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My Unique Relationship With Friendship as an Autistic Person

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Anyone who knows me well would probably argue that I have a weird relationship with friendship. Maybe so, but I prefer to think of it as different.

It’s true that I wasn’t exactly encouraged to socialize when I was very young. My mother did let me be shy to my detriment, but it wasn’t 100% her doing.

Simple Shyness Versus My Social Intimidation

In my case, it wasn’t simple shyness. It was that I was very intimidated by the other kids’ rough play culture. Displays of exuberance have always made me feel incredibly ill at ease. Plus, I’ve always only valued deep connections, and even as a kid, I didn’t want just a playmate.

From the beginning, I sensed that most of the other kids couldn’t give me the deep relationship that I wanted because they didn’t have that same sense of deep knowing that I already had. Plus, I was constantly afraid of being bullied or, worse, becoming a victim of peer pressure.

When I was extremely young, I was raised to obey adults, no exceptions. Back then, if an adult had told me to go back into a burning house, I would’ve done it. As a result, it would frighten me to see other kids going against their parents’ or teachers’ rules. I was always afraid that they would get screamed at or, worse, hit for it.

I didn’t know until several years later that testing adults and testing for boundary loopholes are quite natural for kids. Even though I didn’t do so very much, I didn’t realize that I was doing it in some ways, too. I was simply much less conspicuous than most of them were. For example, one day in elementary school, while we were grading a certain worksheet as a class, I thought I could get away with correcting my wrong answers as we went and then giving myself a 100%. I had never heard of a specific rule against it, so I simply thought, why not? Though two other kids were sitting straight across from me.

Almost needless to say, I didn’t get away with it. I’m glad I didn’t, of course. However, what I didn’t quite realize then was how much they were actually looking out for me. It was much better for me to learn that lesson then than to end up suspended in high school or, worse, in jail for fraud as an adult.

Being Judged for Being Different

The thing that confused me the most was some people getting upset at me for not making friends or being a chatterbox. Being a kid, it didn’t occur to me that it was mostly their issue and that I wasn’t doing something heinously wrong.

It’s OK to Be Socially Indifferent

At more than one point, I got very frustrated with myself because I eventually got the impression that close friendships were something that I was supposed to want. As a result, I even thought that the fact that I’ve never cared either way about getting close to most people was breaking some unwritten set-in-stone law. Looking back, that was also a major contributor to the depression I battled in college.

Don’t get me wrong, I care about people’s welfare and that they’re happy with their lives, and I care about my own life. I am aware of when I feel very connected to someone. One of those people is my longtime friend with ADHD. Again, I’ve just never had a high need to get super personal with most people.

I don’t particularly get off on things like small talk. I usually say, “Hi, how are you?” followed by maybe a comment or two about the weather to let the other person know that I’m there. After that, I usually half-wait for the other person to talk to me, but they typically don’t. Instead, I’ve been judged for being weird and standoffish for almost all of my life.

Why I Hang Back So Much

Unlike many other NDs (neurodivergents), I know better than to just talk on and on about my interests. I have caught and managed to stop myself a few times. For the most part, though, I just tend to hang back, maybe more than I should. But unless the other person starts talking to me, I have no way of knowing what they want to talk about or what interests them.

Yes, Neurotypicals Are Still Incredibly Ignorant

It took me years to realize that I accept the fact that I don’t need to be super close to most people. It was really everyone else around me who expected this, and they were actually projecting their needs onto me.

One thing that still bothers me a little is that most people don’t make at least a little more of an effort to understand me. I still often feel like they just want to judge me and move on. However, I’ve also grown more aware of just how much most of the NT (neurotypical) world simply doesn’t have the slightest clue about autism or ADHD or how they work. As a result, they often think that we’re deliberately standoffish, deliberately rude, and worse, nefarious when that’s not our intent at all.

I accept me for me now and know that my Higher Power does, too. For me, for the most part, that is enough.

Getty image by 10,000 hours.

Originally published: January 12, 2022
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