Why Making Friends as an Autistic Woman Can Be Challenging
When people first meet me, they assume that I’m just like any other person. I don’t think that is true at all. I’ve known since I was 7 years old that I’m autistic. It’s been extremely difficult to accept and comprehend. Yet, what is even more daunting is to openly reveal to people that I’m autistic. Once I come out and say I’m on the spectrum, there’s no going back. It’s always been my secret to keep and I hope to be the first to share it as well. I look at the world a little bit differently than other girls my age who don’t have autism. I’m surrounded by women who have boyfriends, steady employment, and a large group of friends to meet up with each day.
I’m not at all a popular girl or someone others are dying to be friends with. I always refer to myself as the black sheep because most of the time I hang out alone. And I wait for the phone to ring, but sometimes it never does. I have a few friends in North Vancouver and throughout the lower mainland who I can depend on. But most of them aren’t autistic. When I say I’m having trouble making friends and talking to men, it doesn’t appear as though they quite understand what my issue is.
What scares me the most about social interactions is I’m not in the driver’s seat. Others get their say in whether or not they wish to be friends with me. I’m used to being told “no” when I ask someone to hang out if I don’t know them well – or if it’s a former classmate or someone I’ve just met online. But I want to rise above and show people I’m worth being friends with.
I don’t always know what the social boundaries are, so it would make me more comfortable if someone literally explained to me what kinds of things they are looking for in a friendship. But most individuals find it strange when I directly ask these sorts of questions. If I don’t ask, how am I supposed to know when I’m invading someone’s privacy or pushing them over the edge?
If people were more blunt and open about how they feel, I might have better success with trying to make friends. I think some of my questions are left unanswered because people are afraid they will hurt my feelings. I know how challenging it can be to understand autism. But I want most of all to be acknowledged and treated like a real person. At the end of the day, I’m just a person and all I can do is try and open up to people. However, if they really don’t want to be friends and are apprehensive, of course I’m not going to force myself on them.
Instead of allowing other people to guess at what types of things are confusing for me, I decided to outline them in this essay. I hope my insight will help other women on the autism spectrum and also add to the story I’m trying to tell. I’m hoping you’ll be able to put the pieces together more clearly after reading what I would like to share.
Communicating via text, email, phone call etc. has always been one of my weaknesses. I’m never quite sure how long to wait before I sent another text message. From experience, texting someone I’m trying to befriend more than twice does not benefit me. Instead it usually makes me look desperate. If you don’t have iMessage, then how am I supposed to know you’re going to reply to my text? I’m realizing now that not everyone has to respond to me. And that’s OK. I guess some individuals do not like to communicate via text, or they would prefer not to lead me on because they actually don’t want to be friends. I’m never quite sure why someone ignores my text messages.
Sometimes what people say in text is different than what they will tell you in real life. I have been in a few situations where people did not want to continue a friendship with me. Instead of telling me face-to-face, they informed me via text. I think this is a bit cowardly, to be honest. I get that people are afraid of how I will respond, but truly it hurts to receive a message from someone telling you they no longer want to be friends.
I’ve tried my best to sympathize with former friends who have gone about ending our friendship via text. The truth is I really don’t think it’s a good idea. When I speak to people, I would like to physically hear what they have to say and see their reaction. That way I can determine whether or not they are saying things out of spite. Although I’m not skilled at reading body language and facial expressions. Most of the time I interpret someone as angry or annoyed if they don’t respond to my messages.
If someone doesn’t want to be friends anymore, I’d rather they just tell me one way or another. It’s better than leading me on and giving me false hope. That way we can both go our separate ways and I won’t have to further interrogate you.
It’s pretty obvious. I’m mostly the one who has to ask people to hang out first, and frankly it’s becoming rather annoying. If someone wants to hang out with me, I’d rather they do so right away rather than wait for me to catch on. I never truly feel as though I can be myself, even around my friends. If I do open up completely, only later to get hurt, it may be a waste of my time. I’ve always been that awkward person who reaches out for a hug when the other individual just wants a high five or a hand shake. That’s one of the most hurtful things. It makes me question what people’s intentions are and if asking others to hang out is actually a good idea or not. I can usually make conversation in person. Yet when I sit down face-to-face with another person for more than an hour, I feel frightened. If I mention something about autism I may instantly be scrutinized. And if I do not, how is the other person supposed to understand why I’m scared of opening up, let alone why I’m behaving the way I am?
I’m never quite sure what to talk about when I’m hanging out with other people and if they truly want to spend time with me. Most of the time, I assume others are being nice and actually don’t want to be friends. I think this is probably because of the hardship I continue to face and the fact I have a very challenging time reading other people’s facial expressions.
