The Concert… And Talking to Someone Pretty Awesome

overdressed or overeducated
I think Oscar Wilde was wrong on both counts. 

So, I went to the concert. The evening went much better than I thought it would!

My husband and I got off at the right bus stop (something I always worry about when using public transit in an unfamiliar part of the city) and easily found our way from the bus stop to the venue. Things were a bit of a blur for me once we entered, which is how I always feel entering unfamiliar buildings, but my husband located our seats and I was delighted that for the first half of the concert, there was no one sitting next to me (other than my husband on my right, that is). That helped me adjust to the environment a little better than I otherwise would have.

I was wearing a little black dress with silver-coloured sandals, a long silver chain, and big silver earrings. And I was having a shockingly good hair day, if I may say so myself. It’s taken me until I’m almost 43 years old but I have finally figured out how to manage my naturally-curly hair. I was a mess when I was younger, but I am quite well-groomed now. The one negative thing about the night is that after all the effort I had put into my appearance, I was dressed inappropriately. (I really wish I could show you a photo of what I was wearing so you could see what I mean, but I’m trying to stay anonymous here. Which is the same reason I’m not naming the band. Revealing who it was and when it was can easily give away my location.) No one else was dressed even remotely like me. The audience was made up entirely of middle-aged people and all of the women I could see were wearing plain t-shirts and mom-jeans or other extremely casual outfits. No little black dresses. No dresses or skirts at all.

I actually had this moment where I was confused by the fact that there were only middle-aged people there until it hit me: I am middle aged! These are my peers! And as usual, I am out of step with them.

How do other people intuitively know what to wear to an event so they all look alike? I have educated myself a lot about such things since I used to get bullied as a youth for being unfashionable, but I still always seem to get it wrong. I’m either overdressed or underdressed, but I never nail it.

I was able to see the stage really well from my balcony seat and I liked having a bird’s eye view of things. Once the music started, it was very loud. You know how if you step out of a dark building into bright sunshine, your eyes take a minute to adjust, and until they do you can’t see very well? My ears are like that, and when I’ve told people that, they look at me like I’m crazy, so I gather that not everyone has this experience. But when the loud music started, it was so loud I could hardly hear it, all I could hear was noise. After a few minutes, my hearing adjusted and I was able to hear all the detail and subtleties of the music.

Unfortunately, the opening act was only mediocre, and it was rather dull sitting through their show. But once the band we were there to see took the stage, I was swooning in music-induced bliss. It is difficult to even explain the effect my favourite music has on me. I don’t think most other people, especially at my age, have this same experience and I can’t even find the words to describe it. It is just pure sensory pleasure, like a high. It courses through my body and makes me feel deep and amazing things. This explanation is so inadequate but it’s all I can think of.

This is a band I was into in the 80s and 90s, and I was impressed that after so many years they sounded in top form. Especially the guitar player. He blew me away with how good he was. I knew most of the songs by heart and, although I don’t sing (perhaps that’s a topic for another post), I mouthed the words. I even yelled, “Wooooooo!” a few times. Out loud. That’s something I could never do when I was young (I couldn’t make any sound come out of my mouth when I tried) but it comes out quite naturally now as an adult when I am excited by music.

When it was over, my husband and I went to the washroom and met up back in the lobby. We were standing there discussing getting a taxi and wondering if we should wait a bit since perhaps a lot of people would probably be trying to get taxis just then. I didn’t notice that we were standing right in front of a table. As I’ve mentioned before, I am really not visually observant at all. Like it’s a real problem I have. All of a sudden, the band came out and sat down at the table, with the guitar player, the one who has always been my favourite, the one whose guitar playing transports me to another place, the one I, to be perfectly frank, used to have romantic fantasies about when I was a teenager, sitting directly across the table from where I was standing.

I don’t have a lot of experience with this type of event. I wasn’t expecting that. I was not mentally prepared for such an eventuality. And I will admit right now that I am a hypocrite. Throughout most of my adult life, I’ve always said that if I ever saw a celebrity, I would not go up to him or her and try to initiate a conversation, because what could I possibly say that would be of any interest to them? I don’t mean that in a down-on-myself kind of way, I’m just being realistic. They probably get tired of awkward people saying stupid shit to them. And there are very, very few celebrities I would have any interest in meeting anyway. Despite how it may sound here, I am not generally the star-struck type (at least not now, as an adult). Celebrities are just people, and I’m not really a people-person.

