Imagine a world in which all sights, sounds, and touches you experience this very moment impact the way you feel and how you relate to people. Picture yourself waking up, grabbing a pair of scissors and cutting out the tags in all of your clothes you've worn for the last two years. Envision covering your ears every time a fire engine passes. How do you handle clothing tags rubbing against your skin creating an itch sensation that never stops or touches that make your skin feel like it is on fire? Imagine dating someone who has these sensory overload experiences known as Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I'd like to offer some dating advice for those who are involved with such a special, magical person.
1. Adapt your mindset
Understand that your partner, like you, is a unique being and one who is different from every other person in the world. What do I mean? Keep in mind you might need to revise go-to date venues or the way in which you touch your partner. These differences can be challenging for some to grasp, while others view it as an opportunity to form a truly connected once-in-a-lifetime bond.
2. Spidey sense!
Truthfully, humans have eight senses. They are:
- Olfactory system (smell)
- Visual system (sight)
- Tactile System (touch)
- Gustatory system (taste)
- Auditory System (sound)
- Proprioceptive system (body awareness)
- Vestibular system (balance)
- Interceptive System (state of internal organs)
Although everyone has eight senses, it is important to note each adult with SPD experiences a sensation range. This means their sense level might over-respond or under-respond in one or multiple senses. For example, one might enjoy a music concert because they have a higher threshold of sound, while another might have to fix a time limit so that they do not become overwhelmed. Others avoid said events because the stimuli is simply too intense.
For exercise fiends who wish to include your partner in activities, it can be done through compromise. You could talk to the gym manager to see when it is less crowded so that they do not become overwhelmed with machine noises and side conversations. (Yes, your partner can experience all of these elements and easily become overstimulated!) I recommend discussing you and your partner's senses to learn where your likenesses, differences, and thresholds stand. Having this intimate exchange will allow both parties to be open about what to expect while attending outings and facilitate more shared, memorable experiences.
3. Embrace Feeling Uncomfortable
Speaking from experience, I am confident one learns more from one wrong than many rights. For example, for one to learn how an individual with SPD prefers to be held, both parties will likely have had to adapt. What does this mean? Touch, especially repeated touch in the same spot without variance, might feel to your partner as if their skin is on fire. Let me be clear: It does not mean that you or your partner is in any way broken. The sensation of what feels good and what can be tolerated has simply not yet been learned. The above situation offers an opportunity for both parties to connect on an intimate level and truly describe what feelings each currently feels. More importantly, it allows for relationship growth. She might say, "I enjoy what you are doing, but it would feel better if you had variance in how you touched me and location -- i.e., light, hard, kneading, etc. -- on my arm." In other words, be unpredictable. I graciously remind you that said situations will likely arise as everyone is different; however, constant and direct communication will help you and your partner connect and be on the same page.
4. Love through the stomach
Your partner might use a special dietary plan to help regulate their body. At the very least, you should be supportive and not sabotage it by insisting on going to restaurants the person cannot go. I recommend you join in and be adventurous with the new food selection. Aside from showing you truly care for your partner, you could experience a delicious new dish and might feel healthier by consuming more nutritious and natural foods.
5. Think long-term
A daily check-in to gauge your partner's sensation level is essential because these sensations often fluctuate. Be aware that agreed upon plans might need to be postponed or canceled depending on how they feel. Remember, it is okay if your partner becomes overstimulated. What you can do if this occurs is give them space so they can regulate themselves; understanding that everyone regulates oneself differently. "Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes," once wrote Oscar Wilde. Keep this in mind. Gain experience. And enjoy the gift of amazing, wonderful company.