Tag Archives: socializing

Being Proactive

In short: DO something.

 

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.

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On being analytical

This can be great, but maybe only if you know you’re doing it and it’s on purpose.

Story time!

So once in a while I travel, most recently by train. One of the things I enjoy about travelling is that it very nearly guarantees conversation with a complete stranger, while stuck inside some form of metal tube that is going fast. Oddly enough I tend to really like this sort of thing (or maybe it’s not so odd. I do crave connection with people and get it only rarely). On my last train trip I wound up sitting next to a Lutheran pastor and having a most enjoyable conversation. One thing that we wound up talking about more than a little bit was autism and Asperger’s. What also came up was my tendency to be analytical. Apparently it shows through, even to a complete stranger in the middle of the night whilst in a metal tube that was going fast.

He commented on this fact. A type of comment I have gotten from many people throughout my life, who typically mean well but don’t get it.

That is, he said that maybe sometimes I’m too analytical. That there are times when it’s best to just go with the flow and stop analyzing for a while.

Now, this can be true for me if I’m doing a solo thing. If I’m doodling or making yarn or crocheting, it can help to relax my brain and let my hands do what they do. Of course, I am able to relax and let my hands do the work because I’ve already put time into making sure my hands know what to do, and my brain is still always sitting ready to jump in if my hands get confused. And sometimes, like when I’m writing, my hands seem to know what’s going on better than the talking part of my brain, but in a way that’s just thinking with a different part of my brain. Still, I can stop being analytical in those types of situations.

However, people don’t tend to mean it that way. They mean it in social situations. Even worse, they mean it in group social situations. People really believe that my constant analysis must get in my way, and I’d be better off if I would stop and just “go with it.” The problem is, while this might be true for them, and might even be true for most people (I wouldn’t know), it most definitely is not true for me.

Telling me to go with the flow assumes that I can somehow naturally detect the flow, the same way a person detects the flow of water while standing in a stream. I can’t. It does not work that way for me. Telling me to go with the flow assumes that I already know what to do and how to respond to that flow that I’m supposed to detect, the same way my hands know how to hold a hook or spin my spindle. Except I don’t know what to do or how to respond to that flow that people keep insisting is there.

So instead I engage my brain. I watch what people are doing and saying, I watch what I am doing and saying, I watch how people respond to what I do and say, and how they respond to each other, and how I respond to them. I analyze. I work it out as best I can, and I do it all very consciously. It’s not intuitive at all.

This does mean that I respond and adapt more slowly than other people. So they see that I’m doing all of this analysis and assume it must be slowing me down and tell me to stop. What they don’t see is that if I were not analyzing the way I do, I would simply be at a standstill. Or maybe I’d be going off in some other direction entirely, unaware of this “flow” that’s supposed to be taking me along with everyone else. Or I’d just go in circles, or flail, or whatever else.

I do this in most social situations. It’s one reason (of oh-so-many) why groups are so much more difficult than one-on-one. Groups have far more variables and the social dance is far more complex than one-on-one socializing. Even in groups, I strongly prefer to find one or two people who are sufficiently similar to me to just sit in a corner with and talk to. I really dislike the social butterfly dance and have no desire to participate in it. It’s stressful and even my analytical self can’t keep up with all the cues and subtle shifts and changes that keep happening.

So yes, I’m analytical, and I’m not going to apologize for it. In fact, I’m proud of it. My ability to analyze and logically work my way through things has carried me further than I’d have gotten without it. Even in this post while I was using metaphors, I was thinking about the metaphors and both visualizing their literal meaning along with thinking about the figurative interpretation that I was intending and seeing how well they matched up. Because that’s what I do.

I very much doubt I’m the only one.

And to people who want to tell me to stop being so analytical and just go with the flow – you’re not helping. Please listen to me when I say I don’t work like that. Don’t try to tell me that I must be wrong because surely I work the same way you do. Recognize that I’m different. And to the Lutheran Pastor whose name I don’t remember who conversed with me in the metal tube that was going fast, thank you for listening. You were awesome.

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friendship and socialization

So a few weeks ago I was talking to my therapist about friendships and what it takes for me to call a person a friend, and a few times the energy it takes to maintain a connection with a person was mentioned.  My therapist always took that in terms of the energy cost of socializing, and that it’s important to get something out of my contact with people since unlike most of the general population, just seeing a person is not rewarding in and of itself.

Now, all that is true, but it is really not the whole story.  There is another cost to maintaining connections with people, and that is the cost of keeping my internal sense of connection alive.  This is something that I gather I am very unusual about.  This starts with something that is, as far as I know, completely normal – people take up space in my head.  I’ve heard some people call it “renting space.”  My metaphor seems to be bubbles.  Every person gets a bubble in my head.  The closer I am to a person, the larger the bubble is.  However, those bubbles don’t just stick around on their own.  I have to put energy into keeping them there, or else they are inclined to wither up and die, and my internal sense of connection goes with it.

Part of my ability to feel close to a person is about how much energy I need to use to maintain the bubble.  I have yet to figure out exactly what it is about people that can make this easy or difficult, but one thing that is true is that on rare occasions I can feel a connection to a person very easily.  This is so rare that it always feels kind of special when it happens (and it tends to be disappointing, though not surprising, when the person in question doesn’t really see it as being that special).  Interestingly, this is something where spending time in person can be beneficial.  Yes, there is an energy cost to socialization (that’s what I get for being an introvert), but the right people also wind up reinforcing their bubbles with direct interaction, so my energy maintenance costs decrease or even temporarily go away for a while.

If I don’t maintain the bubbles, they have a habit of going away, and I have yet to figure out how to make them come back once they’re gone.  On the plus side, this means that I can never, ever wind up in an on-again-off-again relationship of any kind.  On the down side, once a friendship is over, it’s really over.  In any case, my real point is that this changes the way I think about the cost of friendship.  This seems like a relevant thing, so it seems like something worth sharing.

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social contact

In brief – socializing is complicated!  That’s about all I really want to say, but I like to write so I’m going to continue.

I tend to liken socialization to a dance.  It has moves and flow and rhythm, but it’s all stuff that you’re supposed to pick up on subconsciously as you grow up.  I occasionally talk about this to an NT friend of mine, and from what I gather, most people aren’t even aware of the dance as they’re doing it.  It all becomes so automatic that they think they aren’t doing much of anything at all.  As an aspie, I know otherwise.  The dance is very complicated, and subtle changes to the rhythm can have huge effects in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

So my social dance is significantly simplified.  I never do parties, because I just can’t seem to learn that dance.  Even if I could, I imagine it would always be stressful and unpleasant.  I also do not socially network.  I do not have a large network of acquaintances and people I know and such.  Hell, I don’t even text.  Ok, I do text sometimes, but it is not a form of social contact for me.  For me, ‘friend’ is synonymous with ‘close friend.’  If a person is not really close to me and vice versa, I do not consider them a friend.  They are an acquaintance or friendly acquaintance.  Relatively recently I have started using the word “buddy” to indicate a person that I enjoy socializing with if I happen to see them, but otherwise do not seek out.  It’s only pretty recently that I’ve learned how to have that level of social contact at all.

For me, keeping connections with people takes energy.  If I’m not getting more back than I am spending to keep the connection alive, then it isn’t worth having.  I gather with most people it’s the other way around – connections to people give them energy, rather than take it.  It’s a very strange thing for me to ponder, but I guess it takes all kinds.

In any case, to me, even my form of social interaction is fairly complicated, even though it’s still much simpler than the dance that most people do.  In conclusion: socializing is complicated!

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