But this seemed different. For one thing, this was one of the very few people I actually would like to meet. And I didn’t have to approach him. He was right there. And he was looking at me. And he looked friendly. And, not knowing how clueless and unsavvy I am, he probably assumed I meant to be there, at that table. So, despite having nothing prepared, I started blurting out what popped into my head, which was:

“Hi! I’m so excited to be here, because I’ve been a fan of your music since the 80s, but I’ve never seen you live before! When I first discovered your music I was living in the middle of nowhere…”

“Oh, where did you grow up?” he asked, with a smile. That threw me for a second. I first discovered their music in 1989 when I was 16, and at that time I was living in a new town, not the town(s) I had grown up in until that point. But after a few seconds of processing, thank goodness, I realized I didn’t need to give him a big explanation. I think I am getting better at this, as I usually have the tendency to, in the spirit of complete accuracy and honesty, over-explain things and include details that are irrelevant to the other person. So I told him the name of the small town where I lived when I first became aware of their music, which was really what he was asking anyway, despite the way he worded it. (See, this is another thing I am getting better at understanding: What people mean, not just the words I hear them say. I was clueless about such things when I was younger.) He had heard of the town and agreed it was a long way from anywhere, but then he said something about how I could have made a road trip to one of the big cities to see them (it would have been a 5 or 6 hour drive to one of the major cities from there). So then I felt like, “Uh oh, he’s thinking I’m not a real fan; that six hours is nothing for a real fan.” And I could hardly start explaining what I was like: Afraid to get my license, afraid of city driving, and at many times in my life, too poor to spend money on concerts. Once these things had changed, they had stopped touring. But then he said, “I guess either way that’s a pretty long haul,” and I nodded.

He asked me how long I’ve been living in this city, and told me that he did the opposite, moving from a big city to a small town and saying how much he loves it.

Then he said, kind of cheekily, “I’m [name],” and held out his hand for me to shake. I said, “I know!” and shook it. Duh. He said, “What’s your name?” And I told him. “That’s my wife’s name!” he said, and showed me a tattoo on his wrist. I couldn’t make out what it was, but I assumed it had to do with his wife and I said, “Cool!” He told me his wife is an author (I already knew that, but I pretended I didn’t because I didn’t want to seem stalkerish) and he explained that’s why living in a small town works for them, because she can do that from anywhere.

Then he looked at my husband and asked who he was, and I introduced him, feeling embarrassed that I hadn’t already done so. The whole time I was kind of feeling like a deer caught in the headlights so I hadn’t thought of it.

Then his band mate next to him said something and he turned toward him and they were talking and I, because awkward is my middle name, just wandered away. My husband followed. So I didn’t get an autograph, or a selfie with him, or anything. I left empty-handed. But I was kind of feeling like I was occupying too much of his time when other people were waiting (this is something I wouldn’t have thought of when I was younger, but all the criticism over the years has made me aware of such things), and I was worried that I was coming across as odd, and of course I hadn’t planned to have a conversation with him at all (and I really prefer interactions that are planned), and although I was happy and amazed that it happened in spite of my lack of intention, I was relieved to make an escape.

My husband says I did well. I had a normal conversation with him about normal things. That was good. A friend of mine said later that she would have been very nervous meeting an attractive celebrity, and mentioned that she once had the opportunity to talk to someone famous but got so nervous and tongue-tied she didn’t actually say anything, and it made me realize: As crazy as it may sound, I almost have an advantage over the average person in this area. I am always nervous talking to people I don’t know well. Nervousness is my baseline. I have learned to talk to people in spite of my nervousness. It’s uncomfortable, and I probably come across as awkward, but I can do it because I have to do it because social nervousness is always there for me. Talking to one of my all-time favourite guitarists did not feel any more nerve-wracking to me than talking to a church greeter in a church lobby or talking to my doctor every time I have an appointment. I was jittery and awkward, yes, but I am always jittery and awkward. That is my norm.

I am also comforted by the fact that he talks to a lot of people and will quickly forget me. He won’t be thinking, “That woman I met earlier sure was awkward.” He won’t be thinking of me at all. That is good. I can live with that.

My husband and I went out into the night air and it felt really good. There’s something special about the sensation of night air on my skin on a warm, late-spring night. It’s one of those rare things that makes sensory sensitivity a delight instead of the hardship it usually is. It was 11pm and I was surprised at how active the city’s streets still seemed at that hour. There were other people streaming away from the venue on foot and I felt like it was safe enough so I asked my husband if he wanted to get the bus home instead of calling for a taxi like we’d planned, and he agreed. It might seem strange that I suggested deviating from a plan, but the truth was, after all that I was socially worn out and I didn’t want to make a phone call or have to talk to a driver if I didn’t have to, and these things tend to fall on me to do because my husband thinks people won’t understand his accent (he’s often right about that, to be fair). So we walked the two blocks to the bus stop and after waiting a few minutes, caught the bus home without incident.

Really, other than my outfit, the whole night could not have gone better, under the circumstances. I’m still kind of amazed that the band member I like best is the one who sat down right in front of me. I would have been happy to meet the others, of course, but the fact that it was my favourite was especially cool.

It even turned out that my husband really enjoyed the music! He grew up in England where this band never had success, so he was not familiar with them and only went to the concert for my sake, but he enjoyed it so much he said he’d like to see them again the next time they tour (assuming they do continue touring, that is). Maybe next time, knowing that they might be available for autographs after the show, I can plan out what to say in advance and maybe even get an actual autograph next time!

