Socialization is one of those “benchmarks” that appears on the list of “normal” behaviors. It even has its own timeline; one “should” be doing “X” by “Y” age. All of these socialization milestones involve interaction, and most of them involve communication.
That’s where the situation gets dicey.
Interaction and communication are bidirectional. I make up half of the picture, and another person makes up another half. Another person, who has their own thoughts, feelings, viewpoints, dispositions, characteristics, personality traits, tendencies, and so on.
It’s a wild card.
Interaction and communication induce anxiety for two reasons: 1) I can’t “make” the other person interpret my messages accurately, and 2) one can never please everyone. The second one has been at the core of many a painful experience.
I’ve always (felt that) I have to work extra hard to appear likable.
It’s not that I’m mean or antisocial (literal use of the word–anti-social – “against being social”).
It’s just that I have a tough time remembering the social niceties; for example, to say thank you or reciprocate a compliment or return a favor.
It’s not that I don’t feel grateful or want to reciprocate–I really do feel warm and fuzzy inside and I want to share the vibe.
It’s just that I’m not used to showing it on the outside.
In my personal Unpacking Autism process, I find myself having to overcome and override a lifetime of not feeling safe and free to fully express myself.
What I do is driven more by a fear of what I do not want: to come across as cold, distant, or aloof. To give people the impression that I care nothing for that which is beyond myself. To send people away with the misconception that I’m unfeeling or insensitive. To inadvertently reinforce the persistent stereotypes, just when they’re beginning to erode away from the landscape. To end up alone, having “won” some mythical “victory” while having lost the “war”, the war on the universe to gain acceptance and be likable.
Lately I’ve been thinking about social interaction online. It’s like a luxury item you scrimp and save and work hard for. Just because you cherish it doesn’t mean you don’t work hard at it and get tired sometimes; and just because I get exhausted sometimes doesn’t mean I don’t absolutely love and enjoy it (I definitely do!). When text (and maybe emojis) are all I have at my disposal, I feel (fear?) that I lack other tools I’ve come to rely on (even if the original learning curve was steep at the time). I don’t have facial expressions, movements, utterances like an excited squeal, or a big smile or hug.
I often lament about the limitations and confines of spoken language, how plain English words are inadequate for expressing the whole of what I want to communicate to another. Well, if the spoken word is limiting, the typed word is even more so.
Online, all I have are words, exclamation points, and if I’m using my mobile, emojis. I have what I have. It probably gets monotonous and repetitive, but I’m not spontaneously imaginative. I don’t always have the right words to say. It’s then that I pull from my tried and true stock of limited words and phrases: “dear”, “friend”, “this!”, “agreed!”, “well said!”, “I love this post/tweet!”, “I can relate”, and so on. Followed by a string of emojis, because what I think and feel cannot always be written on the screen, and emojis are my next best tool.
Some people magically know what to say; they’re creative, variable, and personalized, and their timing is perfect to boot.
Not me. I don’t seem to have that gift.
My creativity comes in spurts and lightning strikes, that last about as long and are about as unpredictable. It magically appears when it damn well wants to, and disappears just as quickly, leaving me with my mundane brain and its stock linguistic inventory.
A thesaurus would probably do me some good, but knowing my luck, my new vocabulary words would come across as forced, artificial, manufactured. The terms of endearment and the multiple emojis that follow are my interactive trademark, my predictable style. It would probably actually upset the ocean surface if I strayed from them.
I run the risk of sounding like a broken record, or maybe a robot. This isn’t intentional, but it might be inevitable. Especially in someone who wants to reply to every comment left, and also leave comments for others.
My methods of social interaction may not be palatable for all. But they’re what I’ve got and it’s what I can do. I know that I can rest comfortably, knowing that at any given moment, I’ve given everything I had/have at my disposal. Others are much more eloquent than I.
Each of us sees aspects of life differently, and each of us has different ways of expressing them. Mine include a lot of emojis and tried-and-true socially-acceptable words, and occasionally, a lightning strike of originality out of nowhere from over yonder. 🙂
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(Image Credit: Mario Sanchez Nevado)