Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Love is such an important experience that even the pain of losing someone you love is better than not having loved that person.” Bookbrowse.com interprets these words to mean that “the pain of loss does not outweigh the pleasure of love.” I have experienced Tennyson’s words in the ballroom dancing I have done since 2011. Ballroom dancing has helped me take risks in developing appropriate friendships with women and to value and solace in platonic love when romantic love is not available. Platonic love lessens the sting of not having romantic love. I also realize that I don’t need romantic love to be fully self-actualized.
I don’t mean to suggest that ballroom dancing is the answer for anyone who experiences social awkwardness. I am sure there are activities that are just as effective that are not anything like ballroom dancing. I do know that for me, finding my best social self cannot be done in isolation. I need other people and I would encourage anyone who struggles with social awkwardness to find a way to connect with others that works best for them.
I read somewhere that even when men with autism pursue women romantically in an appropriate manner, they often fail to secure that kind of relationship. That experience was very frustrating for me. It still is, but the frustration became much less intense once I began ballroom dancing. I undervalued friendships with the opposite sex. I made the mistake of having an all-or-nothing attitude toward friendships with women. I believed it was not fulfilling enough to just be friends with women. I do feel loneliness still, not being in a romantic relationship. But having emotional intimacy with many women really does help with the loneliness. I feel confident that I can continue to add to my happiness even if I am forever single. I believe I will always work through the periods of loneliness I experience, especially as I continue to grow in my relationship with myself.
From my youth I recall believing that since I was smart enough, handsome enough, sensitive enough, etc., that I was entitled to a romantic partner. I have since learned that love does not work that way. Love is not a logical, rational proposition you can negotiate. Either it happens or it doesn’t. A healthy relationship is not something that can be manipulated. I am grateful I am not in a romantic relationship just for its own sake, because then it wouldn’t really be romantic.
For me, the key has been to be comfortable with myself while I pursue platonic and romantic love. I tried a dating service once and I learned, for a high price, how to spend dinner with a woman appropriately. But none of those introductions led to a romance, or even a friendship. I realized then that I did not want to date. I just wanted to spend time with women so that I could learn how to be around them appropriately. That is when I decided to try ballroom dancing.
In 2011, I started ballroom dancing with the goal of meeting a romantic partner. Within a month, I realized it is better for me just to have fun, become a better dancer, and make new friends. For me, ballroom dancing is a series of three-minute introductions, a platonic answer to speed dating. it is an opportunity to meet several women in one night.
In a future blog, which I will probably call, “The Second Lift,” I plan to write about my experience in preparing for and successfully executing a showcase performance with my instructor in the winter of 2018. But for this blog, I will share of how I learned to ask a lady to dance, what to do while I am dancing with her, and how to end a dance. I hope it will inspire hope in those who are socially awkward that these skills can be learned. The professional instructor told me that if I follow her advice in these areas, I will be able to persuade many ladies to dance with me. She was right.
I mentioned earlier that doing things “right” doesn’t guarantee romance. But I also learned that if I do things appropriately, the pride in myself overrides any result from my efforts. This is the essence of Tennyson’s teaching: it is not whether you win or lose the game of love. It is how well you play. Asking a lady to dance is not difficult, but there are quite a few don'ts to avoid. Don’t interrupt her if she is in the middle of a conversation. Wait for her to finish her conversation. Before I might have just asked, “Wanna dance? “to someone I have never met. My instructor taught me it is more effective to introduce myself first then offer my hand in invitation. Remember to smile. The most difficult part is when a lady says no, but it often isn’t personal, and it doesn’t mean you cannot ask again. If I have another conversation later with a lady who declined my invitation, I might ask if she is open to another invitation at some point in the future.
Knowing what to do while I am dancing with a lady is the most difficult part of the dance for me. I do generally engage in appropriate small talk like the weather, where they are from and what brought them to the studio. Inevitably, the most interesting and eclectic comments can still emerge from me at this point. The first time I dance with someone I often tell them that I am on the autistic spectrum. That often helps. My most regular dance partners tend to be intrigued or even amused with my quirks. Since I have learned to laugh at myself, we just laugh together.
If I can’t think of anything to say, I can always just work on the dancing with my partner. Many of the women are really good dancers. One of my friends practiced the basics of samba with me many Saturday nights. The practice helped me perform well in the showcase. Other times, I dance with a new dancer, and I teach her the basic steps. In any event, I do generally engage in appropriate small talk like the weather, where they are from and what brought them to the studio.
Nothing can ruin a positive dance experience more than just abandoning the lady in the middle of the dance floor at the end of the song. It is always great manners to escort her off the floor. A good rule of thumb is to take her where you found her. I often ask her where she wants to go.
I enjoy working on dancing as a team with the opposite sex. Ballroom dancing makes it easier for me to appreciate and understand women in all areas of my life. At work, all of my supervisors are women. I have a good relationship with all of them. I used to struggle in almost every relationship I have, both men and women, but ballroom dancing has really helped me improve socially. Even my toughest critics in therapy commended my decision to ballroom dance.
The physical contact in ballroom dancing is nurturing, but it is neither romantic nor sexual. It is a pleasant connection that takes the sting out of being alone. My greatest satisfaction with ballroom dancing is knowing that I am putting myself out there just in case a romantic opportunity does arise. But if it does, it would probably be in a context other than ballroom dancing. The ladies I see each Saturday are like sisters, rather than potential romantic partners.
Even if it doesn’t happen for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I gave love my best effort. This is what Tennyson’s words mean for me. If I spent my life on the sidelines without making an honest effort, I know I would regret it. Knowing that I did my best makes me feel good about me, and the relationship I have with myself is the one that is most important. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I don’t find a romantic partner. I have already loved platonically and won.