I just wish I could get a message to my 16-year-old self and tell her about the conversation. It was a nice experience for me in my 40s, but it would have meant the world to me in my teens!

 

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Reading People and Responding Correctly

waiting for trainPhoto by Hans G Bäckman via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I’ve read that people with Asperger’s have trouble reading people. This is one of the things that used to make me question if I really do have Asperger’s, because I don’t have any trouble reading people unless I’m already experiencing sensory overload. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I think I’m actually pretty good at it. However, I think a casual observer might assess me as not being able to read people at all, because I don’t necessarily show outward signs of that ability.

Even though I can read people, I usually have no idea what to do about it or what the correct response is. Even if I do know the correct response, I can’t always make it happen. So in a nutshell, it’s knowing how to respond, and being able to perform or manifest that response, that is my number one social problem.

I will give you an example. As I have mentioned in the past, I live in an apartment building that has frequent fire alarms. One time when my husband, cat, and I were out on the front lawn of our building, waiting for the all-clear from firefighters, we noticed another couple with an agitated-looking cat sitting across the lawn from us. I had a package of cat treats in my bag, and my husband suggested I offer some to the couple for their cat. I began walking across the lawn toward them. As I approached, the young woman looked at me with this look on her face like, “Oh no, who is this weirdo approaching and what does she want? Please make her go away.” Her expression was as clear to me as if she had said the words. She was suspicious and wary and not friendly or welcoming in the least. I could see that. But I didn’t know what to do. Maybe I should have just left her alone, but it’s like my course was already set. I was obviously walking toward them and I thought it would have looked even weirder if I’d abruptly about-faced. If I kept going, at least I could explain my intention. If I turned around, they would be left wondering what I was up to, and might imagine negative motives. I get misunderstood and suspected of negative motives a lot. So I kept going, but felt more and more humiliated with each step.

So you see, a casual observer might have concluded that I couldn’t read that I was unwelcome. Why else would I have continued my approach?

(The outcome was anticlimactic. I offered them some treats for their cat, the woman visibly relaxed but said they already had some, and I turned around and walked away.)

Another example is when my mother-in-law called to say that her brother had died. I felt incredibly saddened by the news and felt for her because she was grieving, but when I said, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” I could hear that my voice came out in a monotone. I don’t always speak in a monotone, but for some reason the more pressure I feel to convey emotion or warmth, the less I actually do. I am incredibly embarrassed by this. I know my mother-in-law thinks I’m cold, but I’m not cold on the inside, I just can’t convey it on the outside. The more it’s socially required, the worse I perform. In this case, I understood and empathized with her grief, and I even knew the correct response, but I couldn’t make it happen in the correct way. I failed, and there are no re-dos on something like that.

 

One of My Little Quirks: Aversion to Games

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Photo by Doug via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I do not enjoy games. When I play against another person, if I lose, I feel bad about myself, and if I win, I feel guilty for possibly making the other person feel bad. Logically, I realize that most people aren’t as sensitive about such things as I am, but emotionally, the concern is still there.

Funnily enough, my dad says he’s the same way. He feels his aversion to playing games is related to his Finnish heritage. He says Finns fundamentally want everyone to be equal, and playing competitive games forces you to try to be better than other people. He doesn’t want to be better than anyone else, but he also doesn’t want anyone else to be better than him, not even for the length of time it takes to play a game. It’s just not an enjoyable thing for him. Or for me. (Disclaimer: I realize not all Finns feel this way, otherwise there would be no competitive sports in Finland!)

I’ve heard people talk about how children should learn a healthy sense of competition. Needless to say, I never learned that. I still don’t understand it. And if I’m completely honest, it’s not something I want to learn. I don’t like the whole idea of competition. Why can’t people just do their best at things, without comparing themselves to others or trying to be better than others? I am just not wired to understand this.

The only game I play right now is Scrabble on Facebook. I play with my mom, and we have an agreement that we won’t be competitive or even look at scores, we’ll just use it as a way to spend time together long-distance and to have the fun of making words. I like words. The only problem is, then other people on Facebook can see that I’m playing and they try to start games with me. Every time I see that someone has started a game with me my heart sinks. I can’t just ignore it, because that might make them feel bad or rejected. They might wonder why I’ll play with my mom and not with them. But when I play with anyone other than my mom, I feel it forces me to play strategically and competitively, or else look stupid to my opponent. Every move becomes fraught with anxiety and stress. I realize it shouldn’t be that way, but it is for me.

The types of games people play at parties are even worse, because they’re usually overstimulating and require quick thinking. People get all loud and boisterous, which due to my sensory issues makes quick thinking almost impossible for me. Again, I end up looking stupid.

Board games add another level of awkwardness for me. I’m clumsy, and I’ve been known to knock pieces off boards by accident. That’s embarrassing.

