I was in a situation two days ago where I apparently reacted wrongly to something. I didn’t even know until today when it was brought to my attention. I feel extremely stressed out now, reminded of how easy it is for me to get things wrong and not even realize it.
Two days ago, I heard a person who shall remain nameless yelling. I went to see what was wrong. It turned out she had gotten a minor physical injury. I was concerned, so I asked her if she was okay. I offered to get her some hydrogen peroxide to clean the wound and some antibiotic ointment, but she said there was no need, she already had some. I then set about working to remove the problem that had resulted in the injury. Not that it had been my fault at all, but at least I could be part of the solution. That accomplished, I went back to what I was doing. Oops.
For the last two days, the situation has been playing on my mind (not my reaction, which I didn’t even realize was a problem, but just the fact that it had happened in the first place), so I sent her an e-mail today asking if the wound was healing or if there were signs of infection, and I told her I’d been brainstorming of ways to prevent the same thing from happening again.
She replied that she was glad I’d e-mailed her, because she’s been upset at me for the last two days because I didn’t seem to care that she was injured. She said I seemed to have no reaction; I had appeared completely unconcerned and had just “walked away.” She said I should have paid more attention to her, and she’s been feeling hurt ever since.
I assured her I did care, and reminded her that when I walked away it was to try to solve the problem so it wouldn’t happen again. I only did that because I cared, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. I also told her not to ever look at me for “reactions” because I will always get those wrong. I just don’t have that — whatever it is — in me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel anything on the inside. It’s just that something is broken between the feeling inside and the outward manifestation of it.
I don’t think she really understood what I was saying.
I’m now feeling all this shame because I got that situation wrong. And I’m feeling anxiety knowing that I might get something like that wrong again. It’s so hard to know in the moment what is required of me, and to act out the correct response. And it would be an act, because even though the feelings are there, the correct actions are apparently not natural for me like they are for other people.
I understand now that I was supposed to show warmth and compassion, but even if I had tried I’m sure I would have gotten it wrong and it would have come across as fake, which probably would have done more harm than good. Again, I did care, and I did feel compassion, but I still don’t know how I could have authentically demonstrated that.
I wish I could just stay away from people so I don’t hurt their feelings all the time, but life circumstances don’t seem to allow me to do that.
My husband and I both started attending employment counseling last week. After the first appointment, we came away with very different schedules. My counselor had me fully booked for workshops and appointments every day this week and into the next. Meanwhile, my husband was scheduled for only two workshops and one one-on-one appointment with a networking expert.
I had even been honest with the counselor about how overwhelmed I get and told her I can only handle part-time work (if that). She must not have understood what I was getting at. She would not have over-scheduled me if she had.
The workshops have proven to be pretty much useless. I already know how to write a resume. My problems are far more complex than that. What they’re teaching is so basic I think you’d have to be a complete idiot to get much out of it. I’m not saying I learned nothing though. I learned a couple of sneaky, unethical tricks to get my resume seen by potential employers. That’s the kind of stuff they’re teaching people.
There were really only two things I hoped to get out of all this, which have already proven to be complete busts:
I was hoping to get help identifying a new career path that is a better fit for me than office admin. The only thing that’s come out of this in that regard is the advice to “find a way” to make money using my writing skills. No shit. Easier said than done.
I was hoping there would be some kind of government funding for retraining, but my counselor told me on day one that there is nothing like that available.
I have ended up extremely overwhelmed and stressed by something that is proving to be of no value or benefit whatsoever. The problem is that I don’t know how to get out of it. It goes against everything in me to just not show up, so I know I need to cancel, but I don’t know how to. I will feel like I need to offer some excuse, but I don’t have one. And I don’t want to piss anyone off in a small town like this. In fact, my counselor even goes to my former church, which I intend to start attending again. If I bail out of all this without a good reason it’s going to be really hard to face her socially.
So I’ve continued to go.
My state of overwhelm finally came to a head today in a workshop on “Finding the Hidden Job Market.” This was the most useless workshop yet. It was basically hours of the instructor saying, “You have to socialize and talk to people to get a job in this town,” in a variety of different ways. I was already well aware of this. There’s no new way anyone can say it to make it any easier for me in practicality. So I was sitting there, feeling physically worn out from the week’s schedule, feeling tired from days of having gotten up earlier than my body can cope with, and with a blinding headache from the fluorescent lights. I was trying to look at the printouts I’d been given and the letters and words just started swimming on the page in pools of bright light, blending together, indistinguishable.
And then things took a bad turn, socially. She was talking about how if you’re new in town, employers are going to love that you’ve moved here, because…. she paused… she then looked at me and for some reason decided to single me out. “Do you and your husband have kids?” she asked me.
“No,” I said.
“But of course you will in the future.” Not a question. A statement.
“No,” I snapped, too loudly. “I’m already 43; if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably not going to.”
The room went silent for an awkward moment while everyone stared at me. Or at least I felt like everyone was staring at me. My face started to burn. I had overshared. Typical.
Then she, apparently unfazed, went on to say something… now I will probably not quote this accurately, word for word, because my head was in such a whirl that I’m not sure exactly what she said… but it was something to the effect that if we had kids, we would be seen as more valuable to the community, because our kids would be going to school here and would be involved in things and would be seen as the future of the community.
So, wait. What? She’s telling me I have to procreate to be valuable to the community? That employers would be happy my husband and I have moved here if we had kids? Was she implying they’d be more likely to employ us if we were parents and could contribute to the future population of the town? Is that how people think?! I hope I misunderstood what she was getting at because that is fucked.
