A few weeks ago when I posted about having gotten frustrated, I mentioned that interacting with people generally requires two days of recovery, very roughly speaking. A commenter asked if this was true of my Significant Other, Nee. The answer to this is, happily, no. He does not drain me nearly so much as most people. That got me to wondering precisely why this is – what’s different about him?
I suspect there are several contributing factor to this, and generally to why different people drain me to different degrees. One of them is the touching thing, which also posted about a few weeks ago. If I don’t want to touch a person, than dealing with something like a handshake is challenging and unpleasant, whereas people I like and am comfortable with, like Nee, I actively enjoy touching.
Another factor is the Social Face, and that’s what I want to talk about today. When I am going out and interacting on a social level, I wear what I call my Social Face. It isn’t just about being in public, as I do very little with my Social Face in situations like the grocery store. It’s largely about interacting with people on a personal level. Now, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that everyone has some form of Social Face, and I suspect that everyone’s Social Face is different. I want to say I suspect that everyone’s social face is draining, but then I remember about extroverts and people who are energized by socializing. That doesn’t quite mesh with my idea that a Social Face is draining for everyone, so I’ll simply assume that the highly extroverted work ENTIRELY differently from me and just leave it at that.
Before I go any further, I’m going to give a brief rundown on what my Social Face is/what I’m doing when I’m wearing it:
*cutting down on the stimming
*instituting correct/appropriate facial expressions
*remembering to reciprocate social questions
*working to look directly at people/make eye contact
*making sure I keep a friendly tone of voice
*dedicating a rather large portion of my internal resources on social awareness and rapid processing
Some of these items I am slowly dropping, or at least putting less and less energy into. I constructed my social face over the course of years of trying to Be Like Everyone Else, well before I ever knew why it was so challenging for me. Which basically means much of my Social Face is deeply ingrained at this point, and taking it off in social situations is actually quite challenging. I tried to do it for a few minutes a few weeks ago, after feeling particularly stressed and overwhelmed and wanting a brief break before going back to Being Sociable. I was only able to do it by requesting that the person I was with ignore me entirely for a few minutes, and even then most of it stuck around. Like tar.
The hard part is that dropping bits, even bits that I think shouldn’t be important, carry consequences. As I allow myself to stim in public more and more, I face the fact that people are going to judge me and draw perhaps unjust conclusions from it when they see it. Even people who mean well can be derisive and condescending (possibly without meaning to) about stimming, and it can be hard to deal with sometimes. And sometimes, if I’m just too tired or too stressed to keep it on, my Social Face slips. Once while socializing I didn’t look at a friend of mine the entire time we were together. I actually had no idea I was doing that, but she felt hurt by it anyway. So I have to make sure it stays on, even during the times when it’s falling off on its own due to my own limitations.
A big thing is that my Social Face is draining. VERY draining. Downright exhausting. As I am realizing this I am starting to resent the Social Face and my partly self- and partly externally-imposed need to keep it on.
So I’ve slowly started to dissect my Social Face, in order to figure out what all it’s made of (I imagine there’s more to it than what I’ve listed so far), figure out why I do those things, and figure out what is important and what I put there simply out of a desire to Be Like Everyone Else. I’m pretty sure the no stimming thing was out of a desire to be normal. Reciprocating social questions, on the other hand, is something I actually care about and want to do more of, as well as remembering to spontaneously ask social questions. Other things are iffier, like eye contact and the dedication of resources to processing. I’d like to tone those down, but I worry that the social consequences of doing so will be greater than the personal consequences of wearing the Social Face. I’m honestly not sure what the right answer is.
Cycling back to the beginning – a huge reason why Nee drains me so much more slowly is that I do not wear my Social Face around him. I can stim and he doesn’t care. My facial expressions can be all over the place and it doesn’t phase him. Our social questions are minimal, I can go for days or weeks without looking directly at him, and he does not seem to mind when it takes me an oddly long time to process it when he randomly says something at me. So at home my Social Face stays in its box (or wherever it goes when I’m not wearing it. may as well be a box, right?) and I stay much more fresh and comfortable.
Maybe someday I’ll minimize my Social Face and it won’t be so stressful or exhausting to wear, and maybe someday it will be ok to be different in public.
I’m curious – to anyone who feels like answering, do you have a Social Face? If so, what does it look like?