I don’t even enjoy playing games against a computer though, so perhaps it’s not just about my issues with competitiveness, sensory overload, or physical awkwardness. And the role-playing games some of my friends like hold no appeal for me. To me, it just feels like a waste of time. It’s strange that I feel that way, since I have no qualms about wasting time in other ways. I guess it’s because I just don’t enjoy them. Maybe it’s the make-believe aspect that I have an aversion to in these cases. I’ve never been good at or interested in make-believe. My imagination is very limited.

Because I’m seen as a geek in other ways, I think people expect me to be a gamer, but I have no interest in all that. It’s yet another way in which people just can’t quite figure me out.

And it all adds up to yet another thing that makes socializing awkward and draining for me. It seems like people often want to play games when they get together socially, and I either refuse, or go along with it for the sake of being friendly but can’t fake having a good time for long. And I’ve noticed that other people seem to feel hurt or offended when you don’t enjoy the games they like to play. This makes me feel horrible, as I hate hurting people’s feelings!

A Faulty Chameleon

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Photo by NH53 via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

The book Aspergirls mentions the tendency for females with Asperger’s to lack a strong sense of identity and to be chameleon-like. That was certainly true of me when I younger. For most of my life, people had been telling me I was weird, and I didn’t know why. Unlike me, they always seemed to intuitively know how to act with each other, so I was always observing and quietly trying to learn from them. But trying to implement what I learned required putting on an act. I had learned that being myself was wrong, so to be right, I thought I had to be someone else.

The last time I remember doing this was when I was in my twenties, and it backfired big-time.

I had been railroaded into joining a church College and Career group, even though I was in the latter half of my twenties and everybody else there except the leader was between 18 and 20. I was like a fish out of water, and I hated it there, but I tried really, really hard to fit in because I had eventually (foolishly, I believe in retrospect) come to the conclusion that I was meant to be there for various reasons.

I got to know a young, dating couple quite well during my time there, Melissa and Phil. She was 18, he was 20. Melissa and I were very different in personality and did not become instant friends, but Phil liked me (as a friend) and he and I would often have long, heart-to-heart talks about deep spiritual things.

One day Melissa came to me and asked me to mentor her (which is a fairly common scenario in evangelical church culture). She said that Phil had told her she should try to be more like me. He wanted to marry her but felt she was not mature enough yet, but he really admired my (supposed) maturity and spiritual wisdom and thought if I could mentor her, she could become mature enough for marriage.

I did not feel equipped to mentor anyone, but I did not actually say no because I didn’t know how to do that back then, at least not in a social situation like that. And I suppose there was a small narcissistic part of me that was flattered. So Melissa and I started spending time together. I don’t think any real mentoring actually occurred though. At least not from me to her. I had no clue how to mentor someone and wasn’t convinced it was a good idea at all.

The thing is, I had observed that almost everybody absolutely adored Melissa. Nobody adored me. And Melissa was loved by Phil. Really, really loved. It was beautiful and painful to witness his love for her. I didn’t have romantic feelings for Phil, so I wasn’t jealous in that way, but I did want to be loved by somebody, and I never, ever had been.

I started modelling myself after Melissa, even though she was much younger than me. She was loved and I was not, so it made sense to me that I should become more like her rather than the other way around. That Phil would want the woman he loved to become more like a woman he didn’t love seemed utterly illogical and preposterous to me.

Melissa was very outgoing and outspoken, so I tried to be more outgoing and outspoken. She was very free with her opinions, both positive and negative, so I tried to do the same. She didn’t take things too seriously, so I tried to act less serious. She would playfully tease people, and even though I had never understood teasing and really don’t like it, I tried to learn by watching her how to do it.

The problem is, whenever I’ve tried to be anyone but myself, I’ve gotten it wrong. I’d think I was doing it the same way they were doing it, but I could tell from how people responded to me that I was missing the mark.

During this time, I tried playfully teasing the man I was interested in. I think he and I would have been very compatible if I had been being myself, but instead I was trying to be Melissa. And something I blurted out when trying to be Melissa completely missed the mark, and I believe he held it against me for the rest of the time I knew him. My attempts to backtrack and explain only made things worse, because I was making light of it the way someone like Melissa would have.

I don’t blame him for the way he reacted. I too would be upset if someone spoke to me like that, and yet when Melissa did it, she did it in such a charming way that people responded positively to her. I lacked her charm, I guess, and it was something I couldn’t fake.

This happened circa 1999, and to this day, at least once a week or so something reminds me of that thing I said, and I feel an unbearable sense of shame wash over me. I want to erase it from existence somehow, but I can’t, and that kills me.

That was not the first time I had tried to be someone else, but it was the last. I had finally learned my lesson. Being myself didn’t cut it socially, but trying to be someone else was far, far worse. At least when I’m being myself I appeal to the rare like-minded people I come across, but when I’m being someone else, I drive away the few people who might have otherwise sensed a kinship with me.

 

 

Choosing a Seat

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Photo by Jack Lyons via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I have developed almost a phobia about choosing a seat when I’m out somewhere. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s because I have often gotten it wrong. Not only is finding a spot where I’ll be comfortable a challenge, but it also seems that there is a certain etiquette surrounding where to sit that other people intuitively know and I don’t.

