Beyond Hello – My Aspergian Philosophy on Friendship

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“My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” Joe Versus the Volcano 1990

Since you’re already here, you might as well pull up a chair. This will definitely take awhile. I’ll pour a shot of Jack and light a cigarette (even though I shouldn’t) and though so few will actually read this, I will probably feel like I’ve made a dent in understanding myself a bit better. The quote at the beginning will make more sense as you read on. Are you still with me? Good. Let’s go.

Do you remember the first friend you ever made? Do you remember the excitement you felt that someone else shared a similar interest as you? You probably ran home from school, bursting with excitement. You probably called them your best friend or at least expected you to become that way.

For me, friendship is like a massive puzzle. So many pieces are frayed from trying to cram them into places they don’t fit. It seems like a mathematical equation that I keep getting wrong. I remember learning “PEMDAS” in school and somehow I would still somehow get the wrong answer. I would feel so incredibly frustrated. I remember when my sixth grade teacher sat me down and told me I was failing 6th grade math because I simply couldn’t understand how to multiply double digit numbers. I burst into tears as usual. Then the next class, she gave us a project to do. She asked us to make one poster based on one form of type of Math (I.E.- Addition, Subtraction).

The day came to bring in our posters. She told me in private that if I had worked really hard she would pass me. Well, I was smiling from ear to ear as I handed her five posters. She looked at me confused and my smile faded. I had thought if I did more than one I couldn’t possibly have failed at all of them.

This senario fits in perfectly with my first failed theory about friendship. Giving 200% to make a friend doesn’t work. It actually usually pushes them away. I’ve run into this issue numerous times. I would think to myself, “but I went SO far out of my way to be the “perfect” friend” so why did all my work seem to not only seem unappreciated, but also unwanted? I have learned over the years that people like to feel needed. If I am doing all of the work, what is left for them to offer?

Another thing that I have learned is that inviting yourself to events or joining conversations just because you are knowledgable about a subject or just because you share an interest, does not mean that they will welcome you into their group or conversation. In fact, it has aggravated situations and the whole time I am sitting there completely unaware of their growing aggitation. Talk about backfire.

I’ve tried writing notes in school asking people to be my friends. No name dropping in this post necessary obviously, but some of the responses were not only heartbreaking, my eyes are overflowing at just the memory alone. The girls sharing the note with other girls, and the group turning to me and laughing. Or worse, a hateful note in response.

Somewhere down the road, I seemed to gain a label I had always wanted but never understood and now that I think I am fully understanding it, I no longer want it. I don’t want to be the “go to person” when someone needs help. I know that my biggest dream is to make a difference and a part of that is giving my time with no expectations of reciprocation but somehow…and I am not sure how this has happened…but over the last decade it seems people see me as the person to vent to about their friendship troubles and the person to call when there is absolutely no one else left to call. And I answer excitedly, feeling needed, until the person they initially called calls back and we hang up the phone.

I used to tell my grandmother I wanted a best friend. I told her many times over how badly I wanted to make friends. I didn’t tell her until many years later about the rocks being thrown at me on my way home from school, the name calling, the food being flung at me in the lunch hall, the staples being flung at my face, chairs being pulled out from under me, being followed home and taunted endlessly, my email getting hacked by peers at school to make me look like a complete idiot.

No, I kept that quiet. I went to so many schools that I figured that the next school would be different. SOMEONE was bound to understand me and relate to me. I made a few aquaintances along the way, but never knew what to say to them. I called them my “friends” and often came home crying after finding out they not only were not my friends, they were being sarcastic and didn’t want have anything to do with me.

Sarcasm is a tricky thing. If I can see them smiling or they laugh afterwards, I can now often catch on to the humor or at least understand that they were not being serious. Dry humor? Forget it. I was always the last to figure it out.

I think part of the problem is that I’ve always desperately wanted a ‘best friend’. Recently, I have figured out exactly what that means to me which is quite a triumph. To me a best friend is someone who can’t wait to tell you about their day, someone who seeks ME out to ask how I’m doing without me having to ask first every time. A best friend to me is someone who accepts me for who I am. I am anxious person. Absolutely. I talk a lot. Absolutely. But a lot of that is because I simply don’t understand when to speak and when not to and what to say and what not to and so if there is so much as a pause in the conversation, I am afraid they will walk away.

I didn’t intend to cry while writing this but I should have seen this coming. I am so utterly frustrated. I feel like I have tried so many different ways to make friends and lots of people have ‘advice’ on how to make friends, but often times I get my feelings hurt, because that very same person giving me their honest opinion on how they think I should make a friend, doesn’t seem to have any interest in being my friend. Why is this?

