I freeze inside. I know I should say hi back. But then the ball is in their court; I no longer have control over the conversation.
What if they keep it going, saying something else? What do I do then? I have to think on my feet. I’m not so good at that. I don’t have enough time to prepare. I don’t have enough time to rehearse.
I might say the wrong thing. I might look weird. I might look stupid. And then, my “normal” cover will be blown. My secret will be out. They’ll find out. They’ll realize that I’m not “normal” after all.
Every back-and-forth conversation is another chance for that true self to come out, to be revealed.
And then what?
I risk being judged again.
I risk being laughed at again.
I risk that one more person will think I’m strange and vow never to interact with or become friends with me.
I risk one more person turning other people against me.
I risk turning one more stranger, one more unknown, one more clean slate, into another agent of pain and shame and embarrassment.
The best way to avoid this, of course, is to never get tangled in conversation in the first place. Look down, look away. Appear preoccupied.
But sometimes appearing preoccupied or deep in thought doesn’t work; some people are so social that they insist on greeting every stranger.
For what? What’s the point? Do they plan to talk to me again? Will they even want to? Do they plan to become to become my friend afterward?
Probably not. It’s probably a one-time thing. So why do they do this? Why must the world impose its arbitrary unwritten social rules on everyone indiscriminately?
And aren’t NTs supposed to be the comparative experts at reading body language? If so, then why do some fail to read mine?
I might smile, but even when I do, I always look past them and try to appear as distant and faraway as possible. I’ve given them every clue I can think of. So why do they fail to pick up on them? We’re supposed to be the ones who have trouble reading body language and facial expressions. But it seems like they’re not so good at it, either, sometimes.
But we, the people of the spectrum, take all the “blame” for our inability to read people. We’re the ones with the reputation for not being able to do so.
What’s the moral of the story? I don’t know.
Maybe it’s taking out my mobile phone suddenly, as though I hear or feel it vibrating with an incoming call.
Or keeping an inactive Bluetooth headset inserted into my ear and suddenly start talking to myself, as though I’m already engaged in conversation.
Or wiping my eyes as if I’ve been crying, while looking away slightly.
I’ve even pretended, for a moment, to be completely deaf, so that they wouldn’t think I heard them, and then they won’t expect me to respond. (But before you get mad at me, offended that I would do such a thing, please do consider that that’s probably a very realistic glimpse into my probable future, and then I’m probably just practicing prophetically.)
Maybe then, I’ll crave hearing someone say hi, instead of dreading it. Maybe then, I’d give anything to be able to hear their voice or carry on a conversation if I wanted to.
I should be grateful that I can hear them say hi. But right now, I’m not sure. I’m thankful that I can hear.
I just wish there wasn’t anything to have to keep my ear out for, unless it was on my terms.
I’m glad people are friendly enough that they do say hi to strangers. I know that the problem lies with me. I know that I can “act” well enough to get by. Maybe it won’t kill me to engage in a short conversation. Maybe I can pass for “normal” long enough to get through it, and avoid leaving a lasting impression.
Sometimes, even the “simple” things can be difficult.
(Image Credit: Carne Griffiths)