Mary Jo Podgurski

Column Mary Jo Podgurski

Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 68 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Don’t change to attract someone

Don’t change to attract someone

October 4, 2017

Q.Hey, it’s me! I’ve been asking you questions since sixth grade, so I’m not surprised I’m back now. I started college this year. I’m loving it. Here’s my question – and you can put it in your column. How honest should I be with new people I meet? The truth is – as you know – I haven’t done much sexually. I’m autistic. I don’t think most people know. I get by really well, unless I share. I like studying. I don’t mind social events, as long as people don’t crowd me. In high school you helped me with communication. I’m pretty good at it, I think. I know how to start and keep a conversation going. Until now, I wasn’t attracted to anyone enough to want to connect. I’m not ready for sex yet, but I think I’d like to have a partner to go to the movies and eat dinner with and maybe kiss. There’s someone in one of my classes that I think about a lot. Which surprises me, but also makes me happy. Do I owe this person the truth about my autism? Do I share how inexperienced I am? Do I tell this person I’m not into a lot of touch, just some, and I don’t know how much I’ll like? I watched that Netflix series “Atypical.” I thought it was stereotypical about people like me, but I did relate to the way the autistic character had trouble hooking up. I don’t think I’m like him. I filter way better. I am different, though. Should I try to change to attract someone?

19-year-old

Mary Jo’s response: How wonderful to hear from you! I’m thrilled you’re loving college. I knew you would!

First things first: There is no reason to change to attract someone. You are a person of worth, just as you are. Trying to become someone else just to connect with a possible partner isn’t good for anyone. Think of it … if you try to change, the person to whom you’re attracted wouldn’t get to know the real you. You may also become tired of pretending. Be yourself. Connect with someone who values you.

I watched “Atypical” as well. I’m interested in your perspective. The autistic character really didn’t filter much, did he? I agree. You do communicate well.

I don’t think you “owe” anyone private information. I remember listening to you discuss how you wanted to be treated. I clearly recall you saying you wanted to be called an “autistic person,” not a person with autism, because autism is part of who you are, not something you want to remove. I know you dislike labels. I agree with you 100 percent. Your way of viewing life is good. You see things differently, but that difference isn’t wrong. No one is a label.

When you become close with someone, you will share personal things. For example, you will tell a person you trust how it feels to be autistic. You’ll share how pleased you are to feel attracted to someone. In any healthy relationship, a conversation about touch and sexual limits is important. In time, you’ll naturally discuss what you want from the relationship. In time, your feelings may grow; you won’t change as much as develop. It’s also OK if you remain the same.

Approach this person as you would a potential friend. Share your interest in going to the movies or dining together. Let things move naturally. Let’s keep in touch as you progress.

You’re unique and amazing, my friend. There’s no one like you. Each of us has something to offer. I know you do. I wish you joy.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email podmj@healthyteens.com.

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