It makes me think of how often non-smokers have the “best” advice on quitting. It just simply makes no sense to me. And so I sit here thinking back over the years and wondering, how many friends can I actually say I have. True friends. Not aquaitances…and while quality preceeds quantity by far…I am left with maybe one or two (excluding my partner of course) but no one ever seems alll that interested in actually being friends with me. They want to talk about their friendships.

I remember, many days in school, sitting there thinking “I wonder if I don’t say a word all day, if any one will come up to me and talk to me”. Hours and hours passed before I ended blurting something stupid out to someone I hardly knew and of course they usual response was “Well…that was awkward.”

I try so hard not to interrupt others. I try to stick with their topic. I try to listen, key word is try, to see if I can offer to the conversation and if not just stay quiet, which is an improvement over me simply changing the topic to something I could offer information on. But it often fails and I get so freaking frustrated I often have to just close my eyes and breathe slowly.

People have told me “Well, it’s because you’re trying TOO hard Gretchen”. They don’t seem to understand that if I don’t try at all, nothing happens. If I don’t make the effort, I usually end up sitting alone? They don’t seem to quite understand that I’m so afraid that my facial expressions have already freaked them out? My facial expressions are something someone recently mentioned to me that I had never considered. I get this terrified look in my eyes, why? Because I am afraid of saying the wrong thing, or that I’ve already said the wrong thing.

It’s those moments that my eyes look this way, that I remember running from the kids screaming and chasing me with dirt and rocks, the moment that one person decided to write in my yearbook, and wrote the most insulting thing, it’s those moments that my brain is trying to compute so many facts and memories.

Casual conversation? Small Talk? I’ll be honest, this rarely happens unless I am completely wasted. I start to feel okay with pauses, and I stop overanalyzing everything quite so much. But since alcohol is definitely NOT the answer by any stretch of the imagination, I tend to push people away when they offer friendship. (Which is rare) Why? Because I am so afraid that I will fail yet again.

I don’t know what people think when they see me but they sure seem surprised to find out that I smoke (even though I would love to not smoke anymore) or that I have three tattoos. Or that I am a lesbian. I give off this obnoxiously good girl exterior appearance I guess? Then they see me drunk and they see a different side which either freaks them out even more or they start to see through my cement blockades that I have created around me. To keep out the rocks and staples naturally. (My attempt at sarcasm at the moment)

When I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 23, I realized that I had a lot of letting to do. Now, I realize I don’t know how to let go of the fear even after I’ve forgiven the children who have since forgotten their actions that made my childhood a complete nightmare. I’m not angry anymore, just scared. Can you honestly blame me?

I have tried reaching out to people since graduation. New people. Some of them have stuck around. Friends on Facebook, that sort of thing. But more than that? Not really. What does being on Facebook mean anyways? Nothing. I haven’t seen about 99.99% of the people in over a decade.

The question in my head that remains is this, if they wanted to hang out now, when most of them didn’t really show interest a decade ago, wouldn’t they ask to see me? As I am typing this it sounds selfish but honestly, I don’t know how else to put it.

On the flip side of the situation, there is one friend that I have known for over twelve years, that has blown me away. Her level of compassion and willingness to listen or try to communicate when I can’t, has been a blessing for so long. And in the end, I can honestly say that one true friend, is worth more than a million Twitter followers, hundreds of Facebook friends. She knows who she is.

My family, which is subjective by definition, consists of the people who accept me and love me not matter how ‘awkward’ I might act at times. They get it. They know I’m just trying to understand them or I’ve just so excited about one of my interests that I’ve forgotten that not every one in the world is obsessed with Seinfeld.

I am filled every day with an incredible sense of gratitude (here come those tears again) for those who have never given up on me. My wife is one of those amazing people. Plenty of people can pity someone for their disability but few can see far beyond the disability and embrace the person themselves no questions asked.

End of Story.

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About Gretchen Leary

I am 30 years old, I live in the Boston area, and I am writing from the perspective of an individual with Asperger's Syndrome.
This entry was posted in ASD, Aspergers, Autism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Beyond Hello – My Aspergian Philosophy on Friendship

  1. Matty Angel says:

    A bit long for me to read Gretchen πŸ™‚ But I will work through it as I get time. πŸ™‚ It was wonderful to see you in what I did read though.

    Friends can be hard to find, I have a few… its only my second or Third year now in having real close friends! Its just important that everyone who is trying to figure out loneliness and how to get friends doesn’t give up.

