Tag Archives: social

Social Codes

A couple weeks ago I asked for help putting together a list of social codes people use, when we say certain words but mean something else. You provided! Thank you so much! Before leaping into the list, I just want to make a point to say (as has been pointed out to me), many of these depend on the context in which they are said. I have tried to include notes on the contexts in question, but please do point out to me any I have missed. Also, this is an ongoing list, so if you have any more I would love for you to tell me so I can add them!

And now, in no particular order, I give you social codes.

“Hi, how are you?” = “Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.” (US)

“I would like to get to know you better” = “I want to get into your pants/date you.” (US)

“Bless your (his/her) heart.” = Sometimes this is a compliment, but other times it is an insult/used sarcastically. (southern US)

“How was your weekend?” = This sometimes means “Please ask me about my weekend.” and other times is another version of “Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.” (US)

“We should do lunch sometime” = “Well, I gotta go now, bye, but I don’t literally plan on making lunch plans with you soon.”

“I’m sorry” = This can mean lots of things beyond apologies, including “I feel sympathy for you” and “You aren’t going to like this, please don’t get mad at me.”

“I think we should see other people” = “I am breaking up with you (and might already have someone else in mind).”

“Oh, you know…” or “Oh, just stuff…” or other vague replies to questions = “I am being vague on purpose because I do not want to answer you, please just drop it.”

wearing headphones, reading a book, or playing on a smartphone = ”I’m not really interested in conversing with others right now”

“You’re such a nice guy!” = “You’re cool, but I am not attracted to you.”

“We should do this again sometime!” = (often but not always) “We should never do this again.”

“That’s interesting” = “I don’t like this piece of art/music/book/whatever. but I don’t want to come out and tell you I don’t like it because I can see you do.” (midwestern US)

“You know what I mean?” (when said after some form of commentary) = “I want you to confirm that you’re listening and to affirm what I’m saying because I’m having strong feelings about this and need to know someone’s taking me seriously. If you need to disagree with me, acknowledge my feelings first then disagree gently.”

“Ok?” (when punctuating a statement or command) = “I want you to indicate to me that what I’m saying is registering and that you will behave accordingly in the future.”

“I’m talking to this guy,” or “I’m talking to this girl.” (in some high schools) = “We’re romantically interested in each other and are moving toward dating.”

“We should get coffee sometime.” = “I’d like to spend a casual 30 minutes or so with you, probably talking and learning more about each other or catching up on each others’ lives. I might take the initiative on this if I’m not too busy, or you may need to reach out to me to make it happen.”

catch you later = see you later

“Just a minute” = “Wait until I’m done with this, it may not be precisely a minute until I am done.”

“Sweet” (said as a reply to someone) = “That is cool”

“That’s ok” (in response to an apology) = “I hear your apology,” not “That action was ok with me.”

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Filed under social skills

Connections

I’ve been having a lot of angst and frustration and other unpleasant feelings lately about friendships, connections, socialization, and such things in that realm. I am very isolated in my life, and I don’t want to be. I mean, I need a lot of isolation compared to your average extrovert, but I currently have too much even for my introverted, sensory defensive self. I want to socialize more, I want friendships, and quite frankly, I want emotional intimacy. More than anything, it’s the lack of that last one that eats at me. However, I am going to speak more broadly than that for the purposes of this post.

There are a number of things that are obstacles to my social success. The constant threat of sensory overload which restricts the sorts of things I can do, my finite social energy which places limitations on how much I can interact with people, my difficulty understanding social cues and non-verbal communication… it’s not an easy thing. There is one thing in particular that I want to talk about, though. Something that is far more subjective and internal.

I have a lot, and I mean a LOT of difficulty forming connections with people. Or, at least, connections are very rare. I don’t mean strong or significant connections here either, I mean ANY connection. Actually feeling, however faintly, a sense of connection to another person is absurdly rare for me, and I tend to cling to whatever few connections I can feel because they are so very special.

It’s really hard to write and post this because I am extremely scared that someone will come along and tell me that it’s like this for everyone, or otherwise totally invalidate what I’m trying to say and what it’s like for me. So, to that currently imaginary person that I really hope never materializes, no it is not like this for everyone. I watch people, and they form weak connections all the flippin’ time. Now, I would imagine that only a few of those weak connections turn into strong connections, but the weak connections themselves are relatively plentiful.

This is an obstacle I have yet to figure out how to work with. I can be careful about where I go to manage my sensory input. I can choose when to socialize in order to best manage my social energy. I am forever working on understanding social cues and non-verbal language. Connections, though… I can’t make them happen. I either feel a connection or I don’t, and usually I don’t. Almost always, I don’t. When they do happen, it’s erratic and unpredictable. Sometimes I feel a connection to a person right away. Other times I can know a person for years before I actually start to feel a connection. As it is, there is often imbalance between how important I view a connection, and how important another person does. We may both feel a fairly casual, mild connection, and to the other person it’s just one more mild connection among so many others. To me, it’s a precious, rare substance deserving of careful handling. While I have learned, the hard way, to do my best to not cling to connections as that just drives people away, I do tend to be more careful with my connections than other people seem to be.

