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!



I’m Always the One in the Wrong

Photo from Photofunia.

I’ve just realized something.

When I say something that hurts or offends someone and they get upset, I feel horrible and in most cases I apologize, but it still plays on my mind for weeks, months, years, or even decades afterward and when it does I am filled with shame.

When someone else says something that hurts or offends me and I get upset, they tell me I’m too easily offended or too defensive, or that this shows a character flaw that I need to work on, and then they carry on like nothing ever happened. Meanwhile, it plays on my mind for weeks, months, years, or even decades afterward and when it does I am filled with shame.

Either way, both I and they see me as being the one in the wrong and I always accept the guilt in both cases.

I just realized this tonight. Last night, something I said to someone about 16 years ago came to mind, and I was filled with deep shame. Despite my apologies, this person no longer speaks to me, and I think about this often. Last night it took me hours of thinking and praying and relaxation attempts to stop that old tape. Then tonight, a relative said something that deeply offended and angered me, and I had to use every ounce of self-restraint I could muster up to not respond. Even though I succeeded in that regard, I still felt guilty and ashamed over how angry I felt. I wondered why I can’t just brush things like that off, not just externally, but internally too. Then I thought about how it’s been far worse the times I have externally shown that I was offended and I’ve responded negatively; in those cases I’ve come out the loser and I’ve been left feeling deep shame over my response.

And then I thought, wait a second… Why am I feeling shame when other people get offended by something I say and when I get offended over something someone else has said (whether I even respond or not)? If it’s wrong to verbally offend someone, shouldn’t it be wrong for both me and others? If it’s wrong to get offended, shouldn’t that also be wrong for both me and others? On the other hand, if they feel no guilt when they offend, why should I? And if they feel no guilt when they get offended, why should I?

Why am I so hard on myself? And why are others so hard on me?

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.


Word Mash

Photo from Photofunia

Does anyone else have the tendency to mash up words?

My husband and I are both Beatles fans, and wanting to share with him a tidbit I’d read about them, I said, “It says in their spio…” I meant “Spotify bio” but I left out some syllables and mashed the two words together. I do this quite a bit.

Also, sometimes I can’t think of a word, so I substitute another random word that my brain thinks is related somehow. My dad does this too, but then, unlike me, English isn’t his first language. The results can be quite humourous. My dad and I crack each other up sometimes with our attempts to communicate.

Of course, bursting out laughing at what’s come out of my own mouth only compounds my communication difficulties, especially when I’m talking to someone outside my immediate family. Sometimes I can’t stop laughing and I end up wheezing and almost crying. This likely leaves the person I’m talking to thinking I’m completely insane. And yet people still tell me I communicate well. Go figure.

Update on Friend Trouble

This is an update to the posts Friend Trouble – Part 1 and Friend Trouble – Part 2.

Juliane has now posted more of her wedding photos so I now know it wasn’t just a family thing. I was deliberately excluded.

Upon further reflection, I don’t think it was just Bob’s influence on her that changed our friendship. I think I am responsible as well. The fact is, I don’t like Bob, and not just because of the obnoxious things he said to me and my husband when he was intoxicated. Since Juliane first met him, she’s been telling me things about their relationship that have raised some major red flags in my mind. I don’t think he’s a good person, I don’t think he treats her well, and I don’t think he has her best interests at heart.

Perhaps one might argue that if I’d been a good friend, I would have warned her. But she was so taken in by him that I knew my warnings would not be heeded and would likely damage our friendship. So I said nothing. But here’s the thing about me: I am a bad, bad actor.

No wonder she didn’t want me at her wedding. I probably wouldn’t have wanted someone who disliked my husband at my wedding either. I was fortunate that all my friends liked my husband. Juliane herself said I’d finally found someone who was worthy of me, and that meant a lot to me. But I’ve always been careful not to say anything about Bob. Like, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I’m sure my silence spoke volumes.

My dislike for Bob is truly not based on any mean-spiritedness though. I want Juliane to be happy and I sincerely do wish both of them well. I hope with all my heart that my opinion of the guy is off-base. This is the kind of thing you want to be wrong about.

I wish I could have known how to correctly handle my concern for her and known how to communicate and behave in a way that would be beneficial to her and to our friendship, but I didn’t. So I understand why I was excluded. And even though I can see my part in it, I don’t think there’s any going back. I can’t lie or pretend things, and I think I would have to in order to have a relationship with her now.