    I hope I can read through your full blog post soon. I just process information a bit slow πŸ™‚

    Keep writing Gretchen and keep being you, you are wonderful.

  2. Kaz says:

    Gretchen, in a way I can relate to you. I also have usually gone 200% into friendships to learn that in doing so I push people away instead of keeping them in my life. I have lost a few friends that way, and I am sorry you have gone through similar things.
    I too have had those “awkward” moments where I just seem to not fit in.
    I too have a wall up protecting myself (and maybe in my head it also protects other people.) It is starting to crack and crumble here and there, but I know there is so much more to work on.
    I remember meeting you, I am being completely honest when I say I liked you. So now I will ask…

    How are you doing?

  3. Becky Glatz says:

    I haven’t read the whole thing yet because it’s making me too sad. I really did consider you a friend and felt like I blew you off. I want you to know it was unintentional and I did think of you as a friend. For whatever that’s worth. And still do!

    • Becky Glatz says:

      Finished reading. Still feel like a jerk. Do you remember those walkie talkies you got for us? I still have mine. Sucks we never figured out how to work them. As for hanging out I would if you didn’t live a million miles away!

      • Hi Becky, you’re definitely not a jerk. Not even close. My blog post was more a way of explaining how my mind works and that I am frustrated. But not with you. Never was. Hugs.

  4. Lauren says:

    Im not sure where you see me as fitting in πŸ˜›

  5. Jo says:

    That was really important for me to read.It has to me all my life.Never quite getting to best friend stage gathering up people that are users.Thanks for sharing mean’t a lot.

    • Thank-you for taking the time to read it. That means a lot too! I feel like it’s so easy for people to say “Join a book club” or “Just stop trying so hard” when they don’t realize how much effort it takes for me and others just to process and take action in relationships at all.

  6. I have this same craving to have a best friend, not to mention a romantic relationship.

    I think, though, that neurotypical people get that sense of closeness from a subliminal exchange of non-verbal signals, especially motions of the small muscles around the eyes, but also various other gestures, facial expressions, and tones of voice. By exchanging these signals, they get a feeling of joining with the other person.

    I do not have the ability to create these non-verbal signals subliminally, at least not as easily as a neurotypical person does. If I focus on my eye contact and facial expressions, I’m not listening to the words. If I’m listening to the words, I might be looking down. If a person likes me a great deal and starts attaching to me, I can find it threatening and frightening.

    It’s like a dance I can’t learn.

    It makes me feel very hopeless about having the kind of relationship I crave.

    • I understand that feeling of eye contact. Often times when I try to do eye contact mindfully, I end up holding my breath. I can sometimes do eye contact if I am not focusing on doing it. Does that make sense? If I am really comfortable in a conversation or with someone this is less of an issue. I personally listen the best if I close my eyes but since that is not socially acceptable, I end up holding my breath

      Don’t feel hopeless please. Everyone in this universe has their own struggles. If we did not have struggles, we would all be very one dimensional. Even if we cannot overcome some of our struggles we can find victory in other ways.

      What I mean is that some of the best writers are the worst verbal communicators and vice versa. And then sometimes our weaknesses in one area make us even stronger in other areas.

      My post was quite a venting session to get out some pain but I am also aware that I am loved as a person and even if I have very few actual friends, the number doesn’t matter, after all a lot of Aspies dislike group settings from what I understand.

      I regret that the majority of the readers did not seem to take away the ending as a positive statement.

      Just remember you’re not alone! πŸ™‚

  7. R Scott says:

    Your story brought back many of my child hood memories 😦 I remember trying to make friends but always ended up being the joke of the group. When I was in Highschool my “friends” tricked me into eating an indicator tablet that you get from the dentist office. I walked around with purple teeth for the rest of the day.

  8. lexilil says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this. A lot of it echoed with me. I was badly bullied at school and then in an abusive relationship and to this day (nearly 40) struggle to make friends and trust people because of it. I don’t know what to say or how to say it. There are very few people I’m close to. I find it easier online, where I can hide behind the screen and take my time to think and decide what to say. In conversation I’m awkward and stilted and scared to death of getting it wrong. For reasons different to yours I seem to be in the same place. Or a similar place. Thank you so much for putting it into words – I thought I was alone here πŸ™‚

  9. MIzKp says:

    Read your post and it brought tears to my eyes. I have few true friends. I can count them on one hand and that is not even using all fingers. As I get older I am all about quality of friendships not quantity. I can relate to giving so much and not receiving anything back. I would make a big deal about a friend’s birthday. I am talking gifts, dinner the works. My bday well I may get a phone call. My advice to you is treasure the one or two that you have and put the rest in the associate category. That way you decrease the chances of them hurting you. I had to do this. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Paul Williams (AIG) says:

    Wow, that that brought a few memories from my past and struggles.
    My heart goes out to you.
    Still don’t have good friends but I found out the best friend is myself.
    I’ve also learnt to adjust and try new tricks over the 40 odd years.

