Throughout my life, I’ve always had a hard time making friends. I’ve always ever only had three good friends at most at any moment in time. In a way, this was advantageous; my life was rather simple. On the other hand, if they were busy, such as with their families or other friends, the landscape was desolate.
When my partner and I finally graduated from our last leg of school, we found ourselves at a crossroads…
We could stay in the town we were in (which was Dallas, Texas–not an option), or we can move anywhere. Rarely, if ever, would we be able to afford to entertain this question again. It was do or die. We had one shot.
Where would we go? We had our Short List of places, but we could never quite arrive at a final decision. We battled, not so much with each other as ourselves, which Short List Town we would choose. For a while, weighing the pros and cons of Small Town versus Big City was an everyday conversation topic. Small Towns had the close-knit feel and friendliness and low-key-ness that we longed for. But they hardly have any of the amenities we need. Big Cities have those. But they also have traffic and anonymity and higher crime rates.
What to do, what to do? Decisions, decisions. The nightmare of an Aspie/autistic person.
We finally decided on a Big Town, striking that sweet spot between Small Town and Big City. It’s a Big City with few suburbs, one that thinks it’s a Small Town and doesn’t realize it’s actually a Big City. A big metropolitan area with a lovable identity crisis.
What clinched the deal, however, was the people. They were everything I had known about small towns: friendly, chill, low-key, and all the rest. I had heard that it was particularly easy to make friends here. Awesome. Finally!
And yet, we have exactly three close friends here.
In the seven years we’ve been here.
Three friends in seven years in a town known for its ease-of-friend-making isn’t very encouraging.
What does that say about us? Well, it screams “we don’t get out much”, and that’s usually a pretty crucial ingredient to making offline friends in the first place. Sometimes you can get lucky online (which is, interestingly enough, how we met our Exact Three Friends), but that’s more the exception than the rule.
It seems strange to live in a town in which everyone has friends–everyone but you, that is. One day, several years ago, long before I realized I had a spot waiting for me on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, I contemplated…
Just exactly how did everyone else make friends?
Well, they make them at work. That seems like a common meeting grounds. Scratch that; we’re self-employed. Our office is just my partner and me, and when we’re lucky, as assistant, and who wants to hang out with their “boss”?
Let’s see, where else? Ah! I hear about people meeting other parents. Nope, scratch that, too; we don’t have any kids.
OK, what about a church? This is a big church town. Nope, not Christian.
Alrighty then, where else do people meet each other? Hmmm, something about friends from college/university. No Can Do; just graduated. For the last time.
I’m not one for the bar scene. I am one for the library, but you can’t talk in there; people don’t use it as a social gathering place, and even if someone did, the other people wouldn’t be too pleased.
I reached the conclusion that it’s god(dess)-awful difficult for me to make friends. I didn’t know why; I had no clue that I was Aspergian/autistic. I just felt like a leper all these years. It seemed like I had some kind of anti-people, anti-friend-making disease, a bug in the Making Friends App of my personal OS.
Then I found out that surprise!–I’m on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. OK, consider myself debugged. At least I now knew what was
wrong up. Except that there’s no “fix” (not that I’d even want one, except maybe in the Making Friends department. There’s no App available for my version. Good times).
Another FunFact I’ve always been aware of is my selectivity when it comes to choosing my friends. They’re all carefully hand-picked, having passed several mental rounds of aptitude tests and safety screenings. Here again, I didn’t know why.
Can they hack being friends with someone like me? Can they even tolerate me for any substantial length of time?
Most of the world can’t.
I’m too straight up.
I’m too “out there”.
I’m too introverted.
I’m too distant.
I’m too confusing.
I’m too weird.
I’m not Mr Potato Head or a Build-a-Bear; I’ve never been able to design an Acceptable Me. I’ve never been that charismatic person that commands a room, making heads turn, and gathering disciples like the Pied Piper.
And, to turn the tables a little, the rest of the world looks, to me, to be too boring, too petty, too shallow, too simplistic and yet, too complicated, all at the same time.
Since it takes a lot of energy to make and develop friendships in the first place, I had to ask myself if it would even be worth time time and energy? Every time I did an instantaneous cost-benefit ratio in my gut, the scales came up short.
It’s a lose-lose scenario. Game point, nobody wins.
Life goes on.
In the spirit of being straight up, I’ll make a juicy confession…
I like people who are like me. I also like people who are different from me. But I find that people like me are easier to relate to, because, well, to state the obvious, they’re like me. If we already have a lot in common, it takes less energy to forge a bond. The tricky part is, there are few of those people out there. The circle is small. The boundaries are simple. Everything is manageable. And the odds are, I’m not going to find too many in my neighborhood or happen upon many of them by chance.
To my acquaintances, I’m the type of friend that might not say much; you might not hear much from me…until you fall on hard times. I’m like the opposite of a fair weather friend. I’ll be there, and someone you can go to, in times of crisis or need, and that’s when I’ll be there the most.
To my closest offline friends, I’ll be the one who dutifully calls them, usually right on the dot, although I may be up to five minutes late. Or I might be up to five minutes early. But you can probably set your watch by me; I’m going to be there, like a rock (or an anchor), without fail.
