In the neurotypical world, there is generally a limited gradient in terms of the type and intensity of fondness that one person may have for another.
There is love, such as what one feels for a close family member.
There is love, such as what one feels for a partner or significant other.
There is like-a-lot, the kind that one might feel towards a good, long-time friend.
There is “just friends”, which is how one might regard other good friends who aren’t their “best” friends, but a good friend nonetheless.
There’s lukewarm-like, such as the benevolent, casual feeling one might have toward an acquaintance.
In certain situations, there’s also the infatuation/”crush” that one often develops toward someone one is attracted to.
In another type of certain situation, there’s a purely sexual attraction, in which the people find each other nice to look at and the chemistry flows between them, but they might not make great life partners, or even friends.
But in the neurotypical world, these categories are generally clearly divided. There’s hardly any blurring or crossover, unless two people decidedly change their bond’s status. And in the neurotypical world, one’s anatomical gender and sexual orientation automatically dictate which of the above options are available, at least to a point. For example, eyebrows might elevate when a male and female are seen together, it is assumed that they’re either “just friends”, or they’re sleeping together. There seems to be no allowance made for an in-between.
As usual, my experience as an autistic/Aspergian person is different. And I have sound reason to think that I’m in plenty of company.
I experience different types of bonding that may not be common among the “rest of the world”. Sifting through them can be challenging, as not only are they uncommon, but English language lacks the words in its language, and Western civilization lacks these concepts in its culture.
I’ll do my best to describe a few…
Deep, Intense Fascination:
I feel different kinds of…I’m not sure what to call it. Love? Attraction? Chemistry? Infatuation? Although I don’t know how to classify or describe it, I do know that it’s not the same as the “typical” categories neurotypical place other people in.
I’ve always had what I call a fascination for certain people. As in, utterly fascinated. I can articulate the fact that it’s a strong, strong attraction. There is no trace of any sexual overtone; their appearance is immaterial, as are their age (although they’re usually older) and gender (equal opportunity there). On the surface, I appear to be a devotee (at best) or a stalker (at worst). The truth is, I’m neither of those, but it may take on an “obsessive” appearance when considered only superficially. I will want to know everything about the person with whom I’m fascinated. Everything about them interests me, makes me laugh, or draws me in even more strongly. I will think about them all the time. Little nuances about them, phrases they’ve said or jokes they’ve made and long forgotten about will echo in my head for days, weeks, or months afterward, popping up at random, no matter what I’m doing at the time, and each time they do, I will feel an involuntary smile spread across my face as the memory washes over me warmly. The slightest word, look, or touch, no matter how incidental, no matter how insignificant for them (or anybody else) will make my whole world, meaning everything to me. I exercise strong self-censorship so as not to come off creepy to them or possessed to other people, who would quickly tire (and have quickly tired) of hearing about the person with whom I’m fascinated. I’ve learned that the hard way, through multiple strings of embarrassing moments.
Generally, I’m more likely to feel this way about people older than I am, usually by at least 10-35 years. Mostly, they’ve been teachers or someone in a position of potentially-nurturing authority.
Spirit Siblings / Spirit Family:
There are people whom I simply, effortlessly “click” with, and come to bond closely with. I can only describe this as a love or a deep caring for that person. It goes beyond platonic, but there is no magnetic attraction, per se; it’s simply a feeling of deep and sincere kinship. Of course, here again, sexual attraction or desires never enter the equation at all. And here again, age, gender, and appearance don’t matter one bit; they can be male or female. I would consider them fellow “tribe members”, “soul siblings”, “spirit siblings”, or “kindred spirits”. I feel a strong sense of camaraderie with them, and we are gentle with each other, possessing a near-automatic understanding, much of it unspoken, although we’re not necessarily shy with our words toward each other, either. There is a sense of earthy realism, comfort, and peace. I feel an instinctual trust with them. I’m at ease in their virtual or physical presence, and not only do I love who they are, but they bring out the best in me, too, so I feel more comfortable with myself when I’m around them.
In general, I’m more likely to bond this way with people of any age or gender, and usually we share a quirky minority status, such as being on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum, a different race/ethnicity/culture, an unconventional gender identity or sexual orientation (even though, again, there is absolutely nothing sexual involved in what I feel toward them), or some other orientation that sets us together with each other, and apart from the rest of the world. Most of these folks are online, although some are also part of my offline life.