Now that I’ve seen that the wedding wasn’t just a family thing, I have complete peace about not sending the Christmas gift I’d already bought for her. That’s what I really needed at this point. Peace about a course of action. I have that now.

There will be radio silence from me until/unless I hear from her.

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.

Quiet, Yet Not Quiet

Photo by Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo of mime by Vladimir Pustovit via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I’m told that I was a quiet child. But I’m also told that I was a talkative child. Both are apparently true. This is a contradiction that has continued to this day and that I and others have often found confusing. It’s something that I have in the past found difficult to explain, including when I was in counseling, but I will try to break it down here.

Before I started school, I was a chatterbox. I had a cheerful, sing-song voice and a mild speech impediment (an inability to say the letter L) that adults apparently thought was adorable in a little girl. People called me a “Chatty Cathy” after a popular talking doll from the previous decade. My mom says she used to worry about me because I would go up to complete strangers and talk their ear off. I even once offered some random elderly man a lick of my ice cream cone, which he accepted.

After I started school, I stopped talking as much because of the way my peers responded to me. Adults had enjoyed my chatter, but other children tended to think I was weird and they didn’t understand the things I talked about. I soon learned that not everybody wanted me to talk to them. This made me retreat into my shell. And since I didn’t really understand how to play with the other kids, I was often on the sidelines, quietly observing them.

However, when I would hit it off with someone, I would have great one-on-one conversations with them.  I was still capable of being talkative, I was just far more cautious and selective because I had learned that I needed to be.

But even though I talked a lot, I was never noisy. This was one area where I really differed from other kids. I didn’t yell or scream or shriek the way they did. I used to hear other kids shrieking while playing and wonder why in the world they would want to make such horrible sounds. It’s something I just never, ever did.

There were also times when I wanted to say something and couldn’t. Like the time I was falsely accused of breaking a window and couldn’t make any words come out of my mouth to defend myself. Or like the time in grade 8 when for some reason our girls’ PE class was required to sit in the bleachers and watch boys play basketball. Our teacher was trying to teach us school spirit or something like that, and was telling us to cheer the boys on. I was usually very obedient to my teachers but unlike the other girls I could not bring myself to shout anything. She noticed and got right in my face and started yelling at me, telling me things I should shout, like “Go team” or whatever. I opened my mouth to do so and no sound came out. Selective mutism, I believe this is called, but at the time I had no clue what was going on. My teacher was angry, thinking I was deliberately being difficult, and I was ashamed.

On the other hand, even though I had trouble defending myself, injustice bothers me so much that I’ve never had any problem speaking up in defense of someone else. I have always felt compelled by my own conscience to verbally jump to the defense of anyone being falsely accused, criticized, or being treated unfairly. I have gotten myself in bad situations and incurred the wrath of bullies many times for doing this, both as a child and as an adult.

I still have a note from my grade 3 teacher that I’ve kept all these years, telling me how mature I was for speaking up in defense of another student. This was one of the same teachers who had labelled me socially and emotionally immature and had denied me the opportunity to skip grades, even though my academic performance warranted it. Obviously even she was confused, thinking I was both mature and immature.

Another unusual thing about me as a child was that even though I had crying meltdowns when overstimulated, I never had temper tantrums. I did not have an angry bone in my body. My mom often talks about how lucky she was compared to other moms because of this. If I saw something I wanted in a store, she could say no and I would accept it and carry on.

My odd combination of quiet yet not quiet confuses people to this day. At a family dinner a couple years ago, I was introduced to a new family member (new through marriage, that is) and really hit it off with her. We were sitting next to each other, and the acoustics in the restaurant were ideal enough that despite my usual auditory processing issues in group settings I was able to carry on a conversation with her. We were even laughing and joking, completely in tune with each other’s sense of humour. Suddenly another person present, the person who shall remain nameless, snapped at me, “And you say you’re so quiet!”

Suddenly, I came crashing down to earth. Having my behavior scrutinized and commented on throws me for a loop every time, and this particular person does it a lot. I didn’t know what to say. I felt that I should offer some kind of explanation, but I had none. For starters though, I could be wrong, but I don’t think I ever said I was quiet. That’s what other people say about me, not what I say about myself. I did tell this person once that I am an introvert, as a way to try to explain myself when this person was criticizing me for not yet having made any friends in the new city I’d moved to (trying to offer an explanation in that case was a mistake anyway; this person didn’t understand what I meant by “introvert” and started telling people after that that I “don’t mix well with others”), but I don’t think I ever used the word quiet.