I’ll be the one who, despite life’s changes that inevitably come with the natural passage of time, retains a hint of childlike quality. The one who wouldn’t think twice about asking–or being asked–the question “you seem pretty cool (and you’re safe); do you want to be friends?”
To me, that’s just effective communication. It makes good sense. The words exist and it makes a legitimate, understandable sentence.
And yet, nobody (at least, no NT) beyond the age of six or seven actually says that.
Because we’re supposed to have learned the more complex social graces, the subtle social skills. Or so we’ve been told (maybe).
Except that that’s where the process gets confusing. What “other social graces”? Isn’t “do you want to be friends?” graceful enough? What’s so rude, weird, or off-putting about that? Who made this stuff up, anyway? Someone with too much spare time and a penchant for drama and misunderstanding, that’s who. Someone who had a dark sense of humor and thought it’d be fun to amuse themselves at the expense of others.
I’ve come to the conclusion that “social graces” and “subtle unwritten rules” are simply peacock-posturing combined with butt-sniffing. But that’s just me.
Unwritten rules like these alienate us. (I’m supposed to do what, when? Oh, but not in that situation? Like when the wind blows from the East on Tuesday instead of the North or West. Got it. I think.) But they remain a constant in the universe, and at least I’ve been able to build my life around them, even if a lonely one.
Until this year. Unexpectedly, something unprecedented happened: both the quality and quantity of my friends went through the roof!
I was not prepared for that. Nobody could have ever given me a heads up; I wouldn’t have believed them. But I was incredibly, deliriously happy about it.
And I still am. (I am indeed pruning the bushes a little lately, but that’s only so that my bonds with those who really matter can grow and flourish. The pruning isn’t as drastic or fickle as it may sound, either; it’s just one of those Facts of Life.)
Actually, I’m ecstatic that anybody likes me at all (lol). I’m (warmheartedly) amused that anyone actually thinks I’m cool (believe me, the feeling is mutual! I think other bloggers and other people in the Asperger’s/autism spectrum community are absolutely amazing).
In fact, the much-treasured anomaly that I actually have friends is so incredibly surreal that I sometimes can’t help but engage in a little bit of mild self-deprecation–you know, the type in which you’re verbally pinching yourself to see if it’s a dream or if it’s real.
As if to ask “Are you sure you like me? Before either of us get our hopes up, let me tell you all of the unlikable things about me…“, I start making off-color remarks like…
“I’m a total biochemistry nerd.”
Usually, they’ll say, “no problem.”
“I also lean semi-libertarian; a little more to the left or right, depending on the individual issue.”
Them: “That’s fine.”
“Oh, and I like ‘Family Guy’ (even if I don’t agree with 100% of it) and cable TV shows about human pathogenic parasites.”
Them: “…. OK.”
“And I’ve said the entire alphabet in one belch.”
Dude–if they don’t leave my side after that disclosure, they’re golden.
It’s like a non-manipulative, head-game-free test, to gauge their tolerance level, to make sure there won’t be a divorce between friends later. I just get it all out in the open, up front, full (and I mean full) disclosure, just so that there’s nothing left to chance, no room for a misconception.
And the online aspect can be tricky sometimes. Contrary to popular belief, many people on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum can indeed interpret facial expressions, usually somewhere within the ballpark. Or we can pick up on tone of voice or other body language. The translation may not be perfect, but we’re somewhere in the neighborhood. But, for many of us, online interaction is easier. Rather than hiding behind a moniker and persona, we can actually let our True Selves shine. We can be the shiny happy people that we were meant to be.
My online social circle is definitely shining in the quantity department, but the cool part is that the quality pulls rank, soaring even higher than the quantity. Not only did I find the rest of my tribe this last summer, but some of those bonds have formed into solid, unbending steel, establishing themselves cozily, melding in with the other aspects of my life.
We talk about things like Chaos Theory and painting. Or Pathophysiology and dark matter. Or share a bathroom joke or two. All while doing everyday stuff like working with power tools, chasing after children (for my friends who have them), or watching those human pathogenic parasite shows on TV.
We compare notes and feel less alone. Our What’s App conversations include such stock phrases such as, “me too!”, “same here”, or “OMG I didn’t think anyone else did that!”, followed by a string of 17 emojis. It’s endearingly theatrical.
We check in on each other at our own convenience, coming and going as we can and please. There’s no awkwardness, no (post-pruning) drama.
There’s only pure understanding. And during the rare times in which we’re not sure, there’s no assumption, no inference, no reading into the situation; we seek clarification. We don’t require Posturing or Butt-Snuffing Stages.
The way I roll, I’m open to anyone until proven otherwise. So if I haven’t said anything to you (or acted overtly toward you) to the contrary, you’re probably golden. There’s no guesswork there. There are also no empty “maybe we should”s or “let’s get together sometime”s, not spouting socially-correct phrases simply because they’re expected, with no intention of follow-through. I say what I mean, and so do most of the others on the spectrum.
If I’m too “weird”, “straight up”, “out there”, or “introverted”, it looks like I’ve got plenty of awesome company after all. I just had to know what terms to internet-search for. 🙂