Trying to be my friend doesn’t mean we have to be best friends. But it does convey that the other person is trying and is able to respect me for who I am.
Maintaining a Friendship
I’m a lot better at making friends than maintaining friendships. I think this is the case for most individuals. People are afraid of commitment and being let down, which is why I feel friendships are sometimes temporary. I’ve been in many situations where I wanted to be friends with another girl. She at first said yes to hanging out, only later to inform me she changed her mind. Of course people are allowed to reconsider their decisions. But do they even bother to think about how a change of heart would affect an autistic girl who doesn’t have a lot of friends? I think not. We all get so caught up in our own lives. We forget to be kind and considerate to others around us, and this can sometimes be perceived as standoffishness and hostility. I would much rather someone give me a chance to be their friend instead of no chance at all. Offer me the opportunity and perhaps I will be able to cajole you into being my friend. To be upfront, I am not a very persuasive individual. When I try to convince someone to stay, most of the time they end up walking away. What I have learned from experience is that you can’t force someone to do something if they don’t want to. It’s decisions such as this that should come from the heart. Be someone’s friend because you want to, not because you feel you have an obligation. Please don’t waste my time and I won’t waste yours either.
It irritates me when friends ask other people to tell me they no longer want to continue our friendship. I understand why you would be afraid to approach me to tell me this in person. Do you really think communicating through someone else is going to make me feel any better? It’s definitely not going to lessen the hurt or numb the pain. Instead it just shows you’re not genuine and you don’t care enough to end the relationship with integrity and mutual respect.
My words of advice are to think before you consider asking someone to be your private messenger. Also, preferably don’t end a friendship via text message. Almost everyone in society is glued to their phone, which isn’t healthy to some extent. If you’re going to tell me something, I’d rather you do it face-to-face and man up to your decision.
Friends Who Have a Significant Other
I would think that it’s a lot more complicated to maintain friendships if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend. You have to think about spending time with not only your family and friends, but your significant other as well. Of course people are going to get jealous if you neglect him or her and invest all your time in your special someone. I’m not exactly sure how I would budget my time between all three groups, because I haven’t yet found the right guy.
If I hang out with someone and all they do is sit there and text, it’s pretty obvious they aren’t enjoying themselves and it’s also pretty rude. I know that you’re infatuated with your significant other and that’s wonderful. But please pay attention to me when we’re hanging out. I will gladly return the favor.
I want to know that the person I’m spending time with is alive, awake and willing to listen. If they aren’t I will begin to withdraw from the conversation. Some people are really charismatic and able to make friends with just about anyone. That’s definitely not me, so I’d appreciate it if you would take the time to get to know me. It’s very important to make eye contact – that way I know you’re paying attention to me. I won’t have to repeat myself once or twice. Keep in mind that you’re here to hang out with me and not your boyfriend or girlfriend. I would much rather discuss someone’s life goals and achievements – rather than their relationship with their partner.
On a final note, I believe I have outlined my concerns about social interactions rather clearly. I hope my words of wisdom make sense to individuals who read this. The world can be a difficult and complex place for individuals on the autism spectrum. We often have to fight to find acceptance and a sense of belonging.
I’m sure other women with autism may have similar concerns about social interactions, but don’t assume we all have the same worries. It’s hard even to put myself out there and try and make friends when I’m not completely certain society is ready and willing to understand autism. I still have a challenging time accepting that my social interactions with people will be much more complex than that of a neurotypical person. We all face obstacles and barriers in order to lead a normal life. At times I may fail at making friends and be dismissed after saying the wrong things. At least I’m trying to put myself out there.
I would much rather try than not attempt to make friends at all. My objective isn’t to force people to understand autism, rather it’s to distinguish what kind of people are mature and considerate enough to take the time to get to know me. I’m not perfect and society doesn’t label me as “normal.” I’m learning to be happy with who I am and to look at my disability as a gift rather than a hindrance.
I’m proud of myself for having the courage to make friends with autistic and non-autistic individuals because it’s helped me to overcome my anxiety. I’ve made a lot of friends throughout the past few years of living as a woman with autism – some of which have stayed and others who have decided to end our friendship. The reality is that not everyone wants to be friends with an autistic girl. And that is OK.
I’m just a woman in this world fighting for acceptance and waiting for neurotypicals to take the time to understand autism. I look forward to what the future may bring and to making new friends. I don’t need people to approve of me, because I have already accepted myself.
Getty photo by DGL Images.