The whole situation is a frustrating one for me. One that I have not figured out how to manage beyond, well, just living with it and accepting that I cannot form connections easily or often. Sometimes I think I just wish other people, those few who I feel even a faint connection to, know that small circle they are in and, well, care. But that starts to get into my own sense of unimportance which is not what this post is about. In any case, I sometimes wonder if there are other people out there who are like me, finding even slight connections incredibly difficult to find.

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Social Face

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?

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Filed under personal, ponder

Why I don’t like social touch

Sometimes scientists like to ponder why people on the autism spectrum reject social touch. In one instance, they ran a study that did not actually involve person-to-person touch on a bunch of neurotypical people, after assessing them for autism-like traits. Apparently looking at neurotypical brains gave the scientists all sort of ideas as to what might be going on in an autistic brain. Doing a study about autistic traits without using autistic people strikes me as incredibly odd.

Now, I am not a scientist. I can’t tell you anything about what happens in my brain when people touch me. I can, however, tell you a little bit about my own subjective experiences with social touch, and how I perceive it. I have already talked some about how I have sensory issues and have to be touched in certain ways. Now I’m going to look at it from a slightly different angle.

I have actually been thinking about this topic for weeks now. I know there’s something oogy about being touched by strangers, but I was having a lot of trouble nailing it down. Well, not too long ago I wrote a short story about aspergers, and in it I included a brief comment about the main character rubbing a touch off. I didn’t even think about it very much at the time; that’s just what I have to do when someone unexpectedly touches me. Then, later, it hit me. THAT is a really big reason as to why I don’t like the sort of casual connection-building touching that other people like.

Touch is sticky!

That’s honestly the best way I have to conceptualize it. When someone touches me, that touch sticks to me. It stays there, being all weird on my skin, and I have to rub it off. Or scratch it off. Or claw it off. It varies. Everyone’s touch is sticky, there are no exceptions. So for me, being ok with someone touching me is about being ok with their touch sticking to me. Actively touching someone else is like saying “hey, I like the way your touch sticks to me.” A hug involves getting someone’s sticky on me in places I cannot easily rub it off. Not without doing that whole bear-scratching-its-back-against-a-tree-move, anyway. CLASSY. So if I actively hug you, I’m saying “your touch is going to stick to me in weird places for probably quite a while, and I’m good with that!”

If scientists want to do a study about people on the spectrum rejecting social touch, maybe they should consider having aspies and autistic people as subjects, and have the study involve actual social touch, rather than brushing that may or may not set off sensory issues. Just sayin’. Though if someone could give me a scientific explanation of the sticky thing, that would be pretty cool.

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Filed under issue, personal

Social Rituals

Taking a break from all that stuff about labels (for now.  mwahaha).  I’ve had part of my brain mulling over social rituals for a while now, and as they recently came up in a conversation with a friend, I figured now is as good a time as any to write about them.

Social rituals have a long history of baffling and/or offending me.  My current favorite example is the “hi, how are you?” ritual.  It used to REALLY bother me.  A person comes along and asks me how I am without actually meaning it, and I am socially obligated to say that I’m fine regardless of how I’m actually doing, and then return the question knowing that I won’t get an honest reply.  It tapped right into my “why is lying considered polite?” confusion (of which I still have many examples, but that’s a post for another time).  The ritual wasn’t just confusing to me, it was downright offensive.

Then I happened upon an explanation for the ritual, and rather suddenly it stopped bothering me altogether.  See, it isn’t just meaningless social noise as I once thought.  It’s a ritual that carries a meaning other than the literal words.

So the words go kind of like this:

Them: Hi, how are you?

Me: I’m fine, thanks, how are you?

Them: I am fine as well.

But the actually meaning of the words is more like this:

Them: Hi, I acknowledge you as a person.

Me: Why thank you, I acknowledge you as a person as well.

Them: Thank you.

Presto chango!  Meaningless social noise has turned into a ritual of courtesy and connection between two people who are likely otherwise fairly unconnected.

I can view shaking hands the same way.  It isn’t simply the neurotic need of people to grab ahold of me (ok, it is still that, but importantly, it’s MORE than that).  It’s a way to create a sense of connection between two people, to help the people to relax a bit around each other and smooth further interaction.  It’s important for me to remember that most people out there are not so bothered by strangers touching them as I am, and touch helps many people feel a minor sense of connection with whoever it is they touched/were touched by.  This one is not as easy for me to participate in since it requires that I either be ok with touching strangers or simply grit my teeth and get through it, but at the very least I don’t find it particularly offensive at this point.  I understand why people do it and why they want me to do it.

I have, at this point, decided that when I see social gestures or rituals that seem to have no meaning, I will assume that there is a meaning and it just isn’t immediately obvious to me.  It may not even wind up having a meaning for me, but that doesn’t mean it has no meaning for the people who use it.