Anyway, that one comment put a damper on my rare experience of carefree socializing with a new person. I went back into my proverbial shell, feeling paralyzed because of the scrutiny.

Perhaps it’s a topic for another post, but that’s one of the hardest things for me to endure: All the scrutiny I seem to attract.

People want to put other people into boxes, and in many ways, including being quiet but not quiet, I am difficult to categorize. This puts me into the position of feeling like I need to explain myself, but that rarely seems to turn out well.

Other People’s Opinions and Questions About Our Non-Parenthood

Photo by desmondnwj via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by desmondnwj via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

This is continued from Thoughts on Having Kids, Part One and Thoughts on Having Kids, Part Two, where I explain the long journey that has brought us to this point.

It’s tough picking a word to describe our state. Childless implies something’s missing. Childfree implies some kind of antagonism towards children — that you think they’re something bad that you need to be free of. I met someone online who refers to himself as a non-parent, and I like that term. It’s not loaded with hidden meaning. It just is what it is.

Anyway, certain people have made it clear that they don’t approve of our non-parenthood. Infertility is not seen as an excuse. They ask if I’ve sought treatment, tried IVF, taken medication that stimulates ovulation, considered a surrogate. They ask why we haven’t adopted. They tell me all the reasons we should do these things. Check out a childfree bingo card — I’ve heard it all. They’ve told me that when my husband and I are old and alone we’ll have regrets. They’ve said that you don’t truly become an adult or learn true love or selflessness until you become a mother. One woman who had adopted children said to me, “I don’t know how anyone can be so selfish as to not make room in their life for children who need a home!” (Yeah, we’re not friends anymore.)

Oddly enough, people never direct these questions and comments at my husband. It’s always at me. My mother-in-law got me alone one day to have a chat with me about the situation. She told me that my husband had always told her he wanted three children, insinuating that I must be solely responsible for his dream not coming true. (I later asked him about this, and he told me he’d said that when he was about 15, and like a lot of things people think and say when they’re teenagers, he no longer felt that way.)

Thankfully, my own mother understands and doesn’t pressure me, but I know it causes her pain that she will never be a grandmother (I’m her only child), especially when her friends brag and whip out their photos of their grandkids, or worse yet, actually ask her if I’ve made her a grandmother yet. I would have expected people to stop asking by now (I’m 42), but they haven’t.

And meeting new people is hard because of the questions. Even though I admit that it’s completely appropriate to ask someone, “Do you have kids?” I feel awkward when people ask it. It gets even worse when I encounter someone who’s particularly nosy and asks follow-up questions. I have had awkward conversations with people like this:

Do you have kids?
No, no kids. 
Are you planning to have kids?
No, no plans.
Why not? Don’t you like kids?
It’s not that I don’t like kids. I’m infertile. I haven’t been able to conceive.
Oh, so you do want kids, but you can’t have them?
No, I don’t want kids.
Oh… [Puzzled look.]

Part of the problem, of course, is that I’m not good at explaining when put on the spot. And when it comes to procreation there are three positions most people seem to understand, even if they don’t approve:

1. Want kids and have them.
2. Want kids, can’t have them, and feel sad about it.
3. Don’t want kids and choose not to have them by using contraception (or abstinence, or abortion).

It seems like no one’s ever heard of infertile and okay with it.

And I know from things people have said and from reading comments online what many people assume about people who don’t want kids: We’re selfish, self-centered, lazy, cold, unloving, immature. So being asked, “Don’t you like kids?” is extremely anxiety-inducing, especially when I’ve just met someone and I know they’re forming their first opinions about me.

I wouldn’t know how to answer it even if it weren’t such a loaded question. I’m not even sure how to define my feelings in a short sound bite appropriate for a first meeting. I mean, I like kids as much as I like any other humans, I guess. I wish them well. I want the best for them. I want them to be happy and well. I’m horrified at the thought of abuse in any form. But do I want to mother them? No. Do I want to be around them? I know it sounds horrible to say, but no. No I don’t. I don’t actively dislike kids, but I’m not good with them and the desire to be around them is just not there. Should I tell people all this? Isn’t it a lot of information to tell people you’ve just met? And why should I be put in a position to have to bare my soul with people right away?

