Why Forming Friendships Can Be Difficult for Me as an Autistic Person


I have always had problems with forming friendships. This may be a part of me having autism. I have had some really good and bad relationships with friends, and most didn’t last that long. I’ve heard it said that people with autism aren’t interested in forming any kind of relationship, but this is not true. Many autistic people, including myself, do want friendships and romantic relationships. It just may be that we have problems maintaining and creating them.

Social imagination, interaction and communication are three things autism can affect, and it can make this whole process more difficult. There are people with autism who are married with children and who still have lifelong best friends, and others who may not, but this doesn’t mean I will never have those kinds of relationships. It just means I may find it harder to form them.

There have been times I have believed I would never have a boyfriend/girlfriend and that I would never keep friends. There have been a lot of times I would go out and I would have little to no problem chatting and communicating with other people. I have even had people want to hang out. And there are a lot of times when the opposite would happen and the person I am interested in would simply not feel the same back. This is normal.

Sometimes in the past, people approach me first and they start off a conversation, but then it can start to become overwhelming when I really try to have a conversation back with them. I stand there silently and blankly with no words naturally flowing out of my mouth like they should be. I stand there and think about it while it’s happening, and then the bad eye contact and silent staring begins to start, along with the “wrong” facial expressions. Firstly if the music is too loud or the lights are too bright, I start squinting my face in a kind of uncomfortable-looking expression without even realizing it most of the time. My face looks angry and I look uneasy and stare with no words. Having an angry face mixed with the lack of conversation may signal to the other person “she’s not interested in getting to know me.” Usually when they have processed this, they tend to give up and walk away.

 

If you’re speaking to me and this happens, it may be because I have autism. It’s not that I am not interested in getting to know you and being friends. I actually may be very interested in getting to know you and I may really try to communicate that the best I can. But it may take me a lot longer to get comfortable with someone before I start a conversation, and I need to take some time to get to know the other person to start a conversation and also to hold one down. At times even the opposite happens and I have a conversation and I cant stop talking, but then I become tired and completely find myself stopped in my tracks with an awkward silence. This indicates to the other person that I have given up, and they usually say, “It was nice to meet you” and walk away. At times, that may be because the other person feels the same, but this usually happens because I am taking a break, or at times it is like I have forgotten how to communicate mid-conversation.

If I do come across standoffish, please keep in mind that I have Asperger’s and that may mean I’m not able to recognize or adjust my facial expressions at times. From the outside I look disinterested, but on the inside I do actually want to get to know you. Another reason why you may be standing in front of me or even across the room thinking, “Why is this girl giving me a strange look” or “Why does she look so awkward?” Well, keep in mind that the florescent bright lights are probably hurting my eyes. Or the reason I’m sitting beside you and seem aloof may be because the music’s too loud for me to get into a conversation right now, and sometimes sitting in silence helps me cope with these surroundings better. But this is just me, and every individual copes differently. This used to happen more often before I got diagnosed at 20, but it has gotten better over time.

It does get better, as there are people I am still good friends with. Usually that is only one or two people, but I have become very close to that small circle of people.

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Thinkstock image by MarijaRadovic

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