An area of personal change that I have been slowly working on and changing my views about is in regards to being proactive with socializing.
My own tendency, for years now, has been to be extremely passive with how and when I socialize with people. My rationalization for this has been, roughly, if someone wants to say something to me, they will; if they want to know something, they’ll ask. Therefore, I should keep my mouth shut and wait for them to come to me. This made a whole lot of sense to me and I firmly maintained this justification, and my own passivity, for years.
Before I get into why this is terribly wrong, I want to explore a bit why this came about in the first place. I don’t think I was always like this. I used to talk to people much more freely, much more proactively, but eventually I stopped. I don’t really remember the change or any internal thoughts that happened along with it, but I imagine it was mostly due to messing up a lot, driving people away without understanding why, and eventually deciding that it would be a better idea to follow other people’s lead.
And in as much as it is, it made sense. I mean, it sort of worked. I spoke to far fewer people and my isolation continued to increase, but it involved a lot less of people getting angry with me and my not understanding why. It was just the usual story of getting ignored by all but those who were willing to get to know the shy person who didn’t talk much. And in a sense, it worked.
Unfortunately, this level of passivity is deeply problematic. I can justify it all I want by assuming that anyone who doesn’t talk to me must not want to talk to me, but in the end all I’m doing is refusing to take on any responsibility in my own social life. Instead, I put all the responsibility on everyone around me. That is not actually ok. It’s less scary, it hurts less when I don’t talk to people, but it isn’t fair to everyone else to make them responsible for my own social success. Nor is it fair to myself.
So I have been trying to change this. To be more proactive in talking to people and socializing and hanging out. And it is incredibly difficult, like wow.
One simple thing I have been working on is being able to walk up to people and talk to them. The main place I work on this is the barn on Tuesday nights, when I have my horseback riding lessons. I have slowly worked on making myself ask people questions and say things and not just stay in the metaphorical shadows. Because when it comes down to it, whether it’s right or not, most people will ignore someone in the shadows. Possibly because they might assume that if I keep to myself all the time, I must not want to talk to them. Which really, I must admit, is a reasonable assumption.
What’s sad is just how difficult and scary this is for me to do. I took weeks planning and working my way up to briefly talking to just one person (in my defense, that person is awesome but intimidating). Even after I decided that I was really going to work on it, it took me months and months to even be able to exchange a few sentences here and there with some people. And with other people, I try and get nothing. I say something, and they turn their back to me and talk to someone else. It hurts when that happens, and leads me to not want to try at all anymore. So I’m working on not talking to the people who clearly don’t want to talk to me, but still being proactive with the people who are positively responsive.
But that’s just talking when we’re all in the same place. The other main area that I need to work on is suggesting hanging out with friends. I pretty much never do this. I hate doing it, it terrifies me, and I tend to believe it’s presumptuous of me to bring it up. So instead I don’t bring it up. Instead I (once again) foist all the responsibility onto the other people involved and expect them to bring it up when they want to socialize with me.
Of course, that is not sustainable. Sometimes my friends will want me to be the one to bring up an idea, or suggest a time to be sociable, and it’s something that I do believe I should be doing. Yet the idea of it has been really scaring me. When I get around to doing so is probably going to be less about when I decide I want to socialize and more about when I work up the courage to bring it up. I have so many years of avoiding exactly this kind of behavior that actively trying to engage in it is remarkably challenging.
And it doesn’t help that some of my recent attempts are getting mixed results. I, very tentatively, asked another friend about socializing in a very open-ended way. It was very difficult for me to do so, and part of getting myself up to doing it involved some round-about wording. Sadly, it resulted in a minor scolding for that wording. Said friend wanted me to be more direct, and do less of asking permission. Which I understand and definitely want to work in that direction, but it does not feel very nice when an initial, scary, and challenging attempt results in criticism rather than congratulations. I intend to keep trying, but the difficulty is significant and so far not decreasing at all.
Ultimately, what I really want to say is that being proactive in my own life is important. I also think we need to be careful as to if we are teaching autistic children to be passive and compliant, or teaching them that they can and should have an active role in their own lives. And while being passive seemed like the best idea for a long time, I cannot deny it’s flaws any longer.
Still, this is going to be a long journey.