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“There’s no incompatibility with being on the spectrum and being in a romantic relationship, being in love, being part of a committed partnership,” Barnett says.Like Shore, an estimated 47 percent of adults with the condition share their home—and their life—with a romantic partner.

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In the United States, for example, dates typically unfold in noisy bars, busy restaurants or loud movie theatres.

These environments can worsen anxiety and even be painful for people with sensory sensitivities.

Another complication is that most people tend to have a certain ‘type,’ whether it’s men with beards, for example, or tall women.

But people with autism are sometimes unwilling to compromise, Gotham says.

Depression and anxiety tend to ebb in women with satisfying relationships.

Scientists say these same benefits apply to people with autism—and when romantic relationships are lacking, a key piece of social and emotional health goes missing, too.

Maybe that would explain the perplexing behavior of a former massage student with whom he traded shiatsu sessions, who eventually told him she had been hoping for more than a back rub.

Or the woman he met in class one summer, who had assumed she was his girlfriend because they spent most nights cooking, and often shared a bed.

That can beget a sense of isolation: Depression and anxiety are more than three times as common in adults with autism as in people without the condition.

“There is a big problem with loneliness in this population,” says Katherine Gotham, a clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. The intricacies of dating—striking up a conversation with a stranger or trying to gauge another person’s interest based on body language or facial expressions, for example—aren’t specific to people with autism, but they’re more difficult for people with the condition to navigate.

That doesn’t necessarily mean relationships are easy for people on the spectrum.

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