I suppose it started when I was a kid. At Christmas dinner with the extended family (which we didn’t usually attend), I went to sit down at the dining table and my aunt snapped at me that I had to sit at the kids’ table. Until then I had never heard of such a thing as a kids’ table. I suppose if I’d been more savvy I would have noticed where my cousins were going and realized I was in the same category as them, but I have never been very savvy or observant. Oops.

And then there was the school bus. My mom stopped driving me to school after her breakdown, so I had to take the bus. Even though I didn’t live close to the school, my stop was the last one on the route, and by the time it got there, there was at least one kid already sitting in each two-person seat. None of those kids would let me sit down next to them. So I would walk down the aisle trying to find a place to sit, only to be denied again and again, usually along with insults like “freak” and “weirdo.” Then the bus driver would scream at me to sit down, as if I were being deliberately difficult. This is yet another thing that contributed to me quitting school.

Then there was this time after my dad left when he decided to try to be civil for once and took my mom and I out for dinner. We were led to a booth and he sat down first, and then I sat down across from him. I wasn’t thinking about where I was sitting, I was overwhelmed as I usually am in public and just sat down wherever. When my mom and I got home, she screamed at me at length, saying that couples sit across from each other in restaurants so that they can look into each other’s eyes and that I had made it look like my dad and I were a couple. She said she should have been sitting across from him, not me. I was baffled, and I still kind of am. When my husband and I go to a restaurant with another couple, we tend to sit side-by-side with each other, and across from the other couple. I try to be more mindful of this kind of thing now, and not make it look like I want to be a couple with anyone other than my husband, so if I have a choice I try to sit beside my husband and across from the woman instead of the man, but I might still be getting this wrong because I don’t understand these supposed unwritten rules.

My mother also screamed at me once for choosing a seat across from a window, accusing me of wanting to admire my own reflection, and saying that everyone could tell how conceited I was. Again, I was baffled. I’d just sat down in the first available chair without any ulterior motive whatsoever. I didn’t understand why my mom read so much into everything I did, and I still don’t know if other people think like her or not.

Then there are issues at other people’s houses, like in the past when my husband and I have been part of a church home group. Probably because of my poor balance, unless I have a table or something in front of me to rest my arms on, I am extremely uncomfortable in any sitting position other than cross-legged. Like, really, unbearably uncomfortable. Sometimes I have no choice, like in church, but if I’m somewhere where there are different kinds of seats to choose from, like in someone else’s living room, I look for a place where I can sit cross-legged, like a couch or a large easy chair. If those are already occupied, and the only seats left are hard chairs that have been brought in from the dining room, I would much rather sit on the floor. It’s still hard, but at least I can sit in my preferred position. But people make a big deal about it if I sit on the floor. Even if I explain that I’m comfortable there, they don’t seem to believe me.

But then, people have even made comments when I’ve sat in an easy chair, saying almost teasingly, “Oh yeah, of course you’d choose the most comfortable seat in the place!” Okay, why is that something tease-worthy? Is it a faux pas? I guess it’s selfish? Like I should have left the most comfortable seat in the place for someone else? I can understand saving it for an elderly person, but we didn’t have any elderly people in our group. So why was it selfish of me to take that seat, but it wouldn’t have been selfish of someone else to take it if I hadn’t? It’s not like that seat remained empty if I didn’t sit there. I just don’t get it.

And then there’s church. I don’t actually go to church anymore, but I plan to again in the future, and seating is always an issue for me. I am most comfortable sitting at the back, where I feel like I can make a quick escape if I get overstimulated beyond my ability to bear, and also where the speaker or singers can’t see my facial expression, which apparently often looks unpleasant or disapproving. But when attending a new church (I have lived in four cities in ten years, so I’ve done that a lot) I’ve sat through a whole service in the back row before realizing it had a sign at the end of it saying, “Reserved for families with small children.” Oops. I hadn’t even seen that sign when I’d arrived because the sensory overload caused by entering a new building and trying to find a seat makes everything a blur to me. I am not very observant at the best of times, but at those times I am even less so.

Another issue with church is that I feel I have to get there early so I can choose my own seat, because I feel really overwhelmed if the church is almost full and an usher needs to find a seat for me. Inevitably this means having to squeeze by other people who are already seated. I fear stepping on people’s toes (literally) and I’m ashamed that my big butt is practically right in their faces. I end up apologizing profusely, which other people seem to find odd or amusing. Then I can’t even pay attention to the service because things remain a blur for me. It’s best for me to just get there early so I can choose a seat while the place is still mostly empty.

This is yet another reason I am so much more comfortable at home. Much like Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory, at home I have my own spot, which works for me for several reasons. First of all, it’s a spot I know I can sit comfortably in. Secondly, it takes away having to make any kind of choice or decision about where to sit. Thirdly, I have all my stuff stored in the drawer in the end table beside my spot. My tablet, e-reader, phone charger, nail clippers, prescription medications, notebook and pen, etc. There are times when a visitor sits in my spot, and unlike Sheldon Cooper, I don’t say anything because I know it would be impolite, but on the inside I feel very agitated and uncomfortable.