For instance – a while back on the wrongplanet forums I saw someone asking about why some subgroup of the population (usually girls) interacts with each other the way they do.  Specifically, lots of fast-paced chatter, talking over each other, with a noticeable lack of actual information being exchanged.  The general attitude of those in the thread was condescension and derision for that particular mode of conversation, with several people decrying it as totally meaningless.  Now, it’s true that interacting in such a way would be meaningless *for me.*  I would find it stressful and un-fun, so I don’t socialize that way.  However, I prefer to assume that it does have some sort of meaning for the people who do socialize that way.  Even if absolutely nothing else, it seems quite likely that it serves that purpose that so many rituals do – creating a sense of connection between the people participating.

Thus far it’s actually been really helpful to me to view various kinds of social interaction as rituals.  While it doesn’t explain everything, it does take me a lot further than I was before, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who may be confused or offended by the strange social rituals and accompanying obligations that are in the world at large.

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Rules I accept but don’t understand

In this case: fashion!  There are rules for clothes and what one can wear in public, and I find many of those rules to be very strange.

Ok, I get the basics.  There are certain body parts that must be covered at all times in public, unless one is in a location where the rules have been very explicitly changed.  It is considered important to cover more than those certain parts in most situations so as to avoid embarrassment or faux pas.  I am ok with all of those things.

Except then there are rules about exactly how one is supposed to do that covering.  Once when I was young, I had a full slip that was designed to go under a dress.  To my eyes, it looked pretty much like a dress in and of itself.  It covered everything that was supposed to be covered, it was opaque, so it seemed to me to be perfectly adequate covering.  So one day I went outside in it, and was chatting with a neighbor.  As soon as my mom saw me she rushed outside and brought me in, and scolded me for going outside in my underwear.  I got the message that what I did was incorrect, but I have never quite understood why.

Years ago when I worked in retail, one of my co-workers was scandalized by some dresses we once got, because they had adjustable straps.  That’s when I learned that adjustable straps go on underwear, and some people are upset at the idea of them on anything meant to show.  Ok, that helps explain why the slip was underwear instead of a dress, but I still don’t get why adjustable straps are so awful.

I also find the difference between undergarments and bathing suits to be a little perplexing.  They cover the same things, and while bras and panties are not always made to be opaque, they certainly can be.  Yet at a swimming pool, it is ok to go around in a swimsuit, but not ok to go around in underwear.

When I worked retail, I was also perplexed at how people treated trying on swimsuits.  Apparently an outfit that one would happily wander around in at a pool causes significant embarrassment to be seen in at a store.  Rather predictably, I was very confused.

I can’t say I understand these things all that much more than I did when I was a child.  They seem arbitrary and senseless to me.  Still, I am aware they exist.  So I follow the rules, because I have learned that even if I think the game is silly, it is important to play it anyway in order to avoid social backlash.

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Core Issue?

In some of my reading about AS, I saw it mentioned that the “core issues” of AS are the social issues.  The sensory issues, while still important, were apparently of lesser impact.  I disagree with this take, and I feel like talking about it.

First of all, I think picking one category out of the various things AS impacts, and calling that category the “core issue” is somewhat of a flawed way of looking at it.  However, that is probably due to my own rather odd thought patterns.  I really need to accept that deciding on a “core thing” is something that people like to do.  So putting that aside for a bit, I don’t think that the social issues are the core issues at hand.  I certainly think they are significant, and I suppose they seem like the major thing from the outside because that’s what people are more likely to see.  However, from my subjective viewpoint, it’s the sensory issues that have the biggest impact.  (of course, the social issues are a huge deal too, and I don’t mean to say that they aren’t for me)

See, whether or not any given social issue is something I need to worry about depends on whether or not I’m actually trying to socialize.  And when it comes right down to it, I only try to socialize a minority of the time.  When I do socialize, I can learn patterns and ways of doing things, and then follow those patterns.  It isn’t perfect, but I am actually able to pass for normal much of the time.  However, I can never get away from my sensory issues.  They are with me all the time, and they affect my life in almost every area.  What I eat, what I wear, how I sit, what blankets I can have on my bed, and on and on and on.  I can never take a break from them the way I can take a break from people.  Not really.

Another big way I look at it is how the social and sensory issues interact.  My social issues don’t really have much of an impact on my sensory issues.  My sensory issues, on the other hand, have a HUGE impact on my social issues.  Sometimes I can’t deal with people touching me, and I have to say so.  I can never tolerate people touching or stroking me lightly, which has had an impact on some of my relationships with people.  I can’t handle parties at all due to both social and sensory issues.  While I may, someday, learn enough of the social dance to handle unstructured social occasions (I doubt it, but I suppose unliklier things have happened), that won’t change the problems I have with overwhelming sensory input.  I can, on a really good day, deal with one OR the other (I have had good experiences at concerts on rare occasions), but both?  No way.

Honestly, I don’t really like to prioritize one class of difficulty over another, but this shows that I can easily make the argument that sensory issues are “core.”  I wonder what other people think.

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