I remained silent during this little lecture.
Not long after that, she had each person do a role-playing exercise with her. We were supposed to pretend that she was a potential employer and we were introducing ourselves for the purpose of networking. As she went around the room, getting closer to me, I felt this tightness rise higher and higher up my body. I started wracking my brain trying to think of something to say when she got to me, but my head was in such a fog by that point that I was a complete blank. I could not string a coherent thought together. When I realized that, I started trying to weigh my options for escape. But again, my brain wasn’t really working. My first instinct was to run from the room. But that would attract so much attention. I hate attracting attention. And there was actually someone in a chair blocking the path from my seat to the door. I would have to ask them to move to get out. So that was out of the question.
That was as far as I had gotten in my thought process when she finally came to me. She stuck out her hand and said, in her role as potential employer, “Nice to meet you. What can I do for you today?”
I blurted out, “I’m so sorry, I cannot pull it together to do this right now. I have a blinding headache and am not okay. I don’t want to be difficult but I just can’t.”
“Oh yes, you’re so difficult,” she said jokingly. Then she made some comment about how you shouldn’t be approaching employers if you’re having a bad day anyway and moved on to the next person. Funnily enough, and perhaps fortunately for me, two other people declined after me. One guy said it takes him all day to think of something to say and he can’t handle being put on the spot like that. A fellow Aspie, maybe? I could certainly relate.
As I sat there, I was feeling so awful, physically and emotionally, that I started having — okay, don’t be alarmed here; I’m not suicidal — mental images pop into my head of me shooting myself. I wasn’t actively thinking about suicide, or wanting to do it, or planning it. I don’t even know how to use a gun. It was just these images, unbidden. I used to get them a lot when I was young, but it’s been a very long time since the last time it happened. In fact, it was here, in this town, where I used to have them a lot.
When I got home, I fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up, I didn’t know what day it was. I thought I was waking up the next morning. It took a few minutes to gain my bearings.
I really don’t want to go back to that place. Am I a terrible person if I don’t?
I have still never sought a diagnosis for Asperger’s or Autism. I’m wondering if anyone who follows my blog doubts that this would be a correct diagnosis for me?
I’m afraid to talk to a doctor about this. I think after years of training myself to act “normal” it might be difficult for someone else to understand how difficult life still is for me, despite my outward demeanor. It is difficult for me. I am stressed out to the point of illness when I try to be too “out there” in the world, if you know what I mean. Is it just because of everything I have been through, or is it really the way I’m wired, as I now believe?
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’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.
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!
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.
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.
Finding out on Facebook that one of my closest friends of more than 30 years got married and I wasn’t invited to the wedding hit me like a ton of bricks. I don’t know all the details. I don’t know what kind of wedding it was. Maybe it was a tiny wedding and they excluded everybody except family. I don’t know. And Juliane’s not communicating.
If it was a small, private thing, I can accept that I wasn’t invited, despite the fact that my own wedding had been a small, private affair and yet not only was she invited, she was the maid of honour. What really bothers me is that I didn’t even know it was happening. Not even so much as a text message saying, “I’m getting married tomorrow; wish me well.” I could have accepted that. But I knew nothing. And then I found out on Facebook of all places.
There was a time in our friendship when not knowing something like this would have been unthinkable. To me, it still is, and yet I did see the signs that we were drifting apart, I just couldn’t accept them. I am extremely loyal and can be downright deluded about things like this. I don’t ditch my friends, and it doesn’t occur to me that they might ditch me, even though this isn’t the first time someone’s done something like this to me. Now I have to accept the fact that Juliane and I are not as close as I thought we were.
My main problem in all of this is not what you might expect. It’s not the hurt. I can get past the hurt. The main problem is the stress of trying to figure out what to do about the situation. I have a Christmas present I’d already bought and packaged up for her. Do I mail the present? My normal rule of thumb is to err on the side of kindness, but this feels more tricky. I feel like if I send it, I’m making a fool out of myself, like some weak-willed little pansy who can’t take a hint. And I don’t know if it’s even kind to send a gift at this point. If she’s trying to ditch me, sending a gift is just a sign that I’m hanging on when she doesn’t want me to, which might be seen as stalkerish or something. It wouldn’t be the first time someone’s accused me of that.
But if she’s not trying to ditch me, and it was just a small, private wedding that no friends were included in, not sending a gift now when I always have before might be seen as petty and childish. Like, fine, you didn’t invite me to your wedding, so no Christmas gift for you! So there!
Another friend has advised me to confront her. But I really think if I confront her, she and her husband will just think I’m being a drama queen. They already see me as too emotional; any kind of confrontation would just further confirm it. They are both very stoic, tough, confident people who would have little time for such things. When someone screws Juliane over, she just washes her hands of them and moves on.
I really think I’m going to feel horrible no matter what I choose to do. I either feel like a weak-willed fool, a petty jerk, or an overemotional drama queen. Those are my choices. That’s the thing about something like this. Once something like this has been done to me, on an emotional level, I’m screwed no matter how I respond.
It would be easiest to just (to use the trendy term) ghost her. But is that the healthy, mature thing? Probably not. But then I don’t think the way she’s treated me is all that mature either.
And it all makes me wonder, why am I always the one who obsesses about whether I’m doing the right thing, and whether I’m healthy and mature, when other people don’t seem to give their actions a second thought?
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.