Lone Wolves, Traveling Together:
These are friends, online or offline, any age and gender, (etc) with whom I don’t converse much, but who I feel are sort of “right there with me”, even from a distance, whether that distance is geographical, emotional, virtual, or other. We may come together only sporadically, but when we do, we can easily pick up where we left off, even if we don’t know each other all that well. We go off and live our lives, doing our own thing, being our own people, only periodically checking in, and then we sort of pop up on each other’s radar like popcorn and reconnect for a short bit. Conversations usually occur electronically, either by email, direct message, or what-have-you, and they usually have no beginning and no end. We simply respond and initiate conversation as we feel like, have time for, or are awake enough to.
The Innocent Crush:
This type of bond is like going back to elementary/primary school or junior high/middle/secondary school, when one usually started to notice people for the first time and develop their first crush. There’s a beyond-platonic attraction there, too, which compels me to steal momentary sideways glances when (I hope) they’re not looking, or to pine for them in an innocent way, attracted to them in an indescribable way from afar. The key word here is innocent; I’m so not going to cheat on my partner, of course; I’m a monogamous and faithful person. This can happen with either gender, too. One can consider it to be a mild version of the fascination, except that it doesn’t come across quite as “obsessive”. I’d still like to know a lot about them, and I may think of them quite fondly, but I don’t need to nail down every detail of their Timeline of Life or remember every word they said. I might giggle a bit too loud (before I catch myself and abruptly stifle it), and I might gaze at them for a moment too long, but usually it goes unnoticed by those around me. It’s a bit easier to contain.
Sometimes, the act of attempting to make sense of these types of bonds is futile, as their descriptions are elusive, undefined, and sometimes unquantifiable. It may be that the words exist in my native language but they’re so rarely used that I’m not aware of them. It may be that the right words don’t exist at all. It might be that various types of bonds straddle across multiple existing neurotypically-recognized categories and thus are tough to pin down precisely. It may be that the emotions I associate with these bonds might be too powerful to gauge or even contain. I might be trying to measure them with a certain “normal” emotion-o-meter and yet…like everything else in my Aspergian/autistic-flavored life, they cannot be measured using a regular instrument; these emotions might be marching to the beat of their own drum kits, blazing their own paths in the jungle that is the world at large.
I think that this predicament is largely the result of a combination of the following:
- A different way of relating to people (i.e., what the neurotypical world sees as a “social impairment”)
- The social awkwardness that accompanies this different way of relating to others
- The simultaneous different ways of identifying and expressing emotions, yet experiencing these emotions on an incredibly deep and almost-unreachable level
- A different method of processing (which neurotypical “experts” might describe as “delayed”, while I simply explain it as “delayed because it’s more thorough and, like emotions, it runs deeper” (which may be largely responsible for the “obsessive”-like surface appearance))
These bonds and their accompanying feelings bring senses of happiness, elation, and even sometimes euphoria, but they also include feelings of self-consciousness and vulnerability in their package deal. This especially comes with disclosure. For some reason, perfectly plausible-sounding phrases like, “you seem cool! Let’s be friends” or “I love you like a brother” are Simply Not Uttered in the conventional neurotypical world–at least not without people shrinking back (sometimes visibly) and wondering if you’re their own personal celebrity stalker. There’s a real risk in disclosing these types of feelings to the vast majority of people; doing so can be a surefire way to get them to disappear entirely, even though my intent was the exact opposite.
This all means that I usually have to harbor my bonds, attractions, emotions, and so on, in secret, which makes me feel even “weirder”. As if I don’t feel “weird” enough already, just for possessing these feelings, but feeling like I have to hide them only adds to the pile of strangeness and alienation that have become all-too-familiar.
Most likely a by-product of acting and masking, I’ve learned to use neurotypical-world-friendly terms to describe these other people in my life. “Fascinations” become “role models” in conversation. “Innocent crushes” become simply “friends, “lone wolves” become “pen pals” (or some other similar term), and “spirit siblings (etc)” become “online friends”, if I even dare mention them to neurotypical people at all in the first place. The neurotypical world in general does not seem to understand these abyss-deep emotions, thoughts, and attractions. When faced with a third choice between “just friends” and “sleeping together”, the neurotypical world freezes and crashes, unable to compute.
But that’s OK. It’s OK on its own, and it feels even more OK since I found out that I’m not alone. Many of my fellow Aspie/autie friends “get” me, a “getting” that has brought me a glitter pile of peace and self-acceptance.
As for the rest of the world? They don’t necessarily need to know. They wouldn’t understand, and they’re not any better or worse off. I can keep my “secrets”; they’re my consolation prize for my acting and masking efforts. 🙂
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(Image Credit: Hans Walor)