raised Catholic and currently align themselves very much with evangelical Christianity, which is why in the physical affection and sexuality chapter, they argue that sex is not something you should do with someone you don’t care about, in a way that strongly implies that they disapprove of casual sex. At the same time, the authors make it clear that they made the decision to wait until they were married to have sex, but they do not expect a reader to be held to that standard, which is good. I found it very strange in the sexuality chapter that the only sexual orientations they discuss are heterosexuality, bisexuality and asexuality—leaving out gay as an orientation entirely, yet acknowledging bisexuality and asexuality.
Their paragraph addressing asexuality is as follows:
For example, if you are a person who has never felt the desire for sexual intercourse, you will not find meaning when engaging in this practice. It does not mean that you will never have a wonderful, intimate relationship, because it is very possible to figure out ways that will work for you to be intimate. Do not believe people who say that you have not found the right person yet to bring out your sexual desire. You will never find the person to bring out something in you that does not exist. If you have never felt sexual desire, you never will, and that is your orientation. This is not a new concept. Studies have been done on rodents and sheep, suggesting there is a small percentage of these animals that do not mate. […] Don’t worry about having sex if you have an asexual orientation. If you want to establish a partnership with someone, try and seek out another like yourself. However, if you choose to engage in a relationship with someone who has sexual desire, be upfront with them about what type of physical expression has meaning for you. Find out what has meaning for them, and see if the possibility exists of finding a compromise that works. Undoubtedly, this is challenging, but people have done it in the past, and will do so again in the future.
I was very pleased to read that paragraph.
Also in the sexuality chapter was description of an activity the authors referred to as touch exploration. The authors recommend that autistic people with touch hypersensitivity explore forms of touch with trusted friends to find out what feels good and what doesn’t. The authors emphasize that instances of touch exploration should be clinical in nature rather than sexually pleasurable, and their distinction between sex and not-sex is very unclear in this section, especially because it mentions that you may want to remove some or all of your clothing during an instance of touch exploration to explore skin-to-skin contact. The impression I got from that section was that you should try dryhumping friends in a casual and clinical sense in order to prepare yourself for physical touch with a partner—which confused me because the authors are very not in favor of casual sexual activity or casual physical touch.
Overall, I feel like the guidelines presented in this book could have been condensed into a much shorter book. In checking out this book from the library, I was way more interested in the concrete advice given than in the personal anecdotes of the authors’ relationship, so I was overall mildly disappointed with this book. I am a person who has difficulty extracting concrete advice from people’s personal anecdotes—which is a trait very common to autistic people—and this book does not make those connections clear enough to be useful for its autistic audience.