Heather Corinna replies:

You’ve done it. You’ve finally met someone. A person who makes you laugh, who you actually click with, whose world is fascinating to be a part of. Considering how often the world of dating, especially for neurotypical and neurodivergent people alike, is rife with frustrations failures, it’s always a delightful experience to finally find some success in the form of forming a bond with somebody. Sharing constant daily texts, holding hands, being able to listen to their problems, there’s something so wonderful about creating that sense of unity with another human.

But just as quickly as it gets established, this connection can also be entirely erased. Suddenly, a person you’ve been regularly communicating with is M.I.A. Without warning, a fixture of recent life can become a memory. All of this because somebody you’d bonded with has abruptly stopped contacting you. The text messages have ceased, all traces of their presence in your life have been yanked away by them, and without warning or explanation.

This experience is known as ghosting, and this new colloquium is common in the modern dating world. It’s never enjoyable to go through this process but it can be especially challenging for people on the autism spectrum. Schedules are a necessity for many autistic individuals (including the writer of this piece) and regular communication with new romantic partners can quickly become a part of those routines. Suddenly having that communication wiped out without warning can provide anxiety now that a new routine has been lifted away. Anxiety over changed schedules can be common for autistic individuals, especially when it’s under the kind of mysterious circumstances that define ghosting.

But just because the experience is stressful doesn’t mean it’s impossible to endure. There are ways for autistic people to come out the other side of getting ghosted.

First, before shifting focus to yourself the autistic person in question, it’s important to note here that the person who ghosted you is not "evil" or any nonsense like that. They're an independent human being capable of making their own choices. No human being “owes you” time or attention, no matter what your past interactions have been like. No matter how stressful coping with this sudden absence and change in routine is, it’s critical not to think of the person that’s ghosted you in dehumanizing ways. Not only is it unfair to the other individual but it’ll do nothing to improve your mental state.

A good way to avoid this process is to remind yourself that there could be any number of reasons why a person has ghosted you. Lingering effects from a previous relationship, a full plate in terms of responsibilities, social anxiety, trauma, avoidance, poor interpersonal skills — these and countless other causes could be the reason why you’ve gotten ghosted. It’s totally valid to feel hurt by this turn of events, which aren’t an ideal way to suddenly cease interacting with somebody. However, there are reasons for why this has happened and keeping in mind the larger world the other person inhabits can ensure you don’t resort to demonizing them.

It’s also important not to badger or harass the person who ghosted you. Even if you wanted the dynamic to continue, that the relationship can’t continue is something you’ll just have to accept and deal with. If the other individual hasn’t communicated with you again, a barrage of texts will not immediately rectify their attention. Give them the space they’re indicating they need.

Shifting the focus over to autistic people grappling with being ghosted, you do have the ability to create new routines to occupy your mind. These don’t have to be anything extravagant. Maybe create time in your days to walk your pets or get out of the house and browse a nearby store you like. Speaking from experience, it can be so easy to get stuck in a rabbit hole where all you’re focusing on is the texts or conversations you’re not receiving. Focusing on separate tasks will not only keep your brain occupied but it’ll also provide quiet reminders that there’s a bigger world out there beyond your former connection.

Additionally, it’d be handy to have questions on hand you can ask your brain to keep it from catastrophizing and turning a regular part of modern dating into a referendum on your very existence. If you begin to feel overwhelmed and weighed down with anchors of despair, ask yourself questions. These can revolve around your specific passions, things to come in the future, or if your most self-critical thoughts are accurate. The point with these questions is to establish a through-line from your anxiety to the larger real world.

Getting lost in the turmoil of the moment can feel like you’re trapped in mental quicksand. Thankfully, specific questions like these can help inject perspective into your brain. With that perspective reaffirmed, you can have handy reminders that life is more than just the stressful situation you’re currently in. Getting ghosted is the end of one part of your life, not the conclusion of your entire life.

Finally, it’s important to remind yourself that you still have value as a person whether or not you’re dating someone or not. While this truism applies to everyone, it’s especially helpful for autistic people to get reminded of this. For me, the societal expectations that autistic people don’t go on dates, let alone find a significant other, lends extra importance to clicking with someone. You’re not just developing a crush, you’re shattering societal norms as to what autistic people can or cannot do.

Being ghosted, particularly, can lead one down an anxiety-ridden mental pathway of not just pondering what you did to alienate someone but that you “failed” to help reshape what autistic people can do. The truth is, though, that autistic people are just as valuable on their own even if they have no one special to wrap their arms around. If you’re autistic and are dating somebody, that’s also wonderful. Each autistic person is valuable in their unique manner, not just if they managed to subvert warped societal perceptions of what we’re capable of. It can be easy to forget, but we do have the keys to control how we view our self-worth. Speaking from experience, putting that responsibility onto others is just not as fulfilling, especially when those others ghost you.

Of course, even with these tools to cope with the process of ghosting under your belt, it doesn’t mean all anxiety connected to this experience will be easily remedied. Getting ghosted is not a fun process for anyone, especially those on the autism spectrum. It can be difficult to keep an anxiety-free mindset when navigating this particular phenomenon. But there are ways to navigate out of the mental state this development can leave you in. Though it feels like a cataclysmic event, getting ghosted by a prospective romantic partner isn’t the end of the world nor is it a referendum on your value as a person.