Tuesday, 7 May 2024

After hearing other autistic people talk about how they make friends and have conversations, I feel more seen in a way but Im still left wondering how im supposed to apply their advice when I seem to have so many other problems with socializing that make it feel like a lost cause.

I feel like ive spent my whole life having relationships handed to me, in the form of family same-age peers and in elementary school other kids would talk to me and invite me to things because in their own words, it seemed like I didn’t have friends. Looking back I think I was wrong to assume cynically that they approached me because they felt bad for me, even if they might have really thought that, because either way it was obviously caused by the unspoken discomfort of allowing one child to be completely unsocialized, left to fend for themselves in a way that made everyone else nervous.

I imagine the social cohesion of children is the way it is because they haven’t learned all the ways they’re supposed to hate each other yet. Fights happen, they cry over losing games, friends pretend to hate each other and everything is back to normal by tomorrow. They acclimate, slowly over the years, to the violence of the culture. Children in our culture don’t learn to have productive conflict so much as alienate and isolate themselves and each other whenever met with disagreement. At the ripe age of 9 I felt like it was all better left untouched. I had just moved and I felt secure in having one solid friendship with a family member and didn’t want to bother with anyone in my new school. Everyone around me seemed settled into some kind of clique and I felt like I would be disturbing the order of things with anything I did. I had of course suffered from lifelong SAD (besides also being autistic) but without the words for it, I assumed it was just a fact of life that performing any kind of social interaction, even so much as existing publicly, was bound to bring about painful shame and discomfort. I wondered why ANYONE bothered.

That went on for almost 2 years, broken up by just the occasional conversation or classroom game I had to participate in, until by sheer luck someone started talking to me at seemingly every oppurtunity they had. They didn’t stop. For a few months I was honest to god friends with this classmate simply because they kept talking to me, kept approaching me, as unapproachable as I thought I was. I went to their birthday party. They introduced me to a number of people who I would give my number and we actually had some small, pleasant encounters. Through them I was introduced to a guy who’d be my best friend for nearly 4 years, someone in my school I had wanted to talk to and knew I never would by myself. He would introduce me to people online over the years, who I would sometimes get to know better.

I don’t know any of those people anymore, havent for years. Even my relationships within my family have all but eroded. My point in relaying this is to illustrate what I mean when I say that relationships have always been handed to me. The skills of approaching others, initiating conversation, finding commonalities, exchanging any kind of personal information, are skills I have never had to learn nor wanted to. No part of me desires any of these things. Just the idea of initiating a conversation or being expected to join one when it is initiated makes me cringe, it makes me queasy and it’s enough to trigger the sensation of “ohmygodineedtogetoutofhereohmygoddontmakeeyecontactdonttalktome”. It is only the knowledge that without a social network, without people to rely on for emotional/physical/financial support, I’ll just die, that makes me search for friendship. Were it not for the structure of our society I would not actively seek friendship at all; and really I probably would not need to. It would already surround me. It might be that friendship is the lifeblood of the very culture and language I find myself living in, rather than competition.

I wonder if desperation or spite are viable reasons to form friendships. They are the only reasons I think I have. I don’t have any drive to talk to other people because I generally do not enjoy it. I feel very obsessive in the way that I curate myself to be consumed by other people, and this is what most of my social energy goes towards (what little of it I have to begin with.) I think I have only ever been myself around one or two people, and to this day I can’t tell if that strengthened our relationships or ended them.

Since the pandemic began I have had long periods of withdrawal spent thinking about my future. Since I have been for the most part without friends for the past few years I’ve spent some of this time evaluating what opportunities I will have in my future to form a community. Because my “social self” is so curated, so dissociated from myself, she isn’t exactly picky. My desire at this point is tempered, realistic, as much as it is unsatisfying and draining. I don’t have any natural drive for friendship yet I have expended so much energy, for my entire life, into crafting the persona of someone who does desire friendship, and what they should be like. In my mind, this is someone who behaves superficially in that they don’t engage in much more than small talk with others, even if they speak frequently. They are mild-mannered and emulate the behaviors of others insofar as it seems expected. They do not go out of their way to talk about themselves, to discuss or even seem to have interests, they do not perform for others or engage in creativity besides repeating jokes they have heard that were well-received. What they truly work towards is acquaintanceship, towards knowing there are people they can call who will pick up, but no one who will call them with the intention to socialize.

This person is a part of me as much as any other trait of my past or personality. I am in fact the only person who knows her intimately, and she knows me. I do not know, however, the exact point where I end and she begins, and I think all of my relationships have been on some level tainted by her omnipresence. We are sometimes even one and the same, especially in moments I do not recognize myself outside of the way I am recognized by other people. She is careful, but thoughtless. She is the one who attended my classmates birthdays just so I could say I went. She navigated conflicts with my peers by way of fawning, just trying to please everyone and keep neutral. She is the one who is always there when I know I’m not really allowed to be. We are defense mechanisms for each other.

Socializing is a whole constellation of pain, shame, dissociation, and just regular cringe for me. I have only ever felt like myself in relationships I’ve had for years, and when I begin to behave the way I think I want to rather than the way I think I should, we begin to grow apart. Maybe it is simply a problem everyone has growing up, growing out of school-age commonalities, moving around a lot, etc. But it has always seemed less debilitating to other people. Like less of a world-ending change to grieve over and more or less a smooth transition.

I have always been deeply envious of anyone with the ability to make their own friends just because they want to. I have so many questions I would ask someone if they’d let me. Why do you want friends? What makes you want to be around other people? Do you not get overstimulated looking at peoples bodies and faces? Hearing them speak? How long did it take you to learn to be okay with people doing things like asking about your day when they do not mean it, someone you don’t know trying to start a conversation, etc., or have these things always seemed normal to you? How much do you lie about yourself/conceal about yourself with people you know? Do you not at all? If so, why not? Do you find socializing actually worthwhile or fun, or is it just something you have to do? Are you concerned that other people talk about you, think about you, and have memories of you, or does that just seem like a given? Does it seem ridiculous to you to even consider these questions?

I don’t know if I will ever become myself. I like to think it’s something I am constantly working towards and will inevitably break into. But I don’t know if being genuine will actually allow me to connect with others or if it will make me fully secede from social life. I don’t know which would be better.