If I could only figure out what to say, I might feel differently, but every option I can think of seems like a bad idea in some way. I don’t want to come across as annoyed or defensive. I don’t want to give out too much information to people I’ve just met. I don’t want to be dishonest. I don’t want to encourage undesirable treatment from people (like if I say I like kids, the next thing I know, I’m being asked to babysit or teach Sunday School, which I definitely do not want — or if I say I don’t like kids, I get ostracized or criticized).

Someone told me once that since I’ve chosen an unusual path in life I have to expect people to ask questions. That it just comes with the territory. I can understand that to a point, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me.

In spite of my concerns about the correct way to respond, I’m also aware that no matter what choices you make in life, especially when it comes to things like procreation, someone’s going to have a negative opinion about it. I’ve seen people get judged for being stay-at-home moms, being working moms, having too many kids, not having enough kids, having kids too young, having kids too old, having kids while poor, and even waiting to get out of poverty before having kids (“There’s never a right time, you just have to do it!” they’re told). My own mom was given a hard time for only having one, despite the fact that she wanted more and endured miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage. It’s crazy. So I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to be judged for something anyway, I might as well be judged for doing what I want to do, and doing the thing that’s actually right for me and my husband.

I don’t really understand why some people are so interested, to be honest. It has never occurred to me to judge anyone else about the choices they make when it comes to procreation. But then, I already know that the way I think is not typical.

Talking to People

Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by Alexandre Dulaunoy via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

I’ve been told that I have good communication skills, but I don’t think I do. People only know what they hear me say. I know the difference between what I want to say and what actually comes out of my mouth. Often the two are not close enough for me to feel content that I’ve gotten my message across.

Yes, I am quite talkative for an introvert and a likely Aspie. And I did have an adult-sized vocabulary as a young child. But I know from the way people respond to me that just having the ability to converse isn’t enough. I am misunderstood a lot. Not only my words but my intentions. People often seem to assume I have wrong motives for things when I don’t. I have also been falsely accused of things many times in my life, first by my mom and sometimes by my teachers, and later by my bosses. Even worse, when I know someone thinks I’m guilty, I feel and act guilty, even though I’m not.

Often I lie awake at night, replaying conversations I’ve had with people, thinking of how wrongly I worded things and ways in which I could have worded them better. I have been known to send people e-mails at 3am saying, “You know that conversation we had earlier? There’s something I want to clarify…” This is one of those things that makes other people think I’m weird and/or obsessive. But it is important to me to ensure I haven’t misrepresented myself or given anyone misinformation, because I have inadvertently done that too many times in the past and it has blown up in my face.

I even think of things I said 10 or 15 or more years ago and my face gets hot with embarrassment and shame. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t try to talk to people at all, because I just say things that are stupid or wrong or that reveal myself to not think like a “normal” person. Sometimes it really doesn’t feel worth it.

Why Are We Always the Ones Who Have to Bend?

Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection, via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

It seems like to be friends with people, I have to conform to what they want to do. Most people I meet like hockey and camping. If they want to be friends with me, they invite me to go to hockey games or on camping trips with them. I loathe both activities, so I decline. Then they tell me I need to learn to go outside of my comfort zone. Let me tell you something: No, I do not. I grew up in a family that went camping. It’s not like it’s something I’ve never tried. For most of my life, I wasn’t allowed (either by my parents, by others, or by myself) to have a comfort zone. It’s a matter of personal growth that I allow myself to have one now and that I am able to say no to the things I don’t want to do. Besides, those people go camping because they like camping. But I’m supposed to go in spite of disliking it? That’s not even logical.

And why am I always the one who needs to go outside of my comfort zone? If I invite them to one of my husband’s physics lectures, or to come over and watch a documentary on Scandinavian music or culture with me, they’re going to decline (or they’re going to say yes and then back out later or just not show up — something I wouldn’t do, I might add). Why? Because they don’t like that kind of thing. I get that. But why are they allowed to say no to things they don’t like and I’m not? Just because my likes and dislikes are less typical?

Also, I’m starting to notice that when we Aspies (yes, I’m putting myself in that category even though I haven’t had an official diagnosis) have a negative social or interpersonal experience, we always assume it’s our fault. We assume it’s because we don’t communicate well. And often that might be the case. But neurotypicals are not always right about everything. They are capable of error. Some of them are even inconsiderate, insensitive dicks. I don’t think they should be absolved of all responsibility to try to get along with us. Communication is a two-way street, even between Aspies and neurotypicals. If we’re the ones having to bend all the time, no wonder we get so tired.