 

My Formerly Weird Ways With Guys

Mixtape
Photo by Ani-Bee via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

My crushes started in kindergarten, when I first had the opportunity to get to know boys I wasn’t related to. A neighbour boy and I considered each other boyfriend and girlfriend at that age, and there was another boy in our class who said he wanted to marry me someday, but once I got chubby when I was 7, boys didn’t like me anymore. We moved a lot, so I went to a few different elementary schools, and at each school I found a new boy to fixate on, but after age 7 it wasn’t reciprocated.

Around the age of 10, I started getting obsessed with the whole concept of romantic love, taking my crushes to a new level. I started reading romance novels and listening to songs on the radio, mentally grasping on to every lyric that mentioned being in love. I wrote in my diary, “I love Clint,” about a boy in my class, and my mom read it and yelled at me that I was too young to be in love, accused me of fornicating, and threatened to call the boy’s mother. I was mortified. The boy barely knew I existed.

It wasn’t until I was 14 that boys started liking me again. But the only ones I got to go out with were ones who liked me before I liked them. If I liked them first, there was no way they would have come to like me, because I acted like a freakin’ lunatic when I liked a boy. In the book Aspergirls it says, “If she likes a male, she can be extremely, noticeably awkward in her attempts to let him know, e.g. she may stare when she sees him or call him repeatedly. This is because she fixates and doesn’t understand societal gender roles.”  That was me in a nutshell. Despite my introversion and meekness in other aspects of life, when it came to guys I liked, I stared at them, called them, wrote them letters and poems, and made them mixtapes. Sometimes I would even let a friend ask them out on my behalf. That never went well, but it didn’t stop me from trying again with other boys. I was quite the optimist when I was young.

Even if someone had told me I was behaving inappropriately, I probably would not have stopped. I enjoyed my fixations, and I always had the idea (erroneously, I now believe) that if I were meant to be with someone, they wouldn’t mind how obvious  I was. They might even like it. It’s like one of my male relatives says about his wife, “She pursued me and told me we should get married and it didn’t occur to me to argue.” They have now been happily married for over 50 years.

Unfortunately, even the guys who liked me first and whom I did get to go out with, didn’t actually fall in love with me. One boyfriend told me, “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met, and I want to love you because you’re so nice, but I don’t. I’ve tried to love you, but I just can’t.”

Another boyfriend never even brought up the word love, but he did tell me once, “I really like you, but I will never understand you.”

I got dumped again and again. I was always the dumpee, never the dumper. When I was with someone, I was extremely loyal. Even though I had many crushes over the years, I really only ever wanted to settle down with one person. If the first guy I’d dated had stayed with me, I would have been happy to stay with that one person my whole life. I didn’t actually want to play the field at all.

I went through a dry spell for about 7 years in my twenties during which no men liked me at all. I was hit on by a couple of women (which really made me question what kind of vibe I was putting out there), but men showed no interest in me whatsoever. I hated being single, and as time went on it became excruciatingly emotionally painful.

The biggest heartbreak of my life was in my twenties over a guy with whom I’d never even been romantically involved. We were friends, and I felt such an affinity with him (he might very well have been on the spectrum himself) that I became convinced we were soul mates who were meant to be together. He was very intelligent, and just talking to him gave me a sort of high. Other people kept telling me that they thought he liked me and that they saw him staring at me when I wasn’t looking, which encouraged my delusion. After a year of friendship, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and when he said some really nice things to me that built up my hopes, I told him I had feelings for him and that I thought we were supposed to be together. He told me he did not feel the same way and if I felt that way he didn’t even want to be friends with me anymore. After yet another year during which we traveled in the same social circles but avoided each other, he started talking to me again, but then I blurted out something that made it obvious I was still fixated on him and he again rejected me and got quite cruel about it. He said I was confused, misguided, and possibly dangerous to him. I was crushed. I lied in bed and couldn’t eat a bite of food for six days. The despair I felt seemed insurmountable. I couldn’t fathom how he could misunderstand me so horrendously. Yes, I was intense and even obsessive, but there wasn’t a dangerous bone in my body. I was, always had been, and still am likely the most harmless person on the planet. When rejected, I don’t get angry or bitter or vengeful, I just get very sad.

It’s only been since I’ve been watching more TV and reading stuff on the internet that I’ve come to truly understand how an intense woman like me can be perceived, and how creepy and even scary we can seem. Not that I believe I ever said or did anything actually scary or stalkerish (I mean, if someone said, “Don’t call me,” I did stop), but I can see how my fixations could have appeared to be leading up to that kind of thing. I feel incredibly embarrassed when I think about how some people must remember me.

I ended up getting married at the age of 31. If it weren’t for the internet, it probably wouldn’t have happened. I met my husband in an online discussion forum. We noticed that we had a lot in common and had similar senses of humour, and we got to know each other without him having to witness all my in-person weirdnesses. By the time we did meet in person, he already knew what I was all about, and apparently wasn’t put off by my quirks. Also, right from the beginning, he pursued me and never stopped pursuing me, so I never had the opportunity to pursue him; he was always getting in touch or making a move before I was. That was the first time that had happened to me and it was the only way it could have worked out for me, I think.

We’ve been happily married for 11 years now. I can’t believe I’ve ended up with someone like him. We’re extremely compatible, and he’s intelligent, educated, kind, funny, and most importantly, a very good, honest, loyal man. I consider him to be the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I wish I could go back in time and tell my 10-year-old self that I’d have to wait a couple of decades, but it would be worth it.

When I was so miserable being single in my twenties, people told me marriage isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. For me, however, it has been. And despite all my social and emotional deficits, marriage seems to be the one thing I’m good at. So far, anyway.

Edited to add: This post was really hard to write and my face is hot after admitting these things.

Being Physically Appropriate

Photo by Benjamin Griffiths via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Benjamin Griffiths via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

There is so much to remember about my body when I’m in the presence of others.

  • I have to remember to control my facial expressions.
  • I have to remember not to position my extremely flexible fingers and hands weirdly, otherwise it freaks people out.
  • I have to remember not to move my hands when they’re in my pockets, otherwise it apparently looks like I’m doing something perverted. (I used to do this self-soothing thing where I’d stick my hands in my pockets and stroke my skin through the fabric, thinking no one could tell, but they could.)
  • I have to remember to at least appear to be mentally present at all times instead of obviously looking spaced out.
  • I have to remember to eat slowly and carefully, because my hypermobile fingers are clumsy with cutlery and I easily make a mess if I don’t. (When I’m in the U.K. and am expected to hold my fork in my left hand, I’m screwed; 50% of the food on the fork doesn’t get anywhere near my mouth.)
  • I have to remember to keep my mouth closed when I’m breathing, lest anyone laugh at me for being a “mouth breather.”
  • I have to remember not to stand too far away from people when I’m talking to them or lean too far away from people who are sitting next to me, even though I require an enormous amount of personal space to feel comfortable. (In group shots from my wedding, my mother-in-law is cuddled up closer to my husband than I am.)
  • I have to remember not to clench my fists when I walk, which I inexplicably have the tendency to do.
  • I have to remember to sit in a way that doesn’t look weird for my age, even though there is pretty much only one comfortable sitting position for me and that is cross-legged.

Most of the time, I appear normal, but it takes a lot of effort. I make the effort because I hate attracting negative attention and when I was younger I got so sick of people making negative or mocking comments when I just acted the way I’m normally inclined to act. I learned what not to do just from all the things people said to me. But it is so tiring having to constantly be aware of these things, plus socialize and converse on top of it all, and all while often being overwhelmed and overstimulated. It is so much easier being alone, or being just with my husband who doesn’t notice or care about any of these things.

I Just Want a Freakin’ Sandwich!

Photo by Tony Alter via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Tony Alter via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Today I had to return something to the library, and while out, started to feel hypoglycemic and needed something to eat in a hurry, so I decided to get a sandwich from the nearby Subway.

When I approached the counter, the guy behind it said with a big, mischievous grin, “I’m sorry, we’re closed today.”

I replied, “You don’t look closed.”

“We’re closed,” he said.

I just stood there for a few seconds, not sure what to say next. He then said something to me, and I didn’t understand what it was, but I could tell it wasn’t “May I take your order?” or “What can I get for you?” So I asked him to repeat himself. He did, but I still didn’t understand him.

I froze for a few seconds trying to make sense of his words but I couldn’t. Then I panicked and turned around and left without another word. I’m sure he thinks I’m insane.

This same guy made things awkward for me the last time I was there too, but that time it was with aggressive upselling attempts. It started with, “Would you like to add bacon?”

“No thank you, ” I replied.

“Why, don’t you like bacon?” he asked, smiling playfully.

“Ummm… Yeah, I guess, but not all the time.”

“Do you want extra cheese?

“No thank you.”

“Why, don’t you like cheese?”

“I do, but in normal amounts. I don’t need extra.”

“Do you want to make this a combo with a drink and some cookies?”

“No thank you.”

“But you’ll need something to wash your sub down with, won’t you?”

“I’m taking it home. I have drinks at home.”

“But I bet you don’t have cookies at home.”

“I don’t want cookies.”

“Why, don’t you like cookies?”

So anyway, I now feel like I can never go to that Subway again, which is really frustrating, because that’s the only one in my neighbourhood, I don’t have a car, and I normally really like it. I like it because I can get a sandwich made with exactly what I want on it (and therefore not risk aggravating any of my food sensitivities), and even though there’s a lot of talking to get it, it usually follows a predictable routine, so even if I can’t always understand their words (due to my auditory processing issues and their thick accents), I know what they’re likely asking at each point in the process and can make a safe guess about how to answer. But this particular guy keeps jacking me around and turning it into an ordeal and now I don’t ever want to go back there. And the way I am with things like this, I will be thinking about this for hours or even days to come.