    I thought aspergers would be less complicated these years as is starting to be recognised more as in my pasted days it was consider dumb or thick and different.

    As for eye contact I attended lots of martial art classes and it helped me focus and use my eyes more.
    Also to deal with frustration I use tia chi and long hours of mediation which some how changes the perspective on things.

    As for conversation and communication, still working on that one if I have any tips ill let you know.

    One last thing that might be helpful, ISO or binaural beats, try listen to these especially activate the pineal gland ones.

    Thank you for letting us read them words.

  11. kluizenares says:

    Three things I want to say:

    1. Thanks for this post (and thanks MamaBeGood for retweeting it). It’s very well written, and feeling and thoughts are very well explained. I can so relate with giving 200%, but getting nowhere. People do need to feel needed, that is something I also still need to learn.

    2. My social skills improved quite a lot since I read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to influence people and make friends”. I hate the title, but the book is filled with conversation starters, and other ways to make positive contact with people around you. Another great source for improving social skills is the website http://www.succeedsocially.com/ Also with loads of advice, I absolutely love this website.

    3. You say you have about 2 friends and at the end you say that your family totally accepts you and then you have a terrific partner as well! I used to want a big circle of friends, but after reading an article in a women’s magazine about the downsides of a big circle of friends, I am now quite happy with my small social circle. If you have a lot of friends, you need a lot more time, you need a good memory (who said what when?), you need more money (to do stuff), and it’s all a lot more taxing on the stimulation front. Also with lots of friends it’s harder to get to know them all very well. So be happy with a few true friends/family members! πŸ™‚

  12. Shan says:

    Your heart really shows through in this piece. It’s rings true I me and the analogies that you use illustrate perfectly. You are probably in a better position to cherish friendship than is someone to whom it came easily.

  13. C.M.Hardin says:

    I can completely relate to the childhood portion of the experience and some of the adult one, too. If you don’t mind my asking, how did you get the aspie diagnosis? Not to sound strange, but I think I may be on the spectrum. I didn’t realize it until I tried, briefly, to work with aspie kids and with people who where familiar with aspie kids/teens/adults. The more people talked about certain tendencies, the more I noticed my own behaviors/tendencies. I hear it’s hard to get the diagnosis as an adult.

    My husband and kids are really the first example of what it is like to actually be close to other people. It’s really very difficult. I sometimes worry I put them through hell because I live so much in my own world (not in a selfish sense, just in a “not very emotionally accessible” sense). I have more acquaintances than friends. Typically, when people get close, I walk away, because I really can’t handle it. I want to, but just can’t. I’m good with volunteering, taking people meals-on-wheels, etc, but close friendship is damn near impossible. Hoping to get better on that point.

    At any rate, it was nice of you to post such an honest blog of your experience.

    • Hello there,

      My diagnosis was initially through a therapist and then confirmed by a psychiatrist at age twenty three. I had been through counseling multiple times with no diagnosis or a “best guess” for awhile. Once they realized what was going on, I started understanding myself a lot more clearly because things that seemed to make no sense about my childhood and my oddities started to make a lot more sense.

      Feel free to send me an email if you have more specific questions: gretchenleary@yahoo.com

      You’re not alone, regardless of whether or not you’re on the Spectrum.

      I wish you the best of luck!

      Regards,
      Gretchen Leary

      • C.M.Hardin says:

        Thanks! I’m curious just for the “making sense of things” factor. It’s not easy being introverted, which I know for a fact is an issue. Trying to learn to “pass” for one of the people in the big lump on the bell curve to some extent, and learning more would probably help in that endeavor. Not because I have a problem with being a little odd sometimes, but because it’s kind of necessary to function with out putting everyone off their tea by accident. πŸ˜‰ I’ve taken a few ASD inventories, etc. always score high. Good luck to you, too, and I’m sorry you were treated that way. I know how that feels, and it’s terrible.

  14. I think we all have unconscious and conscious “dark sides” of our life. We are strong enough to overcome our fears ! Just love what/who you want to love and dont let anybody hurt you anymore! And finally: http://pinterest.com/pin/219832025531955890/

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