This was originally intended as a possible Spectral Amoebas contribution...that's why it's so long. Also, I was paranoid that "Sam" would somehow see it...but hey, if he does, at least it will explain my actions a lot better than I ever did at the time.
Everyone else was doing it, so I joined an online dating site. While I was browsing, I saw the profile of a man I would want to be friends with. We sent a few e-mails and decided to meet in person. It remained clear in my mind that I wanted to be friends with this man (let's call him Sam) rather than date him. Our first meeting was decidedly un-datelike, as we were meeting on a weekday afternoon in a place that was not at all romantic. I would see Sam three or four more times. I wondered if he thought we were going on dates, but quickly put it out of my mind. If these were dates, then why weren't we doing typical "date" things like dinner and a movie? If he thought we were dating, he would flirt with me, or try to touch me in some way, and I would do the same. Neither of us did. If we were dating, surely Sam would ask some question relating to romantic relationships. He never did, nor did I ever ask him.
Then one night, I went with Sam to a performance. While we were waiting for the show to start, suddenly Sam started complimenting me and looking into my eyes. It occurred to me that whatever he'd thought in the past, Sam was now considering this a date. But I didn't know how to handle the situation, so I kept my concerns to myself. Sam drove me home and asked if he could walk me to my door. I saw no reason for him to do so, but agreed. As we stood in front of my door, Sam said that he liked me a lot, and then something strange happened to his face. His eyes started shimmering. Actually, his whole face seemed a bit wavy, but maybe that was just my panic expressing itself as it quickly became obvious that Sam wanted to kiss me. How did I extricate myself? I'm not proud to say that I chirped, "I'M ASEXUAL! I DON'T DATE! SORRY!" before running upstairs, leaving Sam extremely confused.
This is an embarrassing story, one that I don't think portrays me in a very positive light. But I bring it up because I think it addresses some larger issues about consent. Consent is usually discussed in a sexual context, so it might seem trivial to mention it here. But sex doesn't occur in a vacuum, nor do our attitudes about consent. So I decided to probe my own psychology and figure out why I didn't assert myself sooner. As a lifelong feminist, you might think I'd be comfortable speaking up about these things, but such is not always the case. I like a good numbered list, so let me outline what I now realize was my reasoning. I hope it'll be somewhat obvious that all of these points can be extrapolated out to sexual encounters as well.
1. I thought that if I'd laid out my expectations earlier, Sam would have been angry or upset, or it would have made things more awkward. (Obviously, I hadn't taken the long view.) We all know about a seemingly good guy who's gone all Mr. Hyde when "rejected" by a woman. (I don't see friendship as "rejection", but I know some people do.) I didn't know Sam well enough to anticipate his response and I feared that uncertainty. Maybe he'd say, "Pffft, don't flatter yourself." That would've been bad...but not as bad as what ended up happening.
2. I didn't know how to say "no" without literally yelling "NO!" and running away. I didn't know how to question Sam without jeopardizing our friendship (which I ended up doing anyway). I didn't realize that if Sam was someone worthy of my time, I would have been able to speak honestly with him. While I'm now 26 years old, in "dating years" I'm around 12 or 13. I've only been on 2 dates (that I knew were dates) in my life. I didn't want to embarrass myself by displaying my lack of experience (which I ended up doing anyway).
3. A friend would later tell me that because I was on a dating site, my dating consent was implied. But of course, if you have to imply consent, then there's a definite chance that you don't have it at all. When Sam switched into date mode that night, I felt affronted. It seemed like he'd decided to take the evening in a certain direction without caring whether I wanted the same thing.
4. I wanted to like Sam "that way", even though I didn't. I wanted to be "normal", which luckily I have mostly gotten over by now. At the time, I didn't know why I'd only ever liked guys who ignored me. It made me feel pathetic. But on further thought, I realized that for me, it made sense. Guys who ignored me would never make me feel uncomfortable or pressure me into sexual situations. And this was more important to me than gaining their attention. Maybe it's a healthy defense, because I know I have so much trouble saying "no". Personally, I don't think I should attempt to date sexual people unless I can say "no" with confidence.
5. And here's where the autism comes in, although it was in the background all along. In familiar social situations, I can do decently, and probably not be differentiated from an eccentric neurotypical (NT). But in unfamiliar situations, my social skills fall apart. In those situations, I look to NTs for cues, and if no cues are forthcoming, then I'm much less likely to take action. Whether diagnosed or not, I'd wager that most people on the spectrum have been told over and over (explicitly or implicitly) that we're doing something "the wrong way". The implication always seemed to be that this was a terrible thing. My experience was no different, and so I tend not to trust my own judgment.
I suppose there are a lot of reasons why someone would be distrustful of their judgment. But for me, it seems like a sad casualty of the way that social norms are strictly enforced, especially in school settings. Lucky for me, my distrust of my judgment has led to so many awkward situations that it's something I'm sincerely working on now. I'm trying to identify "red flags" and avoid them, whether that means yelling "NO!" and sprinting away, or engaging in some calmer behavior. Now, if "the date that wasn't" started to happen again, would I be able to plunge through the awkwardness and make my feelings known? I'd like to think so, but in the moment, I get so nervous that I suppose anything could happen.