Just to clarify, I’m not saying this guy is a terrible person; I realize he’s just joking around. But I don’t know how to deal with it, and it adds a layer of complexity to something that used to be very simple.

It really shouldn’t be so hard to order a freakin’ sandwich.

Self-Defense, Verbal and Otherwise

Creative Commons - Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Photo by Marg, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

For much of my life I had problems defending myself. Partly because I didn’t quite know how to and partly because when under pressure I would become paralyzed and/or mute. People just did whatever they wanted to me.

One incident happened when I was in grade one (just to clarify, I’m Canadian; we call it grade one, not first grade). I was outside the school during lunch hour and some teachers came hurrying towards me and firmly told me that I needed to come to the principal’s office.

Apparently, I was being accused of breaking a window. I didn’t know why. I was not aware of having broken any window. But adults were saying I did, and I was completely trusting of adults, so I believed them. I believed that I had somehow broken that window without realizing it. As if maybe I had been running along and accidentally kicked up rocks from my shoes with such force that a window was broken. That sounds really implausible now, but it was the only explanation I could think of at the time.

Not that I expressed such thoughts. I couldn’t make any words come out of my mouth. I sat there silent, bewildered, and waiting to see what would happen.

By some miracle, my name was cleared without me having to do or say anything. I don’t quite remember what happened, but I think the real culprit confessed. I was free to go.

Flash forward 10 years. A bully girl attacked me and proceeded to beat me up really badly. By then I had learned to use my words. I kept saying, “If you have a problem with me, can’t we talk about it? Let’s work this out.” But she just yelled, “Shut up, loser!” The beating continued until an elderly couple came out of a nearby house and yelled that they were going to call the police. She left and the couple took me into their house and talked to me. “Why didn’t you do anything?” the man asked. “Why did you just let her do that to you?” I had no answer.

The problem was, despite having been able to find my words, I was not able to bring myself to physically fight back. I thought about it. I tried to envision it. But my body wouldn’t move. Other kids were cheering on the fight but there was no fight. There was no struggle. It was just one person pounding the other to a pulp. I suppose I looked like a coward but I wasn’t really afraid, just confused, sad, overwhelmed, and inexplicably paralyzed. I didn’t know why, so I couldn’t explain it.

Fortunately, once I was an adult people stopped inflicting violence on me. But I continued to find myself in situations where I was taken advantage of, misunderstood, or falsely accused, and I continued to be really bad at doing anything about it. I did try, but was horribly ineffective. Many times I was told, “You need to learn to stand up for yourself!”

Finally in my thirties I went through a year of counseling, and my counselor and I talked about strategies for standing up for myself if the need arose.

Then when I was 40 years old, one day at work, someone made a false accusation against me which was brought to my attention by my angry boss. I managed to stay calm and I explained to him why I was not guilty. He remained skeptical, as the person who made the accusation was highly regarded. He ended the conversation with, “I just want to get to the bottom of this!”

I knew it would not be difficult to prove my innocence. I compiled documents and e-mail exchanges that did get to the very bottom of the situation and revealed exactly what had happened. Basically, the whole mess was the result of someone requesting to book the facility for a certain date, me rightfully denying the booking because the facility was unavailable on that date, and them showing up anyway, leading to a whole shitstorm of consequences. It was 100% not my fault and the documents I provided proved it.

The following week was my 6-month performance review. I was told that while my work was of a consistently high quality and while I had always demonstrated a conscientious attitude, a courteous demeanor, and a high ethical standard, I was too defensive and had an unhealthy need for vindication. I told my boss that if he was referring to the incident of the previous week, perhaps I had misunderstood, but he’d said he wanted to get to the bottom of the situation. Since I had in my possession everything that could show him exactly what had transpired and why, I thought he would want to be made aware of it. My words only proved his point that I was defensive and he told me this was an area where I needed personal growth. I then made the mistake of blurting out that for much of my life I’d never defended myself, but I’d gotten counseling to learn how, and the fact that I could do so now meant I had achieved personal growth. He just stared at me. Then he made up a reason why I was fired.

It seems that I can’t quite get it right. I’m supposed to stand up for myself, but I’m not supposed to be defensive. I don’t know where the line is, and I still don’t know what I did wrong in the work situation (other than the part where I admitted that I’d had past issues that had required counseling, but things had already gone terribly awry by that point anyway). I know I am socially awkward, but I can’t imagine anyone not defending themselves or providing documents that proved a false accusation false. I’ve observed that most other people in the workplace are not pushovers and do not take any crap. But it seems like when other people do it, it’s accepted, and when I do it, I get it slightly wrong somehow, and it’s not accepted. I would be willing to change, but I’m never sure